Extremists face prosecution as the party's popularity takes a sharp dive.
By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 31/03/14
The Golden Dawn party slipped to fifth place in recent popularity polls. [AFP]
Its leaders arrested on charges of running a criminal organisation, Greece's neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party is reeling after one of its lawmakers quit and another was ejected, and finds itself competing with a new populist party for voter support.
The loss of MP Chrysovalantis Alexopoulos, who resigned after he said he was unaware of the party's "criminal activities," and colleague Stathis Boukaras, who was booted, left Golden Dawn with 16 lawmakers in the 300-member parliament.
Its leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, is in detention with four other Golden Dawn lawmakers and half the party's MPs have been arrested as the government is seeking to strip the rest of immunity so they can be prosecuted.
Even as the government tries to dismantle the party, Golden Dawn, after falling in popularity last September when one of its members was charged with murdering an anti-fascist hip-hop artist, had remained a steadfast third in polls behind the ruling New Democracy Conservatives of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his coalition partner, the PASOK Socialists.
But with May elections looming for Greek municipalities and the European Parliament, a new anti-politician party To Potami (The River) jumped into third in recent polls, with Golden Dawn trailing the opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA).
After first finding influence on the back of an anti-immigrant stance and opposition to austerity measures, the neo-Nazi party is fading as quickly as it rose.
"It is the beginning of their decrease in electoral strength, although I don't estimate they will be gone for good. They will retain some influence, but far less than they had," Ioannis Michaletos, an analyst at the Athens-based Institute For Security & Defence Analysis, told SETimes.
"Although their extremist rhetoric managed to gather pace in the previous years, they were not able to capitalise that upward trend into a coherent political alternative," he said.
Golden Dawn's leaders remain defiant. The remaining MPs called Alexopoulos a "liar," "defamer" and "coward."
Party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, one of those arrested, is a candidate for Athens mayor and fellow MP Panayiotis Iliopoulos, who is in detention, said he would run from jail for a regional governorship. He urged party members to "keep fighting until they prevail."
Alex Sakellariou, a sociologist at Panteion University in Athens who has studied Golden Dawn, said it is resilient.
"The political arena is very fluid and it is not easy to make any hypotheses about what is going to happen in the elections," he told SETimes.
Golden Dawn's hierarchy shows no signs of relenting from its volatile agenda. Prosecutors said they have amassed more than 10,000 pages of evidence as well as digital documentation, including photos and videos that show neo-Nazi training and methodology, with former members who've left said to be providing key testimony against the party.
Alexopoulos claimed he was unaware of any of it. In a letter to the parliament speaker, he said he quit because of "a series of revelations regarding the activities of [Golden Dawn] members, which have been defined as criminal." He said that he should have spoken out earlier but did not do so for reasons he would clarify later.
Antonis Klapsis, head of research at the Konstandinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy in Athens, said it's too early to predict the party's demise.
"I am not optimistic that this is going to happen soon," Klapsis told SETimes. "Seeing Golden Dawn MPs leaving the party is, of course, important and indeed gives point to the arguments against Golden Dawn but on the other hand there are still many people willing to vote for Golden Dawn."
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