Golden Dawn and the rise of ultra-nationalism in Greece

Greek sunsetIn Greece, the fallout from the Eurozone Crisis is beginning to work its way into the public psyche. As political and technocratic blunders become common knowledge, signs of discontent and disillusionment with the established political system are growing. One of the parties to capitalise on this wave of dissatisfaction is the ultra-nationalist and anti-immigration party Golden Dawn. Since 2010, media coverage and public attention has helped Golden Dawn’s profile to rise dramatically.

This essay will address the reasons Golden Dawn have achieved support during the Eurozone Crisis, examining how ultra-nationalism has become prominent in Greek society and politics. 

The effect this has is wide-reaching, as American anthropologist Neni Panourgia (2012) notes: “Europe stands on the head of a needle, steeped in a crisis that threatens the foundational premises of democracy, self-determination, and autonomy. Golden Dawn is a European problem, not a limited and containable Greek one.”

Nationalist Parties in Contemporary Europe

Following the actions of the Nazi regime during the Second World War and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, political extremes became a taboo in mainstream western politics, and as a result faded into relative obscurity (Marchetos 2012).

 “For many years, extreme right parties had limited political impact. They were not considered as viable coalition or co-operation parties – they were political pariahs. More recently the picture has changed. Extreme right parties have grown in legitimacy and influence, to the extent that they may be on the verge of becoming a “naturalised” part of the European party systems.” – Anders Widfelt

The real change began in recent decades; whereas before they would have remained fairly separate in their own country or region, far-right groups and political parties around Europe have begun to coordinate with each other to legitimise themselves in the eyes of the public, with increasingly sophisticated tactics used in voter baiting. The parties began to utilise polarisation from the mid-1950s onwards, selling themselves as alternatives to ‘corrupt’ or ‘inept’ mainstream politicians , and shifting their political focus towards anti-immigrant and anti-immigration arguments (Von Beyme 1988, Widfeldt 2010).

Golden Dawn's banner has been likened to the Nazi sawastika

The Golden Dawn banner has been likened to the Nazi sawastika

As Michael Whine (2012) discusses in his chapter Trans-European trends in Right-wing Extremism, interaction and cultural transfers have become common with the development of the internet and communication technology: “We see an emerging pan-European extreme-right identity, which claims to be based on common European histories, identities and cultures in reaction to the increasing presence of new migrants” (ibid, p. 318). This observation from Whine links the focus on anti-immigration policy to a sense of protectionism and exclusion of foreigners, thus emphasising a sense of nationalism.

With the increase in collaborative efforts, it becomes necessary to address why people from various countries would consider the nationalistic vote in the first place.

Ferruh Yilmaz (2011) has theorised that the immigration issue sold by nationalistic parties is a created problem; people do not respond to it because they are reacting to the problem of immigration, but because the right has framed it as a problem. By turning foreigners, particularly immigrants, into an alien threat, there is a basis for cause of alienation from the sovereign population. “The populist right managed to frame media debates, via ongoing moral panics around immigrants’ ‘cultural’ behaviours, in such a way that political parties of all persuasions are forced to respond continually to ever fresh scandals and intentional provocations. They thus tacitly accept the premises for these so-called debates” (ibid, p.377). This seems close to the state of affairs in Greece, where there has, for a long time, been high immigration levels without a similar sense of antagonism.

The rhetoric has changed from a fanatical-ideological basis towards a stance against immigration levels. This is basically along the same lines of the usual far-right ideology – there is an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ – though the debate can continue indefinitely.

Golden Dawn is best understood as an ultra-nationalist party. While the term ‘right-wing’ varies between political spheres, the right tends to follow a format of hierarchical power, rather than the socialist-memorandum that Golden Dawn advocates, as seen on their website. Many have alluded to the group as a neo-Nazi party as their appeal to voters comes from nationalistic rhetoric.

It then becomes necessary to address and understand why people support ultra-nationalist and/or anti-immigration parties: how much of this is a protest vote, how much belief is actually invested in the ideals put forward, and how this is relevant to the current situation in Greece.

