On October 7 2020, the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn was declared a criminal organisation. For years Golden Dawn had made international headlines for blatant references to historic fascism through its paramilitary violence and open animosity towards liberal democracy. In times of crisis, this (formerly fringe) organisation of the Greek radical right developed into the third most popular political party with as much as 15% support in the polls after its election to the Greek national parliament in 2012. The murder of the anti-fascist Pavlos Fyssas in September 2013, however, changed the state’s response to the neo-Nazi threat accusing prominent activists of leading a criminal organisation. This saw said members facing one of Greece’s most prominent trials in the post-dictatorship period. The trial, with its 453 sessions and 216 witnesses over the course of five and a half years, was the biggest against a radical right extremist organisation since Nuremberg, and ended with 12 former Golden Dawn MPs in jail. Furthermore, a total of 57 Golden Dawn members and associates were convicted in October 2020. This 4-part CARR blog series grapples with different facets in the evolution of Golden Dawn, namely the roots of the party in occult neo-Nazism, the role of women in the organisation, the party’s ascendance to parliament as well as the future prospects for the Greek radical right after the ban of Golden Dawn.
After the demise of Golden Dawn, has the far-right threat ceased to exist in Greece?
The verdict in the trial against Golden Dawn in October 2020, which resulted in the conviction of its leadership, was a historic moment for Greece that appeared – justifiably – to fortify democracy and its institutions. Golden Dawn has been described as a rare phenomenon in the European political space, as it constituted a party that despite the fact that it was openly associated with neo-Nazi ideas and violent practices had continuous presence for almost seven years in the Greek Parliament. In 2015, for example, approximately half a million voters decided to support its electoral campaign, making Golden Dawn the third largest party in the country.
The demise of Golden Dawn, however, which started a year earlier after its failure to elect members in the Greek national Parliament, should not lead to the simplistic conclusion that the far-right in Greece is not existent. As explained in a previous post, the set of ideas that inspire the supporters of far-right organisations is not simply synonymous to fascism or Nazism; the concept of the far-right encompasses both radical and extreme variants. If viewed from this perspective, therefore, the nativist lens – through which the far-right defines and understands social relations and its political reality – may find at times different ways to manifest itself.
At the outset, we should clarify that in the last general election of 2019 another far-right party, i.e. Greek Solution, managed to pass the electoral threshold and secure seats in the Greek national Parliament. According to Verousi and Allen (2021), Greek Solution is an ultra-nationalist political party that has adopted an “overtly xenophobic, racist and Islamophobic stance.” Unlike Golden Dawn, however, the party “has neither openly condoned violence nor relied on grassroots activism”, while it also welcomed the decision of the Greek court with regard to the Golden Dawn case. The transformations of the Greek far-right scene have also led to the formation of new groups. In 2020, for instance, the now convicted former leading member of Golden Dawn, Elias Kasiadiaris, founded the “Greeks for the Fatherland,” a party that clearly rejected the extreme ideas of Golden Dawn in order to avoid being stigmatised, presenting itself as the saviour of Hellenism. A relatively new initiative, which aims to study the far-right in Greece, i.e. “To Simeio,” provides a detailed description of the far-right milieu in the country, documenting the developments that have been unfolded in the last decade; more than twenty groups and individuals are included in the list, showing that the supply of far-right ideas has not ceased to exist. Given that current research also suggests that the emergence and success of Golden Dawn in the 2010 local elections was also due to internal supply-side factors, e.g. “organizational patterns, activist recruitment and political campaign strategies,” complacency with regard to the far-right threat should be avoided.
Additionally, what is worrying and we ought to mention here is the outburst of violent episodes that occurred last year across the country. Far-right supporters reacted aggressively against the decision of the government to relocate migrants and refugees from islands to the mainland. In the island of Lesvos, which has hosted thousands of refugees over the last six years, various far-right individuals and groups initiated attacks against them as well as attacks against members of NGO’s, volunteers, and journalists, among others. The far-right blended with local communities in Evros and they set up patrol groups to protect the borders of Greece. Extreme forms of far-right violence have been persistent. As presented in a (2020) report published by the Center for Research on Extremism (C-REX), Greece has seen more far-right violence per capita than any other country in Western Europe in the period 2016-2019. In another study that compares far-right with far-left low-intensity violence in Greece during the period of crisis, i.e. 2008-2018, Georgiadou and Rori (2019) found that the far-right tends to “hit human targets” while on the other hand the far-left “material targets.” Although the report is based on a dataset that maps more far-left violent events, it is important to keep in mind this decision of far-right actors to targets humans, since it reveals to some extent the threat it may pose to the foundations of democratic values in the country.
Finally, it would be an omission not to mention developments concerning some controversial decisions of the current government, led by right-wing New Democracy. Established academics, such as Mudde and Katsambekis, have expressed publicly on Twitter that the Greek government appears to be taking a turn towards the far-right; Mudde, in particular, describes New Democracy as a “far right coopter.” This does not mean that the party represents the far-right family; it shows instead that far-right ideas and practices may shape politics even if far-right groups are absent or less significant electorally. Katsambekis discusses at length these new developments, among which stands out the decision of the government to frame public dialogue around an “ultra-conservative cultural agenda,” to oppress the opposition, to advance law-and-order policies that have caused reactions within civil society, and to place in higher ranking positions public figures that have expressed “xenophobic and antisemitic views” in the past.
This post, the fourth part of the CARR blog series on Golden Dawn, showed once again that the far-right is a multi-faceted phenomenon that penetrates societies in various ways. Although Golden Dawn has lost its appeal, it is far from certain that the far-right is absent from the Greek political scene. Given that part of the Greek population still holds views that are in line with the ideas of the far-right, e.g. a 2020 survey by Dianeosis “found that 57% of Greeks had an unfavourable opinion of migrants, 48.5% an unfavourable opinion of Muslims and 35.1% an unfavourable opinion of Jews,” more efforts and protection mechanisms of liberal values are needed. Along with the radical and extreme proponents of the far-right, it is also the normalisation of the far-right agenda that poses a threat.
Andreas Dafnos is a Doctoral Fellow at CARR and a doctoral candidate at the University of Sheffield. Full profile can be found here:
© Andreas Dafnos. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).