The Golden Dawn factor should not be underestimated

Everyone’s attention is turned to the electoral face-off between New Democracy and SYRIZA, with speculation on who will prevail and what will happen the day after. The outcome of the May 25 elections will determine developments in Greek political parties and affect the course of the country in the next crucial period.

From this perspective, it is hardly surprising that the focus is on whether the conservatives will be able to complete the program they began in 2012, whether coalition partner PASOK will be able to avoid complete collapse, and whether SYRIZA will garner enough votes to push for snap elections.

Analyses on and projections of the outcome of European Parliament and local elections abound, but another important and often disregarded part of the debate is how Golden Dawn will do. The fact is that there is a very serious danger the far-right party will have quite a strong presence in the polls, something that would create a new set of problems on the domestic as well as the international front.

It is a mistake to underestimate the popularity of Golden Dawn, which despite a small decline after last September’s murder of rapper Pavlos Fyssas by a self-proclaimed member of the party and the criminal investigation that this prompted into the party and its leading cadres remains a significant factor on the political stage and is gradually making a comeback that can only be described as worrisome to democratic citizens.

A look at public opinion polls reveals the shadow of the far-right organization spreading across the charts. We must also bear in mind the fact that citizens may be reluctant to state to pollsters their intention to vote for Golden Dawn, making the situation of even greater concern.

These secretive voters may bring some unpleasant surprises. If, for example, Golden Dawn increases its share of the vote from the 2012 general elections and emerges as Greece’s third-biggest party, or even if party spokesman and Athens mayoral candidate Ilias Kasidiaris – whose personal appeal has been steadily outstripping that of the party – does well enough in this Sunday’s local elections to make it into the second round next week, Greek society will be facing a very troubling situation. This is even more so given that these are the first elections to be held since the judicial investigation began into Golden Dawn’s suspected criminal activities, meaning that no one can claim the party’s supporters are ignorant of what they are voting for.

I can’t say whether Golden Dawn’s rise in popularity is directly linked to the problems created by the crisis or to anger at the establishment. Either way, it is creating conditions that are dangerous for democracy.

The Anti-Defamation League’s last global survey found that, behind the Middle East, Greece has the highest level of anti-Semitism in the world. Having already suffered a plethora of negative characterizations and almost constant criticism over the past four years by international organizations and media and foreign governments, the last thing Greeks need now is to be branded as racists and anti-Semites by international public opinion.

Speaking in New York last October, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras vowed to pull Golden Dawn up by the roots and rid Greece of the anti-Semitism of this neo-Nazi and – as is gradually being revealed – criminal organization. The upcoming elections may make the nightmare all too real, not just for Samaras, but for all of Greece.

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