The Political Climate in Greece

In many ways, Greek politics never completely recovered from the military junta-rule from 1967-74, often referred to as the ‘Regime of the Colonels’. The effects of the junta still resonate in Greek politics and society; a “large number of the population still retain the living memory of the military junta, and this perhaps explains why support for Golden Dawn is at particularly low ebb among the elderly” (McKenna 2013).

However, it has been argued that the level of authoritarianism developed during the junta still lingers in various public service sectors, the most prominent being the military and the police. It has been alluded to that “there is a tradition of authoritarianism in parts of the Greek police, which dates back to the time of the military Junta and beyond” (Philips 2012). Golden Dawn’s founder and leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos “met the leaders of the military junta in jail. [Golden Dawn] was founded in 1985 under a direct order from the imprisoned leader of the Greek junta, George Papadopoulos” (Panourgia 2012).

At the time of writing, Golden Dawn is polling as the third party in Greece. The disillusionment with established political parties comes into play; the two main parties, New Democracy and the PanHellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) – both of which are largely blamed for the economic crisis – have suffered greatly at the polls. After the May 2012 elections resulted in a hung parliament, follow-up elections ended with no party winning a majority vote.


Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras at the 2010 EEP Summit

With the troika and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) imposing increasingly harsher austerity measures on Greece, requiring them to cut public services, wages, and benefits, many Greeks consider themselves the scapegoats of the crisis, blamed for the blunders of northern Europe and a corrupt financial system. As historian Robert Paxton (2005) says, this lays out the ideal ground for fascism (ibid, p. 218).

The Greek government, in an attempt to draw attention away from the problems caused by austerity have come to place much attention on the high immigration levels in Greece, particularly in the centre of Athens. With immigration in the spotlight, and with the economic situation and austerity worsening the lives of many ordinary citizens in Greece, this has given Golden Dawn the opportunity and a strong foothold to establish themselves.

Immigration Levels in Greece

Greece has one of the highest immigrant populations in Europe per capita (Kasamis 2012). “Widely seen as the easiest entry point to the west, Greece has had a surge of new arrivals, with government figures showing more than 100 migrants daily crossing the country’s porous border with Turkey. The majority go to Athens, a magnet for migrants desperate to find work before moving on to other parts of Europe. An estimated million immigrants are believed to live in Greece where the population is barely 11 million” (Smith 2012).

GD protest

Facing public pressure, the new government attempted to distract the people from the austerity measures by drawing their focus to the immigration levels. In an interview with the New York Times in September 2012, Prime Minister Samaras said “that “waves of illegal immigrants” were sweeping through Greece, a “major problem” that would worsen if Syria imploded and more refugees entered Turkey and then Greece. “Illegal immigrants have taken over Athens,” he said, causing a “public health problem” and a rise in crime” (Donadio and Alderman 2012). The interview came shortly after a crackdown on illegal immigrants began in Athens throughout August, where police detained over 7,000 immigrants and arrested 2,000, most of whom were of African or Asian descent (Smith 2012).

Amid these crackdowns, Golden Dawn has been widely considered as a proactive arbiter in tackling the issue. There have been documented cases of varying degrees of support for Golden Dawn, from neutrality to outright support, and many now consider anti-immigration activities as beneficial to Greece. This has given Golden Dawn a solid footing in the Greek socio-political sphere (Mason 2012; Smith 2012; Philips 2012).

The Support for Golden Dawn

Golden Dawn has seen a surge in support since November 2011; “Golden Dawn is suddenly everywhere. Its eight local offices at election time have become 60 nationwide” (Mason 2012). It has been speculated that the main target audience of Golden Dawn is the working class, or those vulnerable to the austerity measures (McKenna 2012). With wages facing increasing cuts and unemployment levels at 26%, Golden Dawn have used this to their advantage: “Every foreign worker equals a Greek unemployed: Deportation of all the illegal immigrants mean hundreds of thousands of new jobs for the Greeks. Since 1993 the newspaper “Golden Dawn” circulated with this slogan in the front page” (Golden Dawn International website).

