The once feared neo-fascist party, whose supporters have long been associated with attacks on migrants and minorities, failed to secure the minimum threshold to enter the Greek parliament.
Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party has ostensibly disappeared from the country’s political landscape as quickly as it rose to prominence.
After a spate of successful performances in legislative elections starting in 2012, and at one point becoming the third largest party in the Greek parliament, Golden Dawn has begun to close its offices around the country.
Even at the height of the party’s violence – widespread attacks targeting migrants, refugees and leftists, among others, and a spate of killings attributed to Golden Dawn members – Golden Dawn maintained significant support for years.
Yet Golden Dawn suffered in July legislative elections, securing just less than the three-percent threshold required to enter parliament.
On July 7, Greek voters ousted the left-wing Syriza party and put the right-wing New Democracy back in power, an outcome that was widely expected owing to Syriza’s hemorrhaging of support in recent years.
Less expected, however, was Golden Dawn’s inability to re-enter the parliament. The neo-Nazi party – which is caught up in an ongoing trial that could prove existential for the organisation – received only 2.93 percent of the vote.
In late May, when Greeks voted for their representatives in the European Parliament, Golden Dawn had dropped from its former four seats to only two. Nonetheless, the party managed to gain the votes of around 13 percent of youth voters.
But the uptick in youth support didn’t help Golden Dawn when the snap legislative elections came around.
In a statement posted on its website, the Athens-based anti-fascist group KEERFA celebrated the closing of Golden Dawn’s offices as a “victory”.
“Six years after the assassination of Pavlos Fyssas,” the statement read, referring to a left-wing rapper killed by a Golden Dawn member, “the Golden Dawn lost many offices, and now loses its headquarters.”
The statement went on to urge activists to continue pressuring Golden Dawn in order to “disperse them once and for all”.
Thanos Dokos, an Athens-based analyst and director of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, believes that “the first generation was too primitive and too brutal to convince people that they can be a solution for Greece’s problems”.
He told TRT World: “They scared more people away than they attracted.”
Dokos added: “What I also see is that the leading gang inside Golden Dawn has made almost everybody else very unhappy. They lost parliamentarians. There were strong fights inside the party.”
In 1980, far-right leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos founded a neo-Nazi journal called Golden Dawn. Five years later, Golden Dawn was established as a political association.
It wasn’t until 1993 – when the country was enduring a surge in nationalist sentiment over its northern neighbour’s name, Macedonia – that Golden Dawn registered as a political party.
For more than a decade, the party remained a largely obscure entity on the fringe of the political process.
But around 2009 and onward, Golden Dawn members began carrying out brutal attacks targeting migrants and refugees, among others, around the country.
Their black-clad members were known to hunt down victims and attack them with weapons such as knives and sticks.
Golden Dawn also carried out food drives and blood drives exclusively for Greeks, riding on the coattails of widespread anger stemming from the economic crisis that started gripping the country in late 2009.
Their rise to the halls of the Greek parliament shocked many observers and political opponents around the country.
In a pair of legislative elections in 2012, Golden Dawn landed in the Hellenic Parliament for the first time.
But it was not long before the party found itself embroiled in legal trouble. In January 2013, two men stabbed and killed Shahzad Luqman, a Pakistani migrant worker, in Athens.
They later confessed to the murder, and Greek police found Golden Dawn leaflets and a cache of weapons in their homes during subsequent raids. Nonetheless, the two men – who were later convicted and sent to jail – denied any links to the neo-Nazi party.
Only nine months after Luqman’s murder, a Golden Dawn member stabbed and killed 34-year-old anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas in Keratsini, a suburb of Piraeus.
Trial and apparent collapse
Following that murder, Greek authorities arrested and charged dozens of Golden Dawn members – including most of the party’s leadership – with a spate of crimes, among them allegedly operating a criminal organisation.
Despite the trial and broad anger over the party’s violence, Golden Dawn surged again in January 2015 elections, becoming the third largest party in the parliament.
In September of that year, during another legislative election, Golden Dawn retained its third-place slot, securing 18 seats.
Earlier this month, Greek protesters marked the sixth anniversary of Fyssas’s slaying with large demonstrations.
Today, 69 party members are still on trial in a case that is expected to end later this year or sometime next year.
Although hate crimes slumped in the wake of Fyssas’s death for a period, according to police statistics seen by TRT World, such violence has started to increase again in recent years.
In 2017, the number of racist hate crimes recorded by the Hellenic Police nearly tripled when compared to the previous year, while hate crimes of all categories more than doubled.
Last year, the Athens-based Racist Violence Recording Network documented a 14-percent increase in racist violence when compared to 2017, as TRT World reported at the time.
Golden Dawn does not have a monopoly on far-right violence, however, and several incidents were believed to have been perpetrated by individuals or other far-right groups.
In July, after Golden Dawn suffered its worst defeat since first rising to electoral prominence, party leaders claimed that Golden Dawn would continue to be a force to be reckoned with.
“Golden Dawn is not over, they had better understand this,” party leader Michaloliakos said in a televised statement shortly after the election results came in.
“We will continue our fight for nationalism. We’ll return to where we grew strong, on the streets, on the squares.”
But now the party’s offices are being shuttered, its website no longer exists, and many of its formerly prominent members appear to have jumped ship.
Christos Rigas, a former Golden Dawn political committee member who quit the party several years ago, founded the far-right LEPEN political movement. “There was a need for people on the nationalist spectrum to be able to gather in one place and separate themselves from the Nazi rhetoric,” he told TRT World.
Arguing that most of the party’s former supporters “were not Nazis”, he said that Golden Dawn thrived in the past because many “voted as a reaction” to anger over migration and the economic crisis.