In Greece's January 25 elections, 388,000 people voted for the fascist, neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn.
The election was largely fought as a contest of hope and solidarity against fear and austerity. Radical left party SYRIZA defeated right-wing establishment party New Democracy.
SYRIZA placed first in the popular vote with 36% of votes, but the openly fascist party Golden Dawn took third place in the poll with 6.3%.
This is significant for three reasons:
1. Golden Dawn has moved beyond a protest vote and is now a legitimate political project. It has polled consistent support for several years after peaking with 18% in opinion polls in previous years.
2. Greece was ruled by a Western-backed fascist dictatorship from 1967-74 and was occupied by Nazi forces during World War II. One of SYRIZA’s most prominent members, Manolis Gleezos, famously when he tore down the Nazi flag from the Acropolis with Apostolos Santas.
3. Despite the fact that seven of the Golden Dawn's 18 lawmakers are in pre-trial detention for being members of a criminal gang, the party managed to not only hold its vote, but rise from being the fifth party in Greece to the third.
The party also set a record in 2013 when its leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos became the first elected political leader to be arrested since the end of the dictactorship.
As people flooded the streets to support SYRIZA and its stance against austerity on January 25 and beyond, it is critical to note that far right parties claimed in excess of 11% of the electoral vote. This figure includes SYRIZA’S coalition government partner the Independent Greeks (ANEL), who, among other things, are against immigration and multiculturalism.
The rise of fascism in Greece is tied to a political vacuum created by the brutal politics of austerity and the shift in power away from Greek politicians towards the Troika (the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund).
Before the economic crisis, Golden Dawn barely registered as a party. Now, it reaches out to a wider audience. The party also has an office in Montreal, Canada, and last year, party representatives had to cancel a planned visit to Australia after having their visa applications stalled.
On the other side of politics, SYRIZA emerged to occupy the political space vacated by the former “socialist” party PASOK, which infamously implemented the first pro-austerity “memorandum” on behalf of the Troika and, in doing so, signed its own death warrant.
SYRIZA has supported free medical clinics, food banks and striking workers, while Golden Dawn members have routinely attacked migrants, murdered the rapper Pavlos Fyssas and had its leaders held for trial for being in a criminal gang.
More worryingly, it is estimated that up to seven out of 10 police officers support the party.
Walking through Athens, the presence of Golden Dawn is visible to the extent that it affects public behaviour. It is not uncommon to see a party banner proudly hang on the balcony of an apartment.
The image of Greek flags marching though Athens alongside the party’s swastika-inspired “Greek Key” is indeed a troubling image. During the election, Golden Dawn ran a campaign that cast itself and its jailed leaders as victims for promoting an unwelcome political truth.
Austerity has led to the rise of far-right parties across Europe as people lose faith in the establishment. This is evidenced in the rise of the UK Independence Party in Britain and the National Front in France.
Notably in Greece, however, it has been the left that has risen most to occupy the largest political space for the first time in decades.
The real challenge facing Greece is neither solely economic nor political; it is to unite both spheres into a cohesive project of change. While hopeful, the present political situation in Greece is fragile.