Golden Dawn has become something of a ‘Robin Hood’ figure to many in Greece. Party activists have recently begun handing out free food in Athens to people struggling financially, though they are only eligible to receive the food if they produce their Greek citizenship card (BBC online video, 2012). This is a perfect example of Golden Dawn’s tactics: portraying a cultivated image of concern for its people with a basis of xenophobia.

riotersThe violence perpetrated against immigrants by Golden Dawn activists, sympathisers and affiliates is well known, and growing as the party works its way into mainstream consciousness. “The group has been implicated in torture cases, and for inciting a wave of racial violence sweeping the country. ‘Violence is getting wilder and wilder and we still have the same pattern of attacks… committed by groups of people in quite an organized way,’ Kostis Papaioannou, former head of the Greek National Commission for Human Rights told AP (Associated Press). Out of the 18 MPs selected in June to represent the Golden Dawn in parliament, four are under investigation for violent attacks and have been stripped of their parliamentary immunity” (Russia Today 2012).

The numerous attacks on immigrants have also seen party members with apparent immunity from prosecution. This highlights the ever-growing evidence that Golden Dawn has high support among the police force in Greece. 

“There is a feeling among some Greek policemen, working on the rundown streets of central Athens, that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”. The police feel overwhelmed by the influx of immigrants, and they also feel hostility from anarchist and leftist groups. In some neighbourhoods, they will see Golden Dawn as a more sympathetic alternative.” – Barnaby Philips

Mainstream Greek media has also been slow to address the violence perpetrated, focusing on the party’s communitarian work as a way to relive the pressures of austerity from their audience, at times going as far to describe Golden Dawn as legitimising democracy (Chatzistefanou 2012; Margaronis 2012).

Young Greeks are also heavily affected by the current political and economic climate. Youth unemployment in Greece was recorded at 55.4% at the end of 2012 (Eurostat 2012), and has been coupled with a feeling of being abandoned, stigmatised and threatened by the state and the authorities (Tsimitakis 2013).

This conflict between Greek youth and the police force properly began in 2008 when 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos was shot dead by two police officers in central Athens. This resulted in riots throughout the city, which cost the lives of three people when a bank was burnt down. The violence in 2008 became a precursor to the anti-austerity riots which were a regular occurrence throughout 2010-12. As the riots gained international media attention, they served to polarise and lessen the credibility of both anarchist groups and those wishing for a legitimate protest (Kitsantonis 2010).

Protest & police

Police face protesters in the 2011 Athens General Strike

This highlights the differing attitudes of the police to each political group; Golden Dawn members who have been arrested for violence have not been berated or used as a warning to other nationalists in such a way (Tsimitakis 2013).

This situation is easy for Golden Dawn to play off; they can adopt a ‘with us or against us’ stance with Greek youths, and are widely seen by many as the only political group offering a solution to the immigration problem (Mason 2012; Smith 2012; Philips 2012).

Golden Dawn have managed, as Yilmaz (2011) alluded to, to mobilised support in Greek communities – and perhaps even the authorities – by instilling in the minds of the people that there is an immigration problem, one which only they are able to counter.


Golden Dawn to no longer be considered as a fringe movement, and now hold real sway on the political outcome in Greece and therefore Europe. Following the format of other nationalistic groups they have maintained the focus on immigration, and in its current climate Greece is a fertile ground to build upon. The IMF-imposed austerity measures are due to last into the foreseeable future, and with the right strategies and tactics, Golden Dawn can easily direct the public anger they have caused against the migrant communities.

As the Newsnight’s Economic Editor Paul Mason (2012) described; “What I have seen on the streets of Athens convinces me this is not rhetoric. The situation is changing rapidly. There is a violent far-right party, its MPs committing and inciting violence with impunity; a police force that cannot or will not prevent Golden Dawn from projecting uniformed force on the streets. And a middle class that feels increasingly powerless to turn the situation round.”


