What can we learn from the rise and fall of the Golden Dawn party in Greece?
Golden Dawn began as an ideological movement that managed throughout the years to evolve into a political movement and a political party, which successfully entered the national parliament and emerged as the third largest party in Greece. However, recently, and since the latest elections in 2019, in which the party failed to reach the electoral threshold and therefore was left out of parliament, the far-right party experienced a complete dissolution which led to several reconstitutions.
Since 2012, Golden Dawn emerged as a strong actor in the Greek political scene, marking an upward trend in the last decade’s elections. As monitored by several scholars working on far-right parties, what is interesting in the case of Golden Dawn is that the party, for several years has managed to retain its support not only in the national and regional elections, but also in the European ones, reaching a wider audience for their discourse.
Although being examined under the umbrella of the extreme right, Golden Dawn offers some distinct aspects. Self-identified as a nationalist party, Golden Dawn supports national socialism, sacralizes blood and race and adopts the lifestyle of Homeric heroes and gods. It also struggles fiercely against democracy, supports banning abortion for Arians, and rejects Judaism.
Golden Dawn was founded in the mid-1980s, by Nikolaos Michaloliakos and uses a symbol that resembles the Nazi swastika. At first the party espoused national socialism, a tactic they left behind in the early 1990s when they turned to a more Greek nationalist agenda. According to the party’s manifesto, it stands against the demographic alteration, caused by millions of illegal migrants but also against the dissolution of the Greek society caused by the established parties.
Despite not having any significant electoral success for the first two decades since its emergence, in the regional elections of 2010 the party managed to elect a representative to the City Council of Athens (by receiving 5.3% of the popular vote), a success that it managed to maintain through the first national elections of 2012, receiving 7% of the popular vote and gaining 21 seats in the national parliament.
In 2015, their election score decreased to 6.3% and then went down to 2.9% in the elections of 2019 when the party did not manage to pass the threshold, and therefore was left out of the parliament.
Golden Dawn rose sharply in the midst of a deep political, economic and social crisis. Frustration against the ruling class and established political parties perceived as corrupt and responsible for the financial crisis, along with a high volume of protest towards the Troika’s imposed austerity measures played an essential role in the success of the party. Additionally, the nationalist and anti-immigration discourse appeared to be rather appealing to the Greek audience.
Most Golden Dawn voters can be traced to the broader right and center-right spectrum, with a significant proportion of its supporters coming from the social democratic party. They are mostly young men under 44 years of age, with lower level of education, and often unemployed or workers in precarious professions. Their support comes from a desire to punish the political system and express a self-insolvency and hopelessness.
Golden Dawn has often embraced the use of violence, with its members being involved in many serious criminal acts (e.g. homicides and homicide attempts, assaults, gun possession, injuries, arson, and more). Party members have been involved in attacks on immigrants, unsuspecting citizens, anti-fascists and leftists. It is only since September 2013, just after the assassination of anti-fascist Pavlos Fyssas in September 2013, that the leader Michaloliakos, along with several MPs of the party were arrested and charged with creating and participating in a criminal organization. Since then, the party has been under judicial review, and in an ongoing trial.
The start of the judicial investigation and the ongoing trial had an impact on the party’s support. Although a small number of people still appeared to sympathize with the neo-Nazis, despite their criminal activity, a large part of their support waned.
Already in 2015, the party’s support in large urban centers and in the mainland had decreased, but it attracted people from the islands with their aggressive rhetoric against refugees which culminated in 2015 and portrayed them as a threat to national security.
But things have changed for the party that made Greece and Europe howling. In 2019 the party has closed several offices and has seen several of its previous members, holding even parliamentary seats, distancing themselves from it.
But it is not just the judicial investigation that contributed to the party’s downfall. The rise of the center-right party along with the gradual diminution of the strong rhetoric against the austerity measures also played a vital role. The latest can also be connected to the disappointment towards the populist rhetoric of the previous governing party of Syriza, that also implemented a high discourse on anti-austerity measures before emerging to power in 2015. Also, the rise of a more radical and democratic rather than extreme alternative, the one of the newly emerged Greek Solution, has managed to attract several of the previous supporters of Golden Dawn in the 2019 elections.
The rise and fall of Greece’s Golden Dawn offers useful insights into the far-right scene. The collapse of the party does not point to an end of such ideologies, but it does highlight a weak correlation between voting attitudes and ideology awareness. What appears to be the case in Greece, in comparison to other European countries e.g. France or Italy, is that there is no extreme right tradition as the parties, as seen also in the case of Golden Dawn only manage to temporarily attract part of the electorate but fail to maintain party loyalty.
Dr Vasiliki Tsagkroni is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Lecturer of Comparative Politics at Institute of Political Science, Leiden University See their profile here.
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