Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party is gaining popularity in the midst of the country’s deepening financial crisis. The group has been implicated in torture cases, and for inciting an wave of racial violence sweeping the country.
An opinion poll published by KAPA Research in October showed that support for the extremist political group had grown from 7.5 percent of the population in June to 10.4 percent currently.
The Golden Dawn emerged from political obscurity into the mainstream in May after winning 7 percent of the vote in the Greek parliamentary elections. Since then, the country has reportedly witnessed an upsurge in racial violence connected to the right-wing group.
"Violence is getting wilder and wilder and we still have the same pattern of attacks… committed by groups of people in quite an organized way," Kostis Papaioannou, former head of the Greek National Commission for Human Rights told AP.
Out of the 18 MPs selected in June to represent the Golden Dawn in parliament, four are under investigation for violent attacks and have been stripped of their parliamentary immunity.
While addressing parliament in October, MP Eleni Zaroulia referred to immigrants as “subhuman,” while Efstathios Boukouras allegedly attacked the mayor of Corinth with a whip in July.
According to statistics collated by human rights groups, there have been 87 racial attacks between January and September. The groups stressed that the real figure likely far exceed this number, since many attacks are not documented or reported.
"Most of the time the victims, they don't want to talk about this, they don't feel safe," Nikitas Kanakis, president of the Greek section of Doctors of the World told AP. "The fear is present and this is the bigger problem."
The Golden Dawn has been repeatedly implicated in racial violence, but has emphatically denied its involvement. The party has also expressed overt hostility towards immigrants in Greece, championing slogans such as ‘clean up the stench,’ and ‘Greece for the Greeks.’ They have pledged to eject all immigrants from Greece should they gain power, and want to militarize Greece’s borders with landmines and armed patrols.
“The only racist attacks that exist in Greece for the last years are the attacks that illegal immigrants are doing against Greeks,” Ilias Panagiotaros, a Golden Dawn party member said to AP.
There have also been a number of reports of neo-Nazi sympathizers infiltrating the Greek police force. The Greek government said it is currently investigating accusations that police brutally tortured 15 members of an anti-fascist organization in September.
Public order minister Nikos Dendias said that the probe would take the form of a closed inquiry. He pledged to stamp out racial violence in Greece, and appointed a new police unit to deal with racial incidents.
But support for the far-right continues to grow in Greece amid mounting economic turmoil and unemployment topping 50 percent amongst the nation’s youth. The Golden Dawn has capitalized on public resentment for the government’s austerity measures, and with the country’s worsening economic situation, the political balance could further shift in their favor.