Golden Dawn is a Greek neo-Nazi party that began gaining popularity in the wake of the 2008-09 global financial crisis. In 2012, capitalizing on voter discontent with austerity measures imposed as part of an EU financial bailout plan, Golden Dawn members were elected to the Greek parliament for the first time. The party has since become the third largest political force in Greece (following local and European elections in May 2014).
Golden Dawn was founded in the 1980s by Greek neo-Nazi Nikolaos Michaloliakos. The party holds anti-Semitic and racist views and many of Golden Dawn’s members, including its senior leadership, glorify Hitler and National Socialism. For example, an early version of the party magazine states: “We are the faithful soldiers of the National Socialist idea and nothing else.”
In recent years, Golden Dawn has succeeded in appealing to a broader range of voters by ”softening” its image. During the 2014 European elections, many Golden Dawn candidates were middle-class professionals, including university professors, lawyers, surgeons, businesspeople, and a former NATO commander. Golden Dawn’s leadership has sought to explain away its early neo-Nazi platform by arguing that prior references to the Nazis were “youthful indiscretions.”
Attempted rationalizations aside, there is little doubt about the true character of Golden Dawn, given its substantial track record of violent attacks against immigrants and leftists across Greece. Members of the party even reportedly were involved in the murder of immigrants.
In September 2013, the murder of the anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas by a Golden Dawn member led to widespread popular protests against Golden Dawn that finally forced the government to crack down more decisively on the party. Its leader Michaloliakos and several Golden Dawn Members of Parliament (MP) were arrested and state prosecutors launched a high-profile investigation to determine whether Golden Dawn could be declared a criminal organization and be banned from participating in Greek politics (the only way to ban a party in Greece).
All 16 Golden Dawn MPs are currently in custody and the trial against them is expected to begin soon. Much is at stake as the verdict could determine the future of the party. However, a number of observers have suggested that the evidence is insufficient to convict Michaloliakos and his cohorts. If that indeed is the outcome, Golden Dawn will continue to have a profound impact on Greek political life.