Snapshot of Golden Dawn

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Emergence and stabilization of the far-right phenomenon

The electoral emergence and consolidation of Golden Dawn (XA) in the party system in the era of the Memorandum took place in two phases: a) during the period February-May 2012 and b) after the elections. Up to January 2012, the party’s voter support had been non-existent (figure 1).Then, the enactment of the second Memorandum triggered rapid changes on the political scene. The country’s political system embarked on a period of radical reconstruction.


Political preconditions for the party’s rise


Apart from structural factors that fuel the far-right phenomenon, the prior political conditions that favored XA’s ascent, during 2012, and allowed it to garner 7% of the vote in elections in May were at least four: 1) The legitimation of the far right, which Greece’s political system pursued or accepted by advancing the participation of the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party in the Papademos government, even though this was not necessary for securing a parliamentary majority. 2) The meltdown of LAOS’ electoral support and its leader’s standing, which came about precisely because of this participation. From 9% in October 2011, the voting intention in favor of LAOS plunged in opinion polls to just 2% in April 2012. In just six months, that is, LAOS lost almost 7 percentage points. In the May elections, polling 2.9%, the party did not win any seats in parliament. The attempt of its leader, GeorgiosKaratzaferis, to transform a protest party into a government partner had not succeeded. On the contrary, LAOS’ voters left the fold and turned their gaze to the new emerging force of the far right, Golden Dawn. 3) The late appearance of Independent Greeks (ANEL), which constitutes the main rival on the populist right. ANEL was founded on 24/2/2012, when LAOS had already collapsed and the rise of XA had already begun. XA leader Nikos Michaloliakos had beaten ANEL leader PanosKammenos to the punch. 4) Lastly, the transformation of the Greek far right and the strengthening of XA was favored enormously by the drive against illegal immigration launched by the then Minister of Citizen Protection. The strategy of elevating the issue of citizen insecurity and the immigration problem, of Law and Order, to a focus of the election campaign backfired against the governing parties.


Electoral showing


In the elections of May 2012, XA polled 441,000 votes (7%). In repeat elections in June the party consolidated its position on the political scene by fully retaining its voter support (6.9%, 426,000), despite the higher rate of abstention and – more importantly – its targeting now by news media. In the first elections, 4 in 10 XA voters (41%) came from New Democracy, 2 in 10 (20%) from PASOK and 1 in 10 (9%) from LAOS. In the June elections, 71% of those who had cast their ballot for the party in May again voted for XA. The criteria reported by its voters are quite revealing as to the nature of the party’s vote share: 29% said they voted for XA as a ‘Protest’ and 27% because of its stance on ‘Immigration’ and ‘Borders’. Only 1 in 7 (14%) gave the party’s ‘Program’ as the reason for their vote and just 1 in 8 (13%) cited ‘National issues’ or a ‘Sense of patriotism’(figure 5).A quick glance at the electoral map of Athens Municipality immediately reveals the strong impact of xenophobia. In the country’s largest municipality (7.8%), XA secured its highest vote shares in areas with the greatest numbers of immigrants. These are the western and central districts, such as PlateiaVathis (12.1%), PlateiaAttikis (11.6%), PlateiaAmerikis (11%), Metaxourgeio (10.9%), Kolonos (10.2%) and the historic Center (10%) (figure 3).


Electoral geography


XA’s electoral geography reveals certain characteristic elements pointing to historical ‘continuity’ with the electoral geography of the Right not only since the restoration of democracy but also prior to the military dictatorship (1967-1974). The Peloponnese (8.95%), Central Greece (8.07%), Attica (7.6%) and Central Macedonia (7.2%) have proven to be the party’s best electoral regions. In others, it polled below the national average and lower than 5% in Epirus (4.8%) and in Crete (3.9%), particularly in eastern Crete. In the context of the past, the party’s electoral geography appears to exhibit a revival of the ‘Old Greece / New Territories’ division. Apart from Crete, XA has lower support in the ‘New Territories’ (Thrace, E. Macedonia, W. Macedonia, Epirus) and higher support in ‘Old Greece’ (Peloponnese, Central Greece and Attica).In June, the party fared best (surpassed 9%) in Laconia (10.9%), Corinthia (10%), Argolida (9.4%), Rest of Attica (10%), Piraeus B (9.3%), Viotia (8.8%) and Evia (8.6%)(figure 2).At a lower geographical level of analysis by prefecture, XA polled higher vote shares in areas with a strong traditional presence of populations of Arvanitic origin. These include Mandra 13.6%, Magoula 12.4%, Fyli 12.9%, Spata and Koropi 13% (Attica), Dervenohoria 16.4% and Tanagra 12% (Viotia), Marmari 12% (S. Evia), Andros (Gavrio, Batsi) 13.4% (Cyclades), Kranidi 11.5% and Ermione 10.8% (Argolida), Sofiko 18.5% (Corinthia), Troezen 11.4% and Angistri 11.3% (Piraeus A) and Salamina 13% (Piraeus B).


