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Golden Dawn: The Rise of Neo-Nazism

Updated on March 8, 2014

Thousands of illegal immigrants, over 80%, with hopes of entering the European Union use Greece as their first port of call. Suffering extremely high unemployment, record levels of poverty, a mammoth economic crisis, high levels of crime, and far-right agitation and leftist retaliation, the people of Greece are plagued with misfortune.

Early Golden Dawn Poster
Early Golden Dawn Poster

The New Nationalism

Nikolaos Michaloliakos as leader of The Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) party a far-right political entity in the country of Greece denies his party shares any common ideology with neo-Nazism or neo-Fascism as critics claim. Advocating party views of extreme nationalism, racism, and strong anti-immigration the party refers to itself as a Greek National Socialist organization.

Although critics refer to the Golden Dawn as a neo-Nazi party having used Nazi symbolism and having praised Nazi leaders in the past, Michaloliakos claims to be adverse to any German involvement in Greek politics or the Greek economy. This attitude has benefited the party as it has gained support from an anti-German bias harbored by some Greeks but when interviewed, Michaloliakos reportedly spoke of the Holocaust saying: “There were no ovens. This is a lie. I believe that it is a lie. There were no gas chambers either.”

Brief History

Nikolaos Michaloliakos was arrested as a political activist in 1974 and again in 1976 after which he joined the Greek Army and trained as a special forces commando. Again arrested in 1978 as a member of a far-right radical group and after being sentenced in January 1979 to a one year term for illegally carrying guns and explosives he was dishonorably discharged from the Military.

The foundations being laid by his leadership in 1980 and its wide recognition in 1991 resulted in 1993 of the Golden Dawn becoming officially registered and recognized as a political organization. On April 21, 2004 Michaloliakos suspended day to day political operations because of clashes with anti-fascists. A former leader of the Golden Dawn, Dimitrios Zaphiropoulos, became the head of a newly formed far-right organization called the Patriotic Alliance. Along with its deputy, Elias Panagiotaros and its leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos, the Golden Dawn was assimilated into this new alliance. Other former members of the Popular Orthodox Rally, and other far-right movements such as the National Political Union led by a former member of the European Parliament, Spyridon Zournatzis also became part of the Patriotic Alliance.

Michaloliakos then withdrew his support of the alliance in March of 2007 and the Golden Dawn held its sixth congressional meeting declaring the full restoration of the party’s political activism. In November of 2010 elections were held and as a result the Golden Dawn secured a seat in the City Council receiving 5.3% of the vote in Athens. In some high immigrant areas the vote supporting the party was as much as 20%.

The National Elections

The people of Greece are seeing themselves has a third world country in Europe. Many Greeks believe that Greece must leave the European Union. In the National elections the Golden Dawn campaigned heavily with its shibboleth “So we can rid this land of filth,” referring to the party’s strict anti-immigration policy against the thousands of illegal immigrants using Greece as a doorway to other European countries.

Michaliakos delivering a hate speech
Michaliakos delivering a hate speech

He accused "old systemic Parties" of being corrupt vowing to punish the politicians who unlawfully profited from that corruption, he repudiated Nazism even though the party’s emblem is closely reminiscent to the Nazi swastika and denounced the March 15, 2012 Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies signed by the previous government who In an attempt to bolster Greece’s troubled economic downturn drafted a letter to the International Money Fund. The letter requested financial support and outlined polices that it and the Bank of Greece intended to implement during the period from 2012 to 2015.

Due to the impact of a large wave of protest votes against the major Greek Parliament parties, the New Democracy and PASOK and a campaign platform based on high unemployment, the economic crisis, and bitter anti-immigration rhetoric Michaloliakos and his party received a large boost in the popular vote. Over 400,000 Greeks voted in support of the Golden Dawn. This increase in support allowed the party to win 21 seats in the Hellenic Parliament. After the election the Parliament met for two days trying to come to terms with a new coalition government but none could be agreed upon and the election was dissolved awaiting the results of a second election to be held in June.

After the June 17th election of the 300 available parliamentary seats the neo-Nazi organization known as Golden Dawn retained 18 of their original 21 seats and now ranks fifth with nearly 7% of the total vote trailing the next party by less than a percentage point. Emboldened by his newfound support party leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos requested that at future press conferences members of the press should rise when he walked into the room.

The Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn)

Socialism is a flawed system of governmental control. It fosters an instability of a nations economic develop which stagnates as a result of a long term philosophy that all citizens needs should and can be provided by a central government. The instability and stagnation lies in the consequence of printing or borrowing money to supplement the existing supply when the finite nature of that supply is realized. Because of this instability and the inept leadership of the Greek government far-right militant political groups have formed. The Golden Dawn is a dangerous neo-Nazi faction that claims to be the enemy of the present-day socialist Greek state.

