Analysis of Group
Golden Dawn has attracted increasing international media coverage since it successfully entered parliament following the 2012 Greek general election. Much of the media attention has focused on the party’s continued electoral success in the context of severe austerity measures, its openly neo-Nazi character, and its violent attacks against immigrants and leftists. However, as the party’s gains are almost exclusively viewed as a product of the financial crisis, the potential longer-term impact of Golden Dawn’s social and welfare activities and its international undertakings and links to far-right organizations appears underexplored at times.
Although Golden Dawn was founded nearly 30 years ago, the group hardly featured in international media coverage until the Greek general elections in 2012, when the party—to the surprise of analysts and the political establishment—was able not only to dramatically increase its share of the vote but to secure 18 seats in the Greek parliament. International observers and media commentators were alarmed that an ultra-nationalist party which openly models itself after the Nazis and advocates for mining Greece’s borders to keep out immigrants was so successful in a national election. In a BBC article in October 2012, former “Newsnight” editor Paul Mason echoed the consensus of much of the international press regarding Golden Dawn’s success. He drew parallels between modern Greece and Germany during the Weimar Republic, arguing that Golden Dawn’s rise was fueled by “hopelessness” and “inertia” and must be understood in the context of the financial crisis and the effects of the severe austerity measures that Greece had to endure. Though Mason rejected a direct comparison to the political and economic context of the Weimar Republic, he argued that “[W]hile the crisis may be on a scale weaker than the one that collapsed [...] in Greece, the forces holding democracy together may also be weaker.”Paul Mason, “Love or nothing: The real Greek parallel with Weimar,” BBC News, October 26, 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-20105881.
International commentators were careful not to overstate the importance of Golden Dawn’s 2012 electoral success, with The New York Times pointing out that “the group is still far from being a major threat to [Greek Prime Minister Antonis] Samaras’s party, or to his fragile three-party coalition government.”Liz Alderman, “Right-Wing Extremists’ Popularity Rising Rapidly in Greece,” New York Times, September 30, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/01/world/europe/amid-greeces-worries-the-rise-of-right-wing-extremists.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0. However, the fascist, violent, and aggressive character of the group and its leaders was emphasized by most media outlets. Reuters’s Dina Kyriakidou pointed out the inherent contradiction of denying being a neo-Nazi organization while at the same time “openly adopting similar ideology and symbols”Dina Kyriakidou, “Special Report: Greece's far-right party goes on the offensive,” Reuters, November 12, 2012, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/11/12/us-greece-crisis-dawn-idUSBRE8AB09F20121112. and the Guardian described an incident during which the “high-profile neo-Nazi MP” Ilias Kasidiaris physically attacked two left-wing female politicians during a live talk show. With sharp irony, the Guardian’s Helen Smith described Kasidiaris as “the most vocal opponent of suggestions that Chrysi Avgi [Golden Dawn] is a violent organisation with a history of attacks on society's most vulnerable not least Greece's burgeoning population of immigrants.”Helen Smith, “Greek Golden Dawn MP assaults female politicians on talkshow,” Guardian, June 7, 2012, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/jun/07/greek-golden-dawn-mp-assaults-females-tv.
Following a string of attacks on migrants across Greece during 2012 and 2013—for many of which Golden Dawn has been alleged to be responsible—international media outlets investigated Golden Dawn’s growing appeal among segments of the Greek population despite its violent reputation. As state welfare assistance was rolled back dramatically following the implementation of austerity cuts, Reuters pointed to Golden Dawn’s moves to fill the void. “Part of its [Golden Dawn’s] appeal is down to the sort of welfare work that Hamas, the Palestinian party, does in Gaza. Golden Dawn distributes food in poor neighborhoods, helps old ladies get money safely from ATMs—and has also set up a Greeks-only blood bank.”Dina Kyriakidou, “Special Report: Greece's far-right party goes on the offensive,” Reuters, November 12, 2012, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/11/12/us-greece-crisis-dawn-idUSBRE8AB09F20121112.
While the rise of Golden Dawn was repeatedly explained in the context of stringent austerity measures and widespread poverty and unemployment, international media outlets gave less attention to the international dimension of Golden Dawn’s activities. Thus, the connections of the organization to Russian President Vladimir Putin were not widely picked up even though Foreign Affairs magazine highlighted that Golden Dawn “is thought to receive funds from Russia.”Mitchell A. Orenstein, “Putin's Western Allies,” Foreign Affairs, March 25, 2014, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/141067/mitchell-a-orenstein/putins-western-allies. The Guardian noted Golden Dawn’s efforts to open offices across Europe and in the United States, quoting a Golden Dawn expert who stated, “Golden Dawn is not like other parties in Greece. From its beginnings, in the early 80s, it always had one eye abroad.”Helen Smith, “Greece's neo-Nazi Golden Dawn goes global with political ambitions,” Guardian, April 1, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/apr/01/greece-golden-dawn-global-ambitions.
Following the murder of left-wing rapper Pavlos Fyssas in 2013 by a member of Golden Dawn, media outlets have closely followed government efforts to prosecute the organizations leadership and crack down on racist violence. While the government-led action has generally been viewed as successful in curtailing the activities of the group, Golden Dawn’s electoral success at the recent European elections indicates that they are still popular among voters. This adds more pressure on the government to successfully prosecute Golden Dawn’s leader Michaloliakos and other members of the group during their upcoming trial. However, the Wall Street Journal has already speculated that “the evidence so far probably isn’t enough” to allow for the group to be banned.Marcus Walker, Marianna Kakaounaki, “Greece struggles to outlaw its Golden Dawn Fascist party,” Wall Street Journal, December 4, 2013, http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303281504579219983801909944.
While western media interest in the activities of Golden Dawn has significantly increased over the last two years, much media analysis has remained limited to linking the group’s success to the consequences of severe austerity measures. Accordingly, Golden Dawn’s ascent is predominantly viewed as a product of the financial crisis.