ATHENS – Greece’s ultra-extreme Golden Dawn, accused of using neo-Nazi methodology, saw its seven-year run in Parliament end when it crashed out in the July 7 snap election while its 15 lawmakers and dozens of members were in the fourth year of trial on charges of running a criminal gang.
It was an ignominious end for party leader Nikos Michaloliakos who said after finishing with 2.95 percent of the vote – just shy of the 3 percent threshold needed to return to Parliament – that “Golden Dawn is not finished.”
Golden Dawn rocked the mainstream with its anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, super-nationalist bent but spent much of its time fending off charges of beating migrants and with one of its members charged with the 2013 murder of anti-Fascist hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas, a crime that rocked the country.
Still, it had been consistently holding down third place in surveys before starting a precipitous slide this year, votes siphoned off by a new group, Elliniki Lysi (Greek Solution) of TV pitchman Kyriakos Velopoulos, who wants to put land mines and walls on Greece’s borders to keep out migrants.
Velopoulos got into Parliament with a startling – for fringe groups – 3.7 percent of the vote and 10 seats in the 300-member body where he could use the forum to spout and rant as he does on TV, selling Letters from Jesus and hair growth tonic although he’s mostly bald.
He had said before the election he would be proud if he could help bring about the end of Golden Dawn and the tally seemed to indicate he had been a crucial factor in preventing the return of Michaloliakos.
Golden Dawn had 18 lawmakers in the outgoing 300-member Parliament, having won 6.99% of the votes in the last national election, in September 2015.
“We are sending a message to our enemies and so-called friends: Golden Dawn is not finished; get over it. The fight for nationalism continues. We return where we became strong: on the streets and squares, in a tough struggle against Bolshevism and the coming savage capitalism,” Michaloliakos told a crowd of supporters.
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He attacked both the outgoing Premier, Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, and his incoming successor, conservative New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Michaloliakos ended his speech with his customary “Hail victory!” — a direct reference to the Nazis’ “Sieg heil” salutation.
Founded in 1985, Golden Dawn was known for years as a collection of violent youths obsessed with military bearing and ready to attack political opponents and then increasingly migrants, as Greece became a destination for the latter.
Golden Dawn’s appeal long remained insignificant, polling just 0.29% in the October 2009 election. But as Greece’s economic crisis unfolded, the party achieved a breakthrough in 2010 municipal elections, getting its first elected officials and scoring best in neighborhoods with a heavy migrant presence.
It won its first seats in Parliament in 2012, and in four successive national elections held from 2012 to 2015 it got around 7% of the votes. Its high point came in the 2014 European elections, when it polled 9.39% to become Greece’s third-largest party — a position it retained national elections held in January and September 2015.
Golden Dawn’s weakening become apparent in May’s European election, when it got only 4.87% and slipped into fifth place among Greece’s parties.
The party may be out of power but could still cause a ruckus and seems destined to stay on the fringes but not fall back to its previous tiny constituency when its marginalized, mocked, ridiculed and dismissed.
Golden Dawn youth remain a strong and critical element with some 13 percent of Greece’s 17-to-24 year-olds voting for the party’s candidates in the European Parliament elections and a prominent member and spokesman, Ilias Kasidiaris said the party may have to shift away from Nazism to attract more supporters.
He has expressed admiration for Italy’s anti-immigrant deputy premier, Mateo Salvini, and spoken favorably of the largely Euroskeptic Eastern European “Visegrad countries” — Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)