On September 17, Pavlos Fyssas, a leftwing, anti-Fascist Greek rapper, was murdered in the streets of Athens. Stabbed to death twice in the heart and chest, Mr. Fyssas’ murder occurred in an open area as he was mobbed by a group of 30. Further investigation by the Greek police found that the man responsible for the pre-meditated murder was a 45-year-old male member of the Golden Dawn Party, a neo-Fascist and far right political party in Greece.
Fyssas’ murder is not Golden Dawn’s first act of violence. Numerous reports have revealed its responsibility for hate crimes against immigrants, identified LGBTIQA, and any Greeks who do not follow their ideology. Through coercive and violent tactics to gain support, Golden Dawn is a polarizing and dangerous force in Greek politics. While holding only 18 of the 300 seats in Greece’s Parliament, the movement has gained significant popular support. Capitalizing on the crippling effects of the Greek financial crisis, Golden Dawn has wisely used community outreach programs, such as organizing “Greek only” free food handouts during the height of the financial crisis, to gain popular approval. In a time where the government struggles to hold legitimacy due to rising unemployment and continued austerity measures, Golden Dawn acts as a perfect conduit for Greeks to reclaim their “Greek-self.”
Golden Dawn is not a movement one would expect to thrive in Greek politics today. It runs counter to the more featured leftist movements, calling on Greece to return to its previous “socialist” policies. The significance of both the struggling Greek economy and the effects of the austerity measures placed on Greece by the European Union cannot be downplayed. Golden Dawn has seized the economic downturn in economic affairs as its entry point, stepping into the power vacuum created by negative reactions to austerity measures. They have successfully entered schools, marketplaces, and other public spaces, convincing the emerging youth that they must reclaim Greece for Greeks and resist the European Union’s demands for austerity. They have capitalized on fear– fear that Greece is losing its independence to the EU, fear of adopting new and more restrictive austerity measures, and the fear of losing all economic aid.
Golden Dawn nationalist rhetoric has increasingly found listening ears as the financial crisis has worsened. They have become a symbol for the Greek people to turn to as their government seems to fail to act in their best interests. Even the Greek police have been found to be colluding with Golden Dawn, including senior members like the heads of special forces and internal security. There are ongoing investigations into why members of Golden Dawn were not arrested for the killing of Mr. Fyssas, and how much complicity the police and Golden Dawn actually have remains to be seen. Golden Dawn is no fringe movement. They carry serious authority in Greek politics and have the ability to sway opinion.
Since Fyass’ murder, the Greek government seems to have lost tolerance for Golden Dawn. Parliament has finally cut state funding to the party and is still toying with the idea of banning them outright. In addition, the leader of the movement, Nikos Michaloliakos, along with four other senior members and 19 cadres of Golden Dawn, were arrested for their implicit involvement in not only Fyssas’ murder, but also for attacks in early September which left nine people hospitalized. Members who serve in Greek Parliament were also arrested and their political immunity was lifted. For the first time, Golden Dawn has to deal with overt opposition to its polarizing agenda.
What makes the political climate so dangerous is the large uncertainly in the future. Certainly these leaders will be found guilty and serve prison sentences. But Golden Dawn itself will not disappear. It will still have strong influence at the regional level. It will still capitalize on Greece’s economic struggles. In fact, many of the ultra-nationalist policies of Golden Dawn, such as a resistance to multi-culturalism and immigration, were views already held by a majority of the Greek population as reported by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia in April 2003. If anything, the arrests of these leaders may galvanize supporters of the party.
Pushing the Golden Dawn underground by eradicating its party status might only fan the flames of extremism. There are also few political alternatives for Greeks, with leftist groups generally perceived as being associated with anarchist movements. Additionally, the legitimacy of such a ruling would be uncertain because the current government is viewed as corrupt for its willingness to follow orders from the EU.
History has seen this picture before. It has seen a nationalist group rise during a period of economic crisis. It has seen a country rally against perceived tyranny by international governments. It has seen a country turn violent and oppressive against those that do not fit its nationalist image, even if they are natural-born citizens. Greece is not Nazi Germany, but the same forces that crystalized into Fascism are increasingly shaping it. Greek Parliament must find a way to stem this ultra-nationalist tide. To allow Golden Dawn to control popular psyche will bring about the fall of the very democratic principles that Greece brought to the world.