Greece’s Golden Dawn: Firebrand right-wingers accused of being criminals

Story highlights

Golden Dawn emerged as a political force during Greece's 2012 elections

But now, its MPs have been arrested on suspicion of running a criminal organization

The arrests come after a left-wing hip-hop artist was stabbed by an alleged sympathizer

The party's rise came amid harsh economic climate in which many Greeks have suffered

CNN  — 

They raise their arms in a fascist salute, waving flags in a show of fervent national pride. It is a scene reminiscent of Nazi Germany but this is the Golden Dawn party faithful, and they’re in a far more modern setting: Greece, the cradle of democracy.

Golden Dawn’s firebrand leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, captured the fury of an exhausted constituency and won his party 7% of the vote in the last Greek elections.

Now, just over a year later, he is in jail after being accused of running a criminal organization following the violent death of a left-wing hip-hop artist.

Golden Dawn’s emergence as a political force was in part a reaction against the political duopoly that had ruled Greece for decades. But other factors, similar to those which have fed the rise of other right-wing movements, played into Golden Dawn’s success.

Greece, the weakest member of the eurozone, has suffered harsh austerity measures, a grinding recession and unemployment levels which are now near 30%. It is also the favored gateway for illegal immigrants into Europe, given its long coastlines and geographical position.

Golden Dawn, which campaigns on the creation of a nationalist state and has a logo echoing the swastika, found itself a niche.

It had tapped into the fear of a country overwhelmed by financial crisis and unable to cope with the flood of immigrants across its borders.

In the space of three years, Golden Dawn went from a fringe party, polling at just 0.3%, to one which won 18 of the Greek parliament’s 300 seats. Its support then soared into double digits, allowing it to claim the title of Greece’s third biggest political player.

Golden Dawn, along with the left-wing coalition Syriza, had disrupted the country’s cosy political landscape, where power had been traded between the center-left Pasok and center-right New Democracy since the restoration of democracy in 1974.

And, as the country’s economy contracted, government implemented cutbacks, layoffs rose and the Arab Spring fed an increase in immigration, more Greeks found solace in the party’s extreme rhetoric. Its influence grew.

The party’s volatile membership

But Golden Dawn’s members soon proved volatile, attracting headlines for their extreme behavior and violence, particularly against immigrants.

In June last year, the party’s spokesman, Ilias Kasidiaris, clashed with two left-wing politicians on live television before going on the run.