This article was published by Al Jazeera International as part of a survey of Europe's right-wing parties.
Golden Dawn shocked many observers when it took 16 percent of the Athens mayoral vote and 11 percent of the vote for regional prefect last Sunday. Greece held a preliminary round in local and regional elections, and will hold the runoff simultaneously to European parliament elections on May 25.
“The great democratic issue at stake is the high percentage won by Golden Dawn in Athens and the Attica region,” said socialist leader and deputy prime minister Evangelos Venizelos on election night. “All political and social forces believing in democracy and human rights must fight forcefully against Nazism and political violence.”
Golden Dawn significantly upped its show of support since it won seven percent of the popular vote in a general election two years ago, entering parliament for the first time. Recent opinion polls give it 7-11 percent of the upcoming European vote.
This is no mean feat for a party that has, since last September, been stripped of parliamentary immunity from prosecution and of two million dollars a year in state funding. Fully one third of its members of parliament, including its leader and deputy leader, are in jail on charges of participating in a criminal organisation.
The case against Golden Dawn stems from the killing of a left-wing rapper in Athens on September 18. The conservative government and Supreme Court prosecutor believe that this was merely the latest among “dozens” of felonies including murder, manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and grievous bodily harm ordered centrally by the party leadership over a two-year period.
Golden Dawn contested the local elections under the banner Hellenic Dawn, and is contesting the European election under the banner National Dawn. Both these vehicles were created as a precautionary measure in case the party were not allowed to campaign under its original name.
While Golden Dawn did not score well enough to enter the second round of local elections, it does seem set to field one or two MEPs. It will likely be a pariah in Brussels. France’s right wing leader, Marine Le Pen, has denounced the party as Neo-Nazi (a charge it denies with little credibility since it openly embraces National Socialism). Its popular support at home, however, offers it a sense of political restitution in the midst of its legal woes.
That may be enough to guarantee its survival in Greece’s fragmented political scene. The ruling conservatives are polling in the low 20s. Their junior coalition partner, the socialists, who ruled Greece for 21 of the last 40 years, have sunk so low that they have tactfully disappeared from opinion polls altogether. Venizelos has floated a lifeboat, The Olive, which is polling about five percent. Even the radical left Syriza, which is the main alternative to the conservatives, is not doing discernibly better than they. Given that Greece’s political forces see the local and European elections as little more than positioning for the next general election, Golden Dawn does not seem to be doing at all badly.