Golden Dawn was founded in December 1980 as a national socialist magazine, six years after the fall of the Greek military junta, a time that could not be described as auspicious for the far right. Society in general was leaning left. Conservative New Democracy had succeeded in absorbing leading officials of the National Alignment party, which mostly represented royalists, but also supporters of the junta. The nursery for all far-right formations in the post-junta era, the Fourth of August Party founded by Constantinos Plevris in 1965 with the support of former junta security chief Constantinos Maniadakis – a friend and confidant of dictator Ioannis Metaxas who ruled Greece from 1936-41 – was disbanded in 1977. Disillusioned by political developments, it was former members of Plevris’s party that went on to form Golden Dawn. “We consider politics a filthy affair and ourselves too pure to be involved in it,” the founders stated in the magazine’s first issue.
The Fourth of August Party expressed Metaxas’s brand of fascism and Plevris’s brand of anti-Semitism. Golden Dawn, however, was born as a national socialist group, something that former officials attribute in part to current party leader Nikos Michaloliakos’s desire to create a movement that was extreme and could be easily controlled.
Mutual animosities between the representatives of the far right abounded and the fact that Michaloliakos had no inclination to take orders from others is proved by his brief stint at the leadership of the youth wing of the National Political Movement (EPEN), founded in 1984 by jailed junta leader Georgios Papadopoulos. Michaloliakos was appointed to lead EPEN’s youth wing by Papadopoulos himself, after the 27-year-old had made the acquaintance of the dictator at Korydallos Prison. However, EPEN was not far enough to the right for Michaloliakos’s tastes. He left the party in 1985 along with others, though few followed him to Golden Dawn, which he shaped into a political group in 1987.
Despite the fact that the group snubbed politics and at first chose to abstain from elections, it was clear that Michaloliakos was planning to test his appeal at the polls.
There is an explanation to the mystery of why in 1993 the Supreme Court allowed the registration of the party whose founding statement – as investigative journalist Dimitris Psarras revealed in his book “I mavri vivlos tis Xrysis Avgis” (The Black Bible of Golden Dawn) – clearly states that “the democratic way of governance has no place in our movement.”
According to Vasiliki Georgiadou, a professor of comparative politics at Athens’s Panteion University, the file submitted by The Popular Association – Golden Dawn to the Supreme Court did not contain a charter, but rather a statement in a similar spirit to a legislative decree issued in 1974 by Phaedon Gizikis, a supporter of Papadopoulos’s coup and interim president from 1973-74: “The principles of the party are opposed to any action intended to seize power by force or to overturn the free democratic regime.” It was this clause that allowed Golden Dawn to operate as a political party all the way to June 2012, when it was elected into Parliament. It was not until August 2012, however, that the party submitted a proper charter to the Supreme Court.
Golden Dawn first ran in an election in 1994 for the European Parliament, banking on the nationalist sentiment that had been stirred by Greece’s name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the civil war in former Yugoslavia, where several Golden Dawn members fought alongside the Serbs in Bosnia, receiving widespread praise from the media.
It was in the 1990s that Golden Dawn showed it could put on a different face for the sake of its popularity, with Michaloliakos and his cadres describing the party as nationalist rather than national socialist. Yet the results from the 1994 European Parliament elections were crushing, as Golden Dawn gathered just 0.11 percent of the vote compared to 0.78 percent garnered by its opponent EPEN. It did equally badly in the 1996 general elections.
The early 1990s were pivotal for Golden Dawn in another respect as well, as the party began claiming its dominance in the streets. It was a period during which there were numerous reports of attacks against leftists and ethnic minorities by supporters or members of Golden Dawn.
The public, however, became aware of Golden Dawn’s activities in June 1998, when a group of supporters violently assaulted student and left-wing activist Dimitris Kousouris outside Athens’s main courthouse. The head of the attack squad, Antonis Androutsopoulos, who was also considered Michaloliakos’s second-in-command, was ordered to trial for the assault. The investigation of the incident also uncovered links between the far-right party and the police, as authorities not only failed to take Androutsopoulos into custody but allowed him to remain at large until 2005, when he turned himself in and was found guilty.
A trend that says a lot about the party’s character emerged as a result of this incident: While Androutsopoulos was in hiding, Golden Dawn defended him and claimed that the nationalist movement was being dragged through the dirt, but when he turned himself in, the party denied any connection to him in order to protect the party leadership. Golden Dawn also denied any connection to Giorgos Roupakias, the 45-year-old member of the party who admitted to fatally stabbing 34-year-old hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas on September 18, sparking the current investigation into Golden Dawn’s criminal activities.
In the 1999 European elections, Golden Dawn ran as part of an alliance with Plevris’s Front Line party. Even though the result of 0.75 percent was deemed a success, the alliance soon crumbled, once again revealing Michaloliakos’s inability to share power.
When questioned why he and Michaloliakos never fitted together well, Plevris – who has stated that while he agrees with Golden Dawn’s nationalist ideology he is opposed to the party’s use of violence – gave the following sarcastic response: “I don’t have the right body type.”
The man who eventually came along to really stir the still waters of the Greek far right was Giorgos Karatzaferis, when he founded the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party in 2000. Realizing that there were points to be scored, Golden Dawn participated in the 2002 municipal elections with four candidates for the Athens-Piraeus Super-Prefecture on LAOS’s ticket, among whom was Ilias Panayiotaros, one of the party’s MPs currently under investigation. When it was revealed that Golden Dawn had piggy-backed on LAOS’s ticket, Michaloliakos tried to play down the party’s Nazi sympathies, sending out-of-court orders to three newspapers forbidding them to use the term “neo-Nazi” when describing the party.
It appears that Golden Dawn scaled back its activities in the mid-2000s. Under pressure from the Kousouris case, it tried to form a “national front,” which was under its control and named Patriotic Alliance. The party garnered 1.37 percent of the vote in Athens in the 2006 municipal elections, though this collaboration was also ended by Michaloliakos in 2007.
Unbeknownst to the party, Golden Dawn has benefited from coincidence. The foreign policy pursued by Ahmet Davutoglu in Turkey gave easy access through the neighboring country’s borders for a wave of immigration headed to the European Union, which from 2006 more than quadrupled the number of undocumented migrants that moved into central Athens. Meanwhile, the success of LAOS at the polls of 2007 paved the way for an anti-immigration platform that Golden Dawn went on to adopt with vehemence.
The party participated in both elections for the European and Greek parliaments in 2009 (meaning that it had the money to do so) and was rewarded in local elections in 2010 with 5.29 percent of the vote in Athens, where Michaloliakos was voted onto the municipal council.
This was the last electoral race in which immigration was the top platform issue, as in 2012, Golden Dawn jumped on the anti-bailout bandwagon, while in order to play along with public sentiment regarding Greece’s alliance with Israel, in 2011 it also scaled back its anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Golden Dawn entered the Greek Parliament in June 2012 with 6.9 percent of the vote, gaining 18 seats in the 300-seat House. But, not everyone within its ranks has been happy with its course since then. Older members of the party were unhappy that various unknowns had been appointed to head its offices around Greece, just as other are unhappy that Michaloliakos nominated his wife as one of the party’s deputies.
Michaloliakos also created discontent among his party’s ranks when he canceled a large congress organized for October 2012, while, according to party officials, at two informal meetings held by Golden Dawn there were rumbles of discontent regarding the party leader.