Over a year after its leadership was placed in pre-trial detention, facing a barrage of criminal charges including murder, Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn is vowing to bounce back in Sunday’s general election.
“The people are with us. We will increase our strength,” promised the party’s point man in western Greece, Patras lawmaker Michalis Arvanitis.
Opinion polls show that the violently anti-immigrant party, which rose to prominence in the depths of Greece’s recession, has a fighting chance for third place in the election, behind leftist party Syriza and conservative New Democracy, the party formerly in government.
This means that Golden Dawn could even increase its presence in parliament, where it previously had 16 lawmakers in the 300-seat chamber.
The party found fertile territory in Patras, which, as the main port for the crossing to Italy, has steadily been a gathering point for migrants hoping to sneak onto ferries to western Europe.
“I will vote Golden Dawn again, and with greater conviction this time,” said Yiorgos, a 37-year-old serving in one of the country’s security services, but given the sensitivity of his role he declines to say which one.
“Ever since we opened our borders to immigrants (in the 1990s) we can no longer sleep with open windows. We lock ourselves inside. This is not how we were accustomed to living,” he told AFP.
“Most of these people are fanatics. If you tell one of them ‘there is no Allah’ they will kill you,” he said.
Golden Dawn grabbed third place in May’s European parliament elections with a 9.4-percent showing, naming three Eurodeputies for the first time in its history.
– Rapper stabbed –
That was just months after the arrest of several of its leading members, including its party founder and bullish leader Nikos Michaloliakos, in an investigation sparked by the fatal stabbing of a Greek rapper in September 2013.
AFP / Louisa Gouliamaki
Jailed lawmakers of the far-right Golden Dawn party, leader Nikos Michaloliakos (R) and his spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris (2nd R) attend the presidential vote after they were temporary released from prison in Athens December 17, 2014
A subsequent search of party members’ homes found firearms and other weapons, in addition to Nazi and fascist memorabilia.
The party has since been linked to the murder of a Pakistani immigrant and beatings of political opponents.
Seven senior Golden Dawn members are currently behind bars, facing charges including murder, attempted homicide, illegal arms possession and participation in a criminal organisation.
Their trial is expected to begin by March.
Investigating magistrates say the party’s structure emulated that of the Nazi party — but Golden Dawn denies this, and many of its supporters feel likewise.
“They say they are not Nazis, so why should I not believe them?” said Yiorgos, a father of two, who has a high school diploma.
Golden Dawn currently polls at around 5.0 percent, but the police investigation has taken its toll.
“Without the arrests, they’d be polling at 15 percent,” said Vassiliki Georgiadou, a political scientist at Panteio University in Athens.
AFP / Louisa Gouliamaki
Police stand guard as Golden Dawn extreme right party supporters gather holding Greek flags during the swearing-in of the Golden Dawn spokesman for the Athens City Council on August 29, 2014 in Athens
“The party is no longer present in districts or schools as before, and is not as active… but it will take time to disappear as its support was quite strong,” she told AFP.
Two lawmakers defected from the party’s parliamentary group last year, and a number of district offices in Athens and other cities have either shut down or moved to unmarked buildings.
Still, the party is doing its utmost to show that it remains a force to be reckoned with.
Golden Dawn has paid for airtime on mainstream TV channels, with campaign ads titled “Greeks in power, thieves in prison.”
Jailed leader Nikos Michaloliakos also plans to make a pre-election address to party faithful at a central Athens hotel on Wednesday.
“They fear us,” Michaloliakos said of his political opponents in an interview this week.
“Golden Dawn is politically persecuted by a rotten regime. We fight for a free Greece… and equal opportunities for all Greeks. We are prepared to give up our lives for this,” he said.