Golden Dawn: The alarming rise of Greece's far right

 

On a weekday evening, the Golden Dawn headquarters opposite Athens' main station in the neighbourhood of Kolonos is teeming with supporters. A burly man with a thick silver chain around his neck stands at the door. His black T-shirt reads: "Against all."

Pensioners, youths and a priest mill around the room. Mrs Eleftheria, a retired health worker, has been dragged along by a friend. "Golden Dawn has helped people, so I'm curious to see what they're about" she says.

The woman next to Mrs Eleftheria came to ask for the party's help in reclaiming cash that a man owed her.

"We address their complaints, the Golden Dawn MP Ioannis Vouldis says. "Our party's politicians don't live in the rich suburbs like most other MPs. We're part of the neighbourhood."

In less than three years, the party's popularity has shot up from 0.4 per cent of the popular vote to 6.97 per cent in recent elections. Now, that support stands at 12 per cent. With its unyielding criticism of austerity measures and fierce anti-immigrant policies, the party taps many popular anxieties.

But Golden Dawn's help to citizens goes well beyond politics. The party claims it receives calls from distressed landlords whose flats have been occupied by migrants.

Mr Vouldis says his party's men clear the households thanks to their "good face and strong hand".

"They have taken on the role of the police," says 30-year-old Vassilis, a policeman from northern Greece who voted for the party in the last elections. "They provide a good pressure to the political system when corruption goes unpunished and poverty soars."

The broken trust between mainstream politicians and Greeks is only one reason for the rise of the far right. With its nationalist rhetoric, Golden Dawn appeals to the bruised pride of Greeks who see their country surrender to the "diktats" of foreign lenders.

But the rise of the party has ugly consequences. Recently, Golden Dawn MPs smashed the stalls of immigrants in Rafina. Rights groups have criticised the police for standing by while attacks on foreigners have increased. Last Saturday, thugs broke into the home of the imam of the Pakistani community.

"The rise of fascism in Greece is very dangerous," Javed Aslam, president of the Greek Pakistani community, said. "I don't understand how Europe can remain silent about this terrorism."

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