Greeks gathered for anti-fascist rallies across the country last night to protest against the actions of a far-right politician who punched a female opponent on a television show and then went on the run.
Ilias Kasidiaris, the Golden Dawn spokesman, attacked a left-wing candidate, Liana Kanelli, and threw a glass of water at another opponent in the heated debate on Thursday morning. He continued to evade police last night, with his arrest warrant due to expire today. A police spokesman, Athanassios Kokkalakis, told state TV: "We've been checking all the usual spots were this particular man could be."
As protesters massed for the evening rallies, Greeks took to the internet to express outrage at the actions of Mr Kasidiaris. Writing on the popular Protagon website, Dimitris, a photographer and computer science student, said that Mr Kasidiaris revealed the true nature of Golden Dawn. "They're dangerous neo-Nazis, so what happened was expected although absolutely unacceptable."
Maria Svoronou, a film director, echoed that: "I'm shocked by the incident but then again I'm shocked that people like these exist."
All leading newspapers lambasted the attack. A headline of the daily conservative newspaper Kathimerini said: "Climate of violence and sense of vulgarity plague the country."
But in a reflection of the deep divisions in Greece ahead of elections in less than 10 days, a Facebook page sprung up dedicated to the Golden Dawn member. It had garnered 6,000 "likes" within 24 hours.
"Blessed be the hand of Ilias Kasidiaris," the creators wrote. "Today Ilias did what the entire Greek people wanted: give a strong slap to the system and its representatives!"
On 17 June, Greece will hold elections that could determine the country's membership of the single currency. During the last inconclusive elections a month ago, Greeks – blaming mainstream politicians for rampant fraud and mishandling the crisis – cast a punishing vote in favour of smaller parties that vowed to purge the country of political corruption.
Golden Dawn's popularity surged on a platform of nationalist sentiment. It also pledged to "clean up" neighbourhoods that witnessed a rise in undocumented immigrants and crime.
Polls predict the party's support will decline at the forthcoming elections, but experts warn that the images of violence on the TV show could play in their favour.
Kostas Panagopoulos, the head of the polling company Alco, said that voters who abandon the party over the assault will be replaced by others who applaud this kind of behaviour.
"There is an audience for this – a part of the electorate who want Golden Dawn to beat up to instill order in Parliament and end corruption," Mr Panagopoulos said.
But the political analyst Theodore Couloumbis told Reuters news agency that he thought it could cost the anti-immigrant party votes. "My first reaction is that it will hurt their chances, especially with women," Mr Couloumbis said. "You saw right in front of you the full brutality and ugly behaviour of a young neo-Nazi man beating up a defenceless woman. It's as simple as that."
Women's groups also condemned Mr Kasidiaris, while a journalists' union asked that Golden Dawn members be banned from news shows.Reuse content