ATHENS: Greek neo-Nazi group Golden Dawn vowed it was now a force to be reckoned with after winning 18 seats in parliament in Sunday’s elections despite a number of high-profile assaults involving its candidates.
“Golden Dawn is here to stay,” group leader Nikos Michaloliakos, a 55-year-old mathematician, said after the election results became clear.
Formerly on the fringe of Greek politics, Golden Dawn went from 19,000 votes three years ago to over 440,000 in a first inconclusive election on May 6 after pledging to “scour the country” clean of illegal immigrants.
Greece has around 800,000 legally registered immigrants – many of whom have come from Albania – and a number of undocumented immigrants estimated at more than 350,000, including Afghans, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis.
Many Greeks blame migrants for a rise in violent crime as the country slogs through a five-year recession that has left over a million unemployed.
The group secured nearly 426,000 votes in the elections and the 18 deputies in the 300-seat parliament will include Michaloliakos and his wife.
“Illegal migration is a wound for Greece,” Michaloliakos said late Sunday, praising the party’s showing despite “slander and defamation” from media.
“They failed to plunder our ratings,” he said of other parties, adding that the tightly knit, martial-oriented group was now a “political reality.”
Golden Dawn’s relationship with the media has often been difficult.
Reporters awaiting the group’s first post-election press conference May 6 were stunned when a Golden Dawn member barked orders for them to “stand to attention” when Michaloliakos entered the room.
Greek daily Ta Nea also said Monday that one of its reporters had been manhandled by Golden Dawn members Sunday when he tried to approach the group’s Athens headquarters after exit poll results were announced.
Seated next to Michaloliakos as he delivered his statement Sunday was party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, a 31-year-old former army commando who slapped a female communist politician on live television a week ago and threw water at another woman from the leftist Syriza party.
He was reacting to an accusation from the Syriza politician that Golden Dawn’s policies “would take the country 500 years into the past.”
Kasidiaris faces a trial for assault over his televised stunt, which nevertheless appeared to have galvanized support for the group.
“I have heard it said, from coffee shops to social media sites, why don’t we send Kasidiaris to talk to [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel?” he proudly told an election rally last week.
Michaloliakos says the country should also freeze all loan repayments to “global usurers” and renegotiate the terms of its EU membership.