Last September, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras pledged he would eradicate neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn from the country. In an alarming turn since a series of crackdowns on the party, Golden Dawn’s candidates managed to break double digits in a number of elections Saturday, including for mayor of Athens.
Ilias Kasidiaris, a spokesman for Golden Dawn, came in fourth place for Athens mayor on Sunday, receiving 16.12% of the vote. That total more than tripled Golden Dawn’s showing during the last election for the position, according to Bloomberg News. Golden Dawn candidate for governor of the state of Athens, Ilias Panagiotaros, received 11.13% of the vote and also finished in fourth place.
Both Kasidiaris and Panagiotaros are facing criminal charges for assault, and Kasidiaris is charged with possession of an illegal weapon. This did not deter a substantial population of the voters, however, from choosing them.
Individuals interviewed by the Agence-France Presse told reporters that they were not voting for Golden Dawn because of their opinions on minority groups or anti-Semitism, but because the economic situation in Greece has been so dire under mainstream leadership that they are willing to give someone new a chance to run the country.
These sentiments are coupled with a change of image for Golden Dawn after the arrests of many of its leaders. As the Associated Press notes, many candidates up for positions during both last Sunday’s elections and elections for the European Parliament next Sunday appear more moderate and less violent in promoting their beliefs, though the core of Golden Dawn ideology has not changed.
Nor has the fact that Golden Dawn improved its electoral results without winning prevented concern from observers that the party could become increasingly popular, making Greece inhospitable for ethnic minorities. Golden Dawn is a group whose members have called for a “one-race nation” and praised Adolf Hitler as a “great personality.”
Last September’s government raid on the high-ranking members of the party uncovered hundreds of photos of what appeared to be military drills performed by members of Golden Dawn in preparation for political conflict. The police search of former Golden Dawn member of Parliament Christos Pappa’s home found what Greek newspaper Ta Nea described as a “small museum” dedicated to the memory of fascism, including a treasure trove of Hitler and Mussolini paraphernalia.
Greece’s mainstream socialist party, PASOK, has blamed the rise of far-left anti-austerity party SYRIZA for Golden Dawn’s popularity. SYRIZA, claimed a spokesman of the party, has been “creating a climate for [the] indulgence in criminal and Nazi and racist organization Golden Dawn,” according to Ta Nea.
Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, has called for Greek voters to reject Golden Dawn’s ideology in next week’s elections. “When 16% of Athenians vote for a man known for having a swastika tattoo on his shoulder, we should not be satisfied that no Golden Dawn candidate made it to the second round,” he told The Jerusalem Post, adding that Greek Prime Minister Samaras was correct to reject the group. “We hope the Greek voters will follow the prime minister’s lead and choose in the election to the European Parliament not to export Golden Dawn’s ultra-nationalist, hate-filled, anti-Semitic ideology and rhetoric to Strasbourg and Brussels,” he said.
Golden Dawn’s newfound popularity arrives at a time of increased pessimism among Jewish people in Europe. A survey of Jewish residents in France by the Paris-based Siona organization of Sephardic French Jews found extremely pessimistic views of the future of Jewish populations in France. 74% of Jews in France said they are considering leaving the country, while 95.2% of respondents said they found anti-Semitism to be either “worrisome” or “very worrisome.” 57.5% of respondents said Jews have no future in France.