Greek Anti-Immigration Party Golden Dawn Survives Crackdown—Because It’s Rooted In Middle Class

Greece took over the presidency of the European Union on New Year’s Day. For the next 6 months, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras will be the EU head, at least nominally. But back on his home ground, things are tougher: European elections will be held May 22 and his center-right New Democracy party is not only facing the possibility of a high-polling party on its left, SYRIZA, but also the surprising fact that, on its right, the nationalist, anti-immigration party Golden Dawn refuses to go away.

This is not because the Greek government hasn’t tried to make Golden Dawn go away—its unprecedented crackdown last fall verged on hard totalitarianism. And currently Athens is boiling with rumors about yet more new laws limiting or banning the party or prohibiting some of its best-known members from running for office.

But Golden Dawn still seems to have pretty decent chance of winning Athens, the Greek capital, in the municipal elections also held May 22. And the Euro-elections, currently scaring politicians all around Europe because voters use them as a chance to blow off protest steam, could give GD a vote even higher than what it might get in a national election.

More than ever after the murder of two of its young members in November—still unsolved, although a Leftist terrorist group claimed credit—Golden Dawn is surprising everyone with its opinion poll strength. It's a situation unique in the whole Western World: a party whose leader and Members of Parliament are in jail, and whose members have been murdered and persecuted, still achieves third place in the polls, scoring in the 7%-10% range.

After the government crackdown, the Greek Left is trying to reclaim the streets. With the police making it “criminal” for Golden Dawn members to organize almost any event or have any kind of weapons even for self-defense, the Left has been given a clear field to challenge the grassroots character of GD. But its efforts have merely emphasized the chasm in Greek society and highlighted why GD remains popular, especially among the middle class.

Thus one such Leftist effort was a play performed after the crackdown in Agios Panteleimonas Square (St. Panteleimon’s Square). Accompanied by MPs from the leftist SYRIZA Party, a group of performers, bused in from outside, staged a show that Greek’s Main Stream Media then fawned upon, with headlines like “Culture returns to Agios Panteleimonas.”  Naturally the MSM neglected to mention the hundreds of policemen cordoning off the area in case anyone objected to this “anti-racist flowering of civilization.”

But why was Agios Panteleimonas considered so important that it deserved this absurd ceremony of PC purification?

The area was one of the old middle-class neighborhoods in the center of Athens. During the 1990s, it suffered a series of blows. First, a wave of immigration from the Balkan countries arrived. Then, Africans and Asians came. Hordes of Third World immigrants were being dumped there by the organized gangs smuggling them in

The neighborhood quickly became the site for the main Afghan ghetto, with the Nigerian ghetto setting up shop just a few blocks away.

The usual followed: gang violence, squatting, dozens of people living in small apartments with no respect to hygiene. Gradually even the square around the church—once the biggest in Athens—became an open-air flophouse and public toilet.

This was the chief reason Golden Dawn rose to prominence in this part of Athens. Similar processes were underway elsewhere, especially in the 6th district of Athens.

When multiracialism moved in to Agios Panteleimonas, Greeks who could afford it quickly left. But here we come to the nub of the matter. The dream of the average middle class Greek has always been to have a “roof over his head.” Many families had bought property in neighborhood prior to the 2008 financial crisis. Plummeting house values meant that fewer could afford the luxury of white flight. Greeks were left behind to “coexist” with their new Asian and African neighbors.

As if the turf wars between various ethnicities were not enough, petty crime spread like wildfire—“petty crimes” that sometimes involved people getting killed over a handful of Euros. Stealing golden crosses from old ladies in the middle of the street became quite the fashion. Home invasions focused on retired and disabled people, often culminating in their murder.

And then the first clashes began. To the shame of the Greeks, it was the Polish immigrants who showed the way. They had never caused a problem with Greeks, but they did have problems with Afghans, and stood up for themselves. The Greeks followed their lead.

By the end of 2008, there was quite a buzz. Every month, a committee of the residents around Agios Panteleimon would organize a demonstration, demanding solutions. But as soon as immigration was mentioned, the Left came rushing in. There were counter-demonstrations and groups of anarchists tried to terrorize people by sending threatening letters and patrolling the area from a nearby squat.

On the heels of the Leftists came the Main Stream Media, who suddenly discovered an entire neighborhood of Athens infested by “gruesome racists.”

In their rush to impose Political Correctness and promote immigration, the mainstream Left smeared everyone who was reacting to the problems as a “racist.” After the socialist government of George Papandreou came to power in 2009, the police tried to act against the local residents. The New Democracy Party, then in opposition, flirted with the residents, but carefully avoided going public because of morbid fear of being called “racist.” Golden Dawn, back then a small organization, was almost their only ally.

What followed were some years of skirmishes around the neighborhood. This is where Golden Dawn managed to find its first real popular support. It invested heavily in the neighborhood, with its members present every day. Some opened stores in the area. The whole web of economic and social activity in the area was favorable towards GD because it was the only force for stability. This was the effect of its tactic of “free zones,” whereby it focused its resources on one specific area to show what could be done with local support.

Police would enter the area every now and then and try to sweep up some illegal immigrants, but so randomly that it had no effect. Golden Dawn didn't manage to clean up the whole area either, but the square around the church became much safer.

Soon similar “resident committees” started popping up all over Athens, and then further afield throughout Greece. It was also in this area that Golden Dawn achieved its first electoral success, when its now-imprisoned leader Nikos Michaloliakos was elected to the municipal council of Athens.

But is the immigration problem on its own big enough to boost an unknown party to success? Have there not been additional factors in the rise of Golden Dawn?

Agios Panteleimon shows the connection between the middle class and Golden Dawn—and how the IMF-and-EU-sanctioned policies of taxing the middle class to death have pushed it into supporting Golden Dawn.

Poll data show that the average Golden Dawn voter is a Greek male, aged 22-55. Women comprise only 25% of its voter base. On the right-left axis, 40% place themselves on the center and less than 30% on the far right. Some 24% work in the private sector, 17% are unemployed, 16% are self-employed, 5% are farmers, 3% own businesses, and only 4% of them work in the public sector, a surprisingly low proportion for an economy like that of Greece.

This profile of GD voters is a remarkably close match with the profile of the average Greek impacted by the IMF-EU austerity agenda. Given the way Greek society is structured, it is clear that support for Golden Dawn stems largely from a beleaguered middle class.

The main burden of IMF-EU austerity has fallen on self-employed citizens, retirees, small business, professionals and farmers—and after five years or recession, no end is in sight. Instead of upward social mobility, which was an actuality throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, the Greek middle class is now facing proletarianization, made worse by its inability to relocate from neighborhoods that are being degraded by Third-Worldization.

Golden Dawn is the only anti-Establishment tool that offers the Greek middle class the chance to resist this process.

In any democracy, the middle class plays a key role. It is the main adhesive in society, guaranteeing social peace.

And, as the Greek experience shows, when it is cornered, it will react.

Dimitrios Papageorgiou [Email him] is an Athens-based broadcaster, journalist, and Editor of Patria Magazine.