The Golden Dawn (GD) was a far-right Greek party and one of the most violent political movements in Europe. The group gained exposure internationally following the electoral conquests during the economic crisis in Greece between 2010 and 2012. Although the name had been circulating in the Greek extreme right circles since the 1980s, it was not until 1985 that GD assumed the structure of a political party, all while being run as a paramilitary organisation. From its origins, the ideological roots of the movement were steeped in Nazi symbolism and were deeply influenced by the ideology of the Third Reich, as well as by the various military dictatorships that Greece had experienced since World War II. The party often conducted attacks against migrants, refugees, the LGBTQ community, Muslim and Jewish citizens, and left-wing militants until its formal disintegration in 2020.
History & Foundations
The Golden Dawn was founded under the name "People’s Association – Golden Dawn" on the 14th of February 1983 by Nikos Michaloliakos, who led the party until its dissolution (2). Michaloliakos' openly national socialist principles set the embryonic ideology of the group (3), which remained almost politically inactive until the 1990s. After the first congress in 1990, GD began to organise its own militancy and actively participated in the Balkan War on the side of Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbian regime. This participation saw the involvement of party officials as volunteers in the Srebrenica massacre and mass mobilisations against the recognition of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (contemporarily North Macedonia) (4).
During the early 2000s, GD began structuring itself more formally by shifting its focus to domestic politics, although it remained on the side lines and proved unable to carve out a relevant role for itself in the Greek electoral context. The first electoral success came in 2010, when the party first reached the threshold in the municipal elections of Athens. Nikos Michaloliakos – the leader of the GD party – was given a seat in Athens’ municipal council after having obtained 5.29% of votes in the municipal elections (2). In this instance, issues related to immigration played an important role that would subsequently become a central theme for the following elections. It was only during the Greek debt crisis that Golden Dawn achieved real national political relevance and global renown.
The political earthquake caused by the severe economic crisis profoundly delegitimised other parties and offered new political opportunities to the most extreme political forces, towards which a large part of the electorate was moving. In the two 2012 parliamentary elections, the protest-vote practice against Greek political establishment and European austerity became an attractive option for the Greek electorate, and Golden Dawn was one of its main beneficiaries. The political crisis of New Democracy, the main Greek conservative party, and the decline of the radical populists of LAOS offered Golden Dawn an unprecedented electoral performance, obtaining 21 MPs in May and 18 in June.
The stabilisation of the Greek political and economic crisis has gradually pushed GD back to the margins of the Greek political world. Additionally, the beginning of a long series of trials for the violent actions conducted by the group’s members – along with the loss of the party’s substantial economic resources – caused a decrease in GD’s ‘soft power’, per se, which was benefiting from the group’s food distributions and blood donations reserved to Greek citizens (5). The turning point came on September 18th, 2013, when two members of Golden Dawn, in contact with the party leadership, stabbed to death Pavlos Fyssas, a left-wing anti-fascist rapper known as Killah P (7). In 2015, the trial began and involved 68 people, including the entire party leadership and the 2012 parliamentary group. It ended in October 2020 with the conviction of all defendants as part of a criminal organisation and 15 members for the murder of Pavlos. Consequently, Golden Dawn was formally dissolved and declared as an illegal entity (7).
Objectives & Ideology
The GD party always pursued policies guided by a deeply reactionary, conservative and racist vision. The ideology of Golden Dawn is steeped in neo-Nazi, authoritarian, ultra-nationalist and anti-Semitic ideas. Although GD always rejected to be labelled as a neo-Nazi party, Nazi symbolism was omnipresent and references to the Third Reich were evident. On numerous occasions, GD mentioned that the purity of Greek blood was ‘threatened by foreigners’, and many of their paramilitary marches featured exclamations of “blood and honour”; a direct translation from the German motto “Blut und Ehre” once carried by the Nazi SA. Its members also sang “Raise the flags high” (translated from the Nazi stormtroopers’ official hymn “Die Fahne hoch”) during certain marches (8).
Following their agenda, Golden Dawn aimed to create a Hellenic ethnostate, speaking out against “the demographic alteration and dissolution of Greek society”, which would be systematically perpetrated by “millions of illegal immigrants” and the “establishment and leftist parties” (2). During the Greek economic crisis, Golden Dawn violently raged against European austerity and traditional parties, inciting protest votes and the exit from the Euro system (2).
