WALL STREET JOURNAL
Greece's Extreme Right Poised For Parliament As Elections Near
-- Party capitalizing on fears over crime, immigration concerns
-- Golden Dawn leader says he expects at least 6% support in Sunday's elections
By Costas Paris
Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES
LONDON (Dow Jones)--Up until a few months ago an extreme-right Greek party with strong Nazi overtones attracted a little curiosity and faced much scorn as a bunch of black-clad skinheads who sometimes clashed with communists and anarchists and gave the fascist salute as they goose-stepped through the streets.
But the unprecedented financial crisis that brought record unemployment and crime levels over the past three years has propelled the Golden Dawn party from obscurity to a formidable political force. The Greek fascists are expected to be voted in to parliament for the first time ever in Sunday's elections on their promises to "clean up" the country from corrupt politicians, immigrants and vice.
"We expect 6% minimum, far more than the 3% support needed to enter parliament," Nikolaos Mihaloliakos, the party's leader and general secretary, said in an interview. "The time has come for Greeks to stand up against all those that for decades systematically destroyed the country. A clean, nationalist movement is the only one that can give viable solutions."
Although the extreme right has made inroads in some European countries, such ideology was until very recently deplored in Greece. After all, the country viciously fought both Italian and German fascists in World War II and suffered under a colonels' junta from 1967 to 1974 under which intellectuals, artists, students and political activists were arrested by the thousands and systematically tortured.
That heritage kept the far right on the fringe, with Golden Dawn managing a meager 0.23 percent support in the 2009 elections.
But the crisis has changed things, with the party's support ballooning as the misery of the Greek populace drags on.
The Golden Dawn manifesto is simple and to the point. Main points include foregoing all debt repayments, formation of "special teams" to investigate corrupt practices, arrest and imprisonment of all politicians and state servants found guilty of economic mismanagement, mining of the country's borders, expulsion of all illegal immigrants, bank nationalizations and a return to traditional family values.
"I'm no fascist but this time I'll vote for Golden Dawn just to shake up the dirty political system," said Kostas Kalatzakos, a small shop owner in an Athens suburb. "Robbers have broken in my shop three times over the past two years and the last time around the police sounded annoyed when I called them to come and investigate. Of course nobody is ever caught."
Soaring crime rates are often blamed on the million-plus illegal immigrants from Albania, Asia, Africa and the Middle East that cross Greece's porous borders on a daily basis.
"Successive governments have done nothing about this major issue," Golden Dawn leader Mihaloliakos said. "There are entire neighborhoods which have turned into immigrant ghettos and Greeks are afraid top step out of their homes. This has to end and our proposal is simple. Arrest all the foreigners and deport them."
"We are not planning concentration camps. It will be done in a proper way with the help of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees," he said.
Immigrant groups have repeatedly voiced concern over violence by Golden Dawn members alleging abuse, beatings with iron rods in many parts of Athens and threats of reprisals if the immigrants speak out.
"We have no knowledge of such incidents," Mihaloliakos said. "What we know is that many Greeks are asking for our protection from foreigners and to the point that we can, we protect them."
All mainstream political parties have called on Greek voters not to support Golden Dawn. Conservative party leader Antonis Samaras has said the recession is "tearing up" Greece's social fabric, giving a voice to extreme parties like the fascists. "This is very dangerous," he said.
Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos has repeatedly said that although he understands the bitterness and despair of the electorate, parliament can't host neo-Nazi followers.
With minimum coverage in the media, Golden Down is counting on personal appeals to attract voters. The party is collecting food and clothes for the needy and is passing leaflets to senior citizens--a common target of robbers--offering escorts when they go to collect their pensions.
"Two very mean-looking but polite boys came with me at the ATM to pick up my pension and then they brought me back home carrying the groceries to my apartment. I felt very sorry about this, but to tell you the truth i also felt secure. This country is in a pitiful state," said 72-year-old Anastasia Petikari, a retired teacher in Athens.
Mihaloliakos said Golden Dawn isn't trying to replace police, "but where police can't help and we can, we will do it and there is nothing wrong about that."
"We won't enter parliament with tanks and we won't carry batons inside. We will wear suits and ties but our voice against those politicians who destroyed Greece for decades will be far more effective," he said.