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Athens: Mediterranean Migration Observatory. Chatzistefanou, A. (2012) Why are Golden Dawn members the darlings of popular Greek TV shows?, The Guardian, [online] 23 Sept. Available at: %5BAccessed: 17 Feb 2013].

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2 responses to “Golden Dawn and the rise of ultra-nationalism in Greece

  1. I wouldn’t want colored people in my country if I was a native Greece. Multi ethnic society has not worked here in the USA. I have lived in a town dominated by those of Germanic European descent, my family and neighbors mostly marry only into this ethnicity, and there was no crime at all. Completely safe for everyone. Children could roam town on their own, women could be outside at night, you could leave your bike unattended. American whites of other ethnicities or mixed whites (like Germanic celtic Slavic crosses, not colored mixes) moves in and there are generally still no problems at all. A group of colored move in and there is always many problems. Especially if there is large groups of them. Crime went way up. A ridiculous amount for how small their population was considered to ours. Most of it committed against the original white residents.

    We know longer let our children run around without extremely close supervision. Everywhere the coloreds have ruined our town. Our youth are starting to dress up as ‘gangsters’, they have completely embraced the superficial toxic crap from Hollywood and television, and they have begun to abandon all their values. Seeing once sweet boys dress up as American blacks and act completely idiotic to be ‘cool’ makes me want to throw up. I now understand why so many American whites participate in ‘white flight.’

    The bigger cities are worse. The ones under black control have completely failed. They commit horrible crime against whites for no other reason than they are white.

    It might feel good to think we can all be accepting and love eachother in a peaceful society, but it is not realistic. We are too different and would be much better off separated.

    If Greece nationalist are racist… well so what? It’s their country. It would be better for them to take care of it now before their problem is worse than ours, and Greece isn’t really the Greek’s country anymore. Better to do it now than when It hurts more people on both sides

    Look at these examples of the horrendous outcome of multi racial societies

    • Thanks for the comment.

      This is mostly an academic piece which I kept deliberately short & sweet. Realistically it only scratches the surface of why Golden Dawn was/is making gains in Greece, and barely touches on the ultra-nationalism and anti-immigration in Europe. It’s worth pointing out that in Greece, the whole sentiment is based on nonsense; immigration has been going on in Greece for thousands of years, with God knows how much cultural influences from Europe and Asia.

      At the moment Greece is caught in a crisis where ordinary citizens are affected, and GD have (until recently) been quite good at exploiting the crisis for their benefit. You’ve just got to remember, this is regarding immigrants, and largely has nothing to do with skin colour. Problems such as this are social issues; here in Scotland there’s more than enough instances of people being attacked, countless thefts, drugs are rife, and the majority of the population has the most pasty-white skin you’re ever likely to see. In the case of Greece again, a lot of the backlash was caused by immigration from other Balkan nations, mainly Albania, who’s population’s (I’m guessing by virtue of being further north) have lighter skin than many Greeks.

      Besides, I can’t think of any country, anywhere, which isn’t intrinsically built by immigration. Particularly the States.

      I’m no expert on the US crime stats, but from what I’ve seen violent crime is on the decrease, such as in New York where it’s dropped to the lowest in decades: The article you posted on Hurricane Katrina is mostly pointing out how whites were given precedence over blacks, many of who were completely innocent though perceived to be perpetrators just because people judged them on their skin colour. And ultimately, I think that’s the only place this leads – narrow sightedness which leads to a spiral of hate where innocent people get hurt, and nobody ends up getting anywhere.

      If you want to be cynical, I think it’s best to be cynical about the whole of the human species. Don’t limit yourself! History shows that all people have have the potential to be right bastards all by themselves, no matter what race, social placing, culture or civilization they belong too.

      So yeah, ending on a cheery note, huh… All views expressed here are my own, etc etc.

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