Greece's neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party lost many of its supporters almost overnight.
By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 15/10/13
The leader of Golden Dawn party, Nikos Michaloliakos, is escorted by masked police to an Athens court on October 2nd. [AFP]
The killing of anti-fascist hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas and arrest of Golden Dawn leaders on criminal charges led to the dramatic fall of extremists' supporters. But analysts said it's too early to say the popularity of Golden Dawn is waning.
Golden Dawn earned 7 percent of the public vote in elections 18 months ago, and its support had doubled before Fyssas's death last month. But a new survey by the polling company GPO found support for the neo-Nazi party down to 7.8 percent, compared to 21 percent for the ruling New Democracy and 20.5 percent for the major opposition party Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA).
A second poll, by ALCO, showed support for Golden Dawn dropping from 10.8 percent to 7.2 percent.
"We have crushed the neo-Nazis, whose leading members are brought to justice, whose leader together with his No. 2 in command are already in jail and whose influence is falling precipitously," Prime Minister Antonis Samaras told the audience in New York this month at an event raising money for Greece. "I am confident that populism will not gain further ground. It will lose popular support."
The party rose from obscurity to gain 18 seats in the 300-member Parliament last year on the back of an agenda to rid the country of immigrants and oppose the terms of international bailouts. But after 18 months of what critics said was a rampage of violence against immigrants, gays and leftists, the September 17th murder of popular artist began the unraveling of the organisation.
That led Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative leader and his coalition partner, the PASOK Socialists, who earlier this year set aside a bill to increase penalties for hate crimes, to direct the arrest of Golden Dawn's leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos and five other lawmakers in a bid to dismantle the party through legal means.
Michaloliakos and his second-in-command, Christos Pappas, were remanded in custody pending a trial date.
"The government proved that they are determined to defend legality and democracy by using all the legal means available," Antonis Klapsis, head of research for the Konstandinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy in Athens, told SETimes. "The fact that some were arrested and after charges were put on them they were let free does not change that they will face the law."
Despite the cut in supporters, Golden Dawn party remains third in popularity but the polls also show about 68 percent of Greeks believe the party is a danger to democracy.
"We have to wait a little bit more because Greeks tend to change their minds according to developments," George Tzogopoulos, a research fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy in Athens told SETimes. "The main reason the surveys show such a decline is both the killing and the arrests and the highly negative coverage [of Golden Dawn] in the media."
Some worry that the crackdown could backfire and make martyrs of the party, whose leader was defiant even as he was taken away in handcuffs. "Nothing can weigh us down! Long live Greece!" Michaloliakos shouted.
"The government didn't get the point as to why people voted for Golden Dawn," Tzogopoulos said. "It wasn't for fascism but a protest against those who destroyed the country and who now are suggesting the remedies."
Ioannis Michaletos, an analyst at the Institute for Security and Defence Analysis in Athens, said there are some dangers with being tough on a political party, although the government wants it designated a criminal organisation and is seeking felony charges against its leaders, who are among 32 arrested so far.
"Its popularity may have decreased substantially but the root issues are here to stay if the Greek state does not really get rid of its mentalities," he told SETmes. "There is a long way before we can say that the popularity of a political structure like Golden Dawn has really waned."
(Reuters, 04/10/13; Kathimerini, 25/09/13)
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