Military & Political Abilities
GD had the political ability to attract many voters during a period of deep political instability in the Greek country. The party in the 2012 elections managed to channel protest votes towards both the so-called establishment parties and the Troika’s Memorandum of Austerity Measures (4). Over the years, through various previously active organisations, Golden Dawn managed to create a strong grassroots militant participation that was particularly active in several right-wing strongholds in downtown Athens (4). The organisation was structured according to a military hierarchy. GD could be considered as a militia-like party – clearly vertically oriented with strong leaders and militarily capable militants (5).
Approach to Resistance
In 2012, when GD was at its peak level of ability, Human Rights Watch documented a dramatic increase in extreme right-wing political violence; dozens of attacks were conducted against immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and other minorities (6). Militants, candidates, and parliamentarians were prosecuted and convicted for assaults on migrants during so-called ‘vigilance activities’, which allegedly aimed at cleaning up the streets from crime (2). Physically violent militancy against antagonistic groups was a common feature, and mainly directed against left-wing circles and members of ethnic and religious minorities. In 1998, MP Antonios Androutsopoulos and other party members violently assaulted a group of left-wing students, wounding two and almost killing a third (2)(5). For this crime, Androutsopoulos was sentenced to 21 years in prison.
International Relations & Alliances
In the 2014 elections, Golden Dawn received 9.3% of the total votes and 3 MEPs, who joined the European Parliament under the category of “Non-attached”. Indeed, at the international level, GD has found itself on the margins of European politics, being isolated and ignored even from other far-right parties. In reference to this trend, Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's Rassemblement National, said that Golden Dawn has a "filthy image" and had clearly excluded the will to include the Greek party in their alliance (3).
Despite its isolation within European institutions, Golden Dawn has – over the years – cultivated numerous international relations with similar political parties and movements (3). In fact, a series of meetings in various European capitals involved far-right parties. In 2013, Golden Dawn, the Spanish La Falange Movement, Romania’s Noua Dreapta and other similar parties met in Madrid, where they signed a collaboration pact. Another meeting took place in Rome and was attended by GD, Forza Nuova and the German Nazis of National Democratic Party (3). Although GD has been ignored by the most influential right-wing politicians on the continent, it can still be assumed that the Greek party enjoyed a veiled sympathy. In 2016, Lorenzo Fontana, one of Matteo Salvini’s far-right Party deputies, sent his best wishes to his "Golden Dawn friends". Nowadays, with the new far-right Italian Government, Lorenzo Fontana is Speaker of the Lower House and the third most important figure in the State (1).
Works Cited (Chicago-style)
(1) - ANSA. “League's Fontana elected Lower House Speaker.” October 14, 2022. https://www.ansa.it/english/newswire/english_service/2022/10/14/ansa/leagues-fontana-elected-lower-house-speaker_4b52cdd8-a05d-4769-b08d-ffa3f3bd1d74.html
(2) - Ellinas, Antonis A. “The Rise of Golden Dawn: The New Face of the Far Right in Greece.” South European Society and Politics 18, no. 4 (2013). 543–65. https://www.academia.edu/2912346/The_Rise_of_the_Golden_Dawn_The_New_Face_of_the_Far_Right_in_Greece
(3) - EU Observer. “Greece’s Golden Dawn seeks allies in EP.” May 20, 2014. https://euobserver.com/eu-political/124170
(4) - Georgiadou, Vasiliki. “Right-Wing Populism and Extremism: The Rapid Rise of ‘Golden Dawn’ in Crisis-Ridden Greece”, in: Ralf Melzer and Sebastian Serafin (eds.) Right-Wing Extremism in Europe. Country Analyses, Counter-Strategies and Labour-Market Oriented Exit-Strategies. Berlin, Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung. (2013). 75-101. https://www.academia.edu/4213658/Right_Wing_Populism_and_Extremism_The_Rapid_Rise_of_Golden_Dawn_in_Crisis_Ridden_Greece
(5) - Georgiadou, Vasiliki. “The State of the Far Right in Greece.” Perspective, (2019). https://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/athen/15846.pdf
(6) - Human Rights Watch. “Greece: Migrants Describe Fear on the Street”. July 10, 2012. https://www.hrw.org/news/2012/07/10/greece-migrants-describe-fear-streets
(7) - Politico. “Greece’s Golden Dawn leaders guilty of running a criminal gang”. October 7, 2020. https://www.politico.eu/article/greece-neo-nazi-golden-dawn-leaders-guilty-of-running-criminal-gang/
(8) - The Guardian. “Greece's Golden Dawn isn't a political party– it's more like a criminal gang”. September 4, 2012. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/sep/04/greece-golden-dawn-not-political-party