The Meander Emblem that closely resembles a Swastika
The Meander Emblem that closely resembles a Swastika

The symbol used by the Golden Dawn to represent the party’s image is the 22nd letter of the Modern Greek alphabet, the symbol for chi, pronounced Kai, which is an X whose shape has been altered making its appearance redolent to an aggregated swastika. The party’s fierce anti-immigration stance bears accusations of violence as two attacks on immigrant workers in the city of Athens have recently been reported and its history speaks of violence when a shooting spree by a party member Pantelis Kazakos killed two people and wounded seven others.

Analysts are saying there is growing evidence that police in Athens are openly directing citizens to seek help from the Golden Dawn as the party is now assuming the function of law enforcement in the streets of the financially insolvent country. As a result an increasing number of Greeks who have suffered and been victims of immigrant crime have come to regard the neo-Nazi organization as a “protector.”

A newspaper account speaks of a 38 year old civil servant who was shocked to learn that following an incident in her downtown apartment block that involved Albanian immigrants, when her mother called the police, "They immediately said if it's an issue with immigrants go to Golden Dawn." Afraid of reprisals from the party and under a condition of anonymity she also stated that while they do not condone the Golden Dawn a feeling of insecurity has overtaken the lower and middle class people in the urban centers of Greece and if the traditional law enforcement cannot protect them then they must seek protection elsewhere.

There are other Greeks who tell similar stories saying the far-right organization catapulted into parliament on a platform of dealing with the "immigrant scum" doing the business that the state did not do. They lamented that the “little people” needed a sense of survival feeling overwhelmed and powerless they needed to feel safe in their own homes.

Energized by their growing support and their new parliamentary status the far-right extremists have found legitimacy in their existence and have strongly intensified their motivations. Many racially-instigated attacks by men dressed in black on motorcycles have immigrants fearful to be out in the streets at night.

Appearing on a television talk show Yiannis Lagos an MP member of the fiercely patriotic “popular nationalist movement” gloatingly bellowed, "For a lot of people in poorer neighborhoods we are liberators, the state does nothing!" The Golden Dawn he added is the only party helping those who have lost their jobs and those who are now living in poverty. In areas where crime is rampant they are providing care services to the elderly and frequently distribute food and parcels of clothing to the needy.

Golden Dawn distributes food to only Greeks citizens

The Golden Dawn’s compassion though is not entirely altruistic the indebtedness for services rendered must be offset with a payment of loyalty to the party. Those whom the party has helped turn to them in lieu of an unresponsive government but they fear to speak openly about policies they disagree with and voice their opinion publicly only under a cloak of anonymity. Notwithstanding their fear and motivated by the anger fostered by the bitter deterioration of their living standards polls have indicated that the popularity and support for the Golden Dawn has risen dramatically. A recent survey showed an almost 100% increase, 12% to 22%, of people voicing “positive opinions” about the party with a favorable increase of 8 points for Michaloliakos finishing much higher than other party leaders.

Early Chrysi Avgi magazine covers. One features Adolph Hitler and the other Rudolph Hess
Early Chrysi Avgi magazine covers. One features Adolph Hitler and the other Rudolph Hess

A prominent political analyst, Paschos Mandravelis has attributed the rise to an interdependent relationship between police and the Golden Dawn. They claim young recruits who are not political and who are ignorant of the terror of Hitler and the Nazis see the Golden Dawn as their only allies when confronting riots with the leftists.

The conservative-led government upon the realization of increased Greek radicalism has taken steps to repress illegal immigration by setting up camps and detaining thousands of immigrants and increasing patrols along the Turkish common borders. But due to a growing environment of increased hostility and hatred the Golden Dawn is dividing the country.

What Does the Future Hold?

A recent threatened raid upon immigrants has caused much commotion. Socialist mayor Yiannis Papalexis stated his concerns, "They say they have received complaints about immigrant vendors from shop owners here but that is simply untrue. Extra police have been sent down from Athens and if they come they will be met by leftists who have said they will beat them up with clubs. I worry for the stability of my country."

Anna Diamantopoulou, a former EU commissioner, expresses her despair and laments how Greece could have been brought to such a grave state. "I never imagined that something like Golden Dawn would happen here, that Greeks could vote for such people, this policy they have of giving food only to the Greeks and blood only to the Greeks. The whole package is terrifying. This is a party based on hate of 'the other'. Now 'the other' is immigrants, but who will 'the other' be tomorrow?"

Nikolaos Michaloliakos leader of The Golden Dawn
Nikolaos Michaloliakos leader of The Golden Dawn


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