Think of a party that lost approximately 10 percent of its share in the vote from the previous election ― in most people’s books, this is a bad result. Yet in the case of Greece’s Golden Dawn, this was anything but.
Having enjoyed being catapulted phenomenally into the country’s parliament in 2012, the far-right party quickly made international headlines with its food rallies “for Greeks only”, its orchestration of racist attacks in Athens and beyond, and eventually, in September 2013, with the assassination of anti-fascist musician Pavlos Fyssas.
In the international outcry that followed, it momentarily appeared as if Pavlos’ assassination would signal the death knell for Golden Dawn themselves. Their leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, all MPs and tens of key party members are now facing justice. The mainstream media in the country was quick on a u-turn from their previously implicit (or even explicit) support of Golden Dawn and their politics. But the arrest of the party leadership did little to counter the country’s institutional racism.
Months after a legal case had been opened against the party, a top party MP, Ilias Kasidiaris, revealed his secretly-recorded private conversation with the then conservative PM’s chief of staff, Takis Baltakos. On the one hand, the incident revealed the depth to which racism and far-right ideology was ingrained in the Greek state apparatus. On the other, it tarnished Golden Dawn’s own, self-made image of a supposedly anti-systemic force battling against the Greek political and economic elites.
The chief of staff in question resigned, and Kasidiaris followed his fellow MPs into prison. At this point, one would once again be excused in thinking Golden Dawn’s exit from the political scene would indeed be as swift as its entrance, but the electoral result of January 25 perfectly revealed how systemic the far-right vote has now become in the country.
In the previous elections, approximately half of the country’s police force voted for Golden Dawn; there is no reason to suspect this time round the results will paint a different picture. A dominant political culture where nationalism, xenophobia and homophobia prevail has formed fertile ground for Golden Dawn to grow, now leading to a great paradox: in spite of being excluded from the same mainstream media that had previously aided its catapulting into the spotlight, and even though it essentially ran its entire electoral campaign while its leadership was in prison, Golden Dawn still won 6.3% of the vote, overtaking even the social-democrats of PASOK and the nationalist Independent Greeks to become the country’s third largest party.
An initial defence reserved for Golden Dawn voters was that they were uninformed of the party’s real policies and ideology. This then shifted to the suggestion that these voters were deceived by the largely positive image painted for the party by certain national media outlets. It is difficult to see what excuse may be used this time around: just under 400,000 Greek voters backed a party whose crimes and vile ideology have now fully come to light.
This is why Golden Dawn have scored a chilling victory: they have triumphantly displayed a core of party faithful strong and determined enough to make them the new parliament’s third largest party, despite being run from behind bars. It will take years to soothe the devastating effects of austerity, as well as the far-right political culture that administered it while setting the stage for the entrance of Golden Dawn.
The country’s new government will have no choice but to decisively fight its natural political enemy, but if this struggle is not met by firm, widespread anti-fascist education and action on the ground, there might be little time before Golden Dawn’s vile far-right ideology solidifies its position in Greek society, and before institutional racism turns truly and fully social.