News Analysis: Golden Dawn party crumbling, but far-right challenge still present in Greece

Source: Xinhua| 2019-07-16 04:10:19|Editor: ZX
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ATHENS, July 15 (Xinhua) -- A week ago Greeks woke up to a new political landscape. The big winners of the first general elections in the post-bailout era were the conservatives who returned in office taking over from a Leftist-led administration.

The big loser was far-Right Chryssi Avghi (Golden Dawn-GD) party which failed to enter the parliament for the first time after seven years, garnering 2.9 percent of votes.

Mainstream political parties, media commentators and ordinary citizens welcomed GD's defeat with celebratory remarks about the end of a painful chapter for the country.

The announcements of two leading party members, former MPs Panagiotis Iliopoulos and Yannis Lagos, during the weekend, that they are abandoning GD due to differences regarding strategic choices made, further strengthened the argument that the July 7 electoral battle sealed the end of Golden Dawn.

Greece, however, still needs to address the challenge of the far-right, local experts told Xinhua.

"Before the crisis Chryssi Avghi had very low rates, almost nonexistent, close to 0.2-0.3 percent of votes. That was it. During the crisis GD expressed the anger of Greek society, in particular young people, and turned into a hard, anti-systemic choice against the entire political system," political analyst Thomas Gerakis, co-founder of polling firm MARC, said explaining the rise of the party after the outbreak of the Greek debt crisis in late 2009.

In the 2012 general elections GD entered the Greek parliament for the first time winning 7 percent of votes and remained the third largest party in the plenary until recently.

"We saw that this gradually started to recede, because Greek society's anger gradually declined and in recent years evaporated," Gerakis said.

"The appearance of new parties, more moderate anti-systemic far-right parties, like the party led by Mr. (Kyriakos) Velopoulos in the latest elections, also contributed to Chryssi Avghi's further decline and as a result the party marginally failed to enter the parliament," Gerakis noted, pointing to Elliniki Lysi (Greek Solution), a nationalistic party with similar xenophobic and populist rhetoric which entered the Greek assembly for first time this summer.

"Another factor which contributed to Chryssi Avghi's failure to enter the parliament was the fact that the party's trial regarding Fyssas' murder coincided with this pre-election period," the expert added, referring to the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, an anti-fascist musician, by a GD supporter in September 2013.

Fyssas' death triggered a judicial crackdown against GD. A few weeks later almost the entire party leadership was charged of establishing and running a criminal organization implicated into dozens of racist attacks, in addition to the musician's death.

The trial of more than 60 GD members, including the party's leader Nikos Michaloliakos, started in 2015 and is still ongoing. A verdict is expected this autumn, according to lawyers representing victims.

Speaking to Athens municipal radio 9.84 last week, Magda Fyssa, the musician's mother, welcomed GD's defeat in the elections, expressing eagerness for the verdict which could be the final blow to the party.

It is significant that Greeks will no longer see "this vulgarity inside the parliament" and defendants will no longer appear in court "arrogant as MPs", she said.

"I believe that the verdict and sentencing will be decisive. It is difficult to make predictions, but I think that it will be the end of Chryssi Avghi, especially if the party's leadership is found guilty," sociologist Alexandros Sakellariou, Lecturer at the School of Humanities of the Hellenic Open University and Researcher at Panteion University of Athens, told Xinhua.

"There is a celebratory atmosphere that Chryssi Avghi lost, but we also did not expect it back in 2010-2012 and the party emerged, therefore in my opinion we should now be more cautious regarding what is going on in society," he warned.

Golden Dawn might collapse, disappear or end up as a marginal group, but factors which supported its rise are still here, the financial woes and migration flows are still present (although not so pressing), as well as the far-Right challenge in Greece, and new hardliners may take its place, Sakellariou said.

Sakellariou was member of a team which conducted five years a thorough research into Golden Dawn's emergence. The results indicate that the party was not just a product of the debt crisis or the migration/ refugee challenge Greece also faces in recent years.

"I believe that it would not be so accurate to say that it was the crisis. Definitely it was not only the crisis. The voters did not support the party just because of the crisis or the migration issue entirely, but had views which were very close to Chryssi Avghi's ideology, authoritarian and antidemocratic," the expert noted.

"Such opinions indicate that it was not just a flare, and this became clear as time was passing by. I believe that there is also the ideological element in this case. A few events such as the crisis or the migration issue gave boost to ideas which were already there and I think that they are still here," he said, commenting on GD's resilience for years despite the crackdown and the post-GD political reality.

"For sure Fyssas' killing played an important role, I think, but (GD's) resilience (they received 9 percent of votes in the European parliament elections in 2014) I believe is partly connected to this discourse regarding supporters' ideological links with this political space up to a degree," Sakellariou explained.

Before Chryssi Avghi, parties with slightly milder rhetoric and no militaristic structure and violent background, had parliamentary representation, he noted, pointing to Popular Orthodox Rally party which had participated in an interim government in 2011-2012.

GD attracted voters who were supporting mainstream parties, such as the conservatives or the socialists, in the past (the 2014 survey showed that even people who had cast ballots for the Communist party voted for GD).

In the post-bailout era Greece, some of these voters seem to have returned to mainstream options, abstained or supported Elliniki Lysi.

"If we take a better look at a few numbers (from July 7 election results), we see that the far- Right is still here in Greece. We see that Velopoulos received 3.7 percent, regardless whether they were Chryssi Avghi's voters in the past or other voters who now chose this path," Sakellariou said.