Breakup of the social alliance of the Right


At the level of electoral base, Golden Dawn (as also in the case of Independent Greeks) constitutes a social breakup of the conservative bloc, which has been manifested in two ways: a) The party’s increased voter support in areas of ‘Old Greece’ is clearly indicative of political-ideological continuity, but also the close relationship it maintains with the state machinery. b) On the other hand, its increased showing in urban centers is correlated to the presence of foreign immigrants, deindustrialization and high unemployment.

A characteristic example of the first trend is Laconia, an area where the impact of the civil war has not faded and one with a strong anti-communist tradition. In addition to being XA’s best prefecture (in E. Mani it polled 18.6%, in Oitylo 16%) and ND’s second best, in the 1974 referendum Laconia returned the highest vote in favor of the monarchy (59.5%), and second highest (16.2%) for the National Alignment party (formed by conservatives who had split from ND) in 1977. More generally, of the 15 strongest prefectures for the Monarchy, 5 (4 in the Peloponnese) are among XA’s strongest (Laconia, Argolida, Kilkis, Messinia and Ilia). The same is true in the case of 6 of the 15 weakest: as in the case of the Monarchy, XA too received its lowest voter share in 4 prefectures of Crete (Lasithi, Heraklio, Rethymno, Chania), on Chios and Lesbos. Although Laconia exhibits similarities and ‘continuity’ with the pre- and post-dictatorship right, the center of gravity of the party’s support within Greek society lies elsewhere. a) XA is not particularly strong in rural areas (7%, compared to 6% in urban areas), whilst in contrast, in the case of ND (and, in the past, that of the Monarchy), the gap remains very wide. Therefore, conservative rural strata continue to support ND. b) XA’s biggest chunk of support is in urban centers. Though not uniformly. The party fares quite poorly in predominantly middle-class districts. In the northern, northeastern and southeastern suburbs of the capital XA polled below 5% in May and less than 4% in June (Ekali 2.3%, Filothei 2.9%, Psychico 3.7%, Voula 4.4%, and 4% in Panorama, Thessaloniki). In contrast, in (historically) predominantly working class-low income districts of the capital, in the compact western zone of Athens B and especially Piraeus B (9.3%), its strength was double (Salamina 13%, Tavros 11.1%, Perama 10.9%, Rendi 10.3%, Kamatero 9.9%). Here, the electoral base of the Right was literally splintered in May. By way of indication, in Peristeri, XA polled 8.4%, ND just 9.9% and ANEL led both with 10.8%. The same happened in Aigaleo (XA: 7.9%, ND 10.3%, ANEL: 11.6%), in Keratsini (XA: 9.4%, ND: 8.7%, ANEL: 12.6%) and in Nikaia (XA: 8.7%, ND: 8.9%, ANEL: 11.4%).

The overturning of the social contract that had been achieved since the fall of the dictatorship, which is being pursued through the neoliberal policy of the Memorandum, is rupturing the social alliance formed by the ruling classes in Greece during the post-dictatorship period. Competing openly with the other party of the anti-Memorandum Right, Independent Greeks, XA hopes to undertake the representation of the conservative low-income, working class and ‘sub-proletariat’ supporters of Constantine Karamanlis’ post-dictatorship New Democracy, who no longer follow Antonis Samaras.

Lastly, it should be noted that XA also maintains strong ties of political representation with the inner core of the state machinery. This fact, with obvious political significance, is typically exemplified by the electoral behavior of the security forces. According to one empirical estimate, it emerges, by way of indication, that in Ambelokipi (27th and 28th constituencies of Athens Municipality), where police officers of the Attica Immediate Response Division (ZITA and DIAS motorcycle units and DELTA rapid deployment teams) cast their ballots, XA garnered 50.7% in May, whilst in Kaisariani (1st constituency), where personnel of the Attica Police Operations Division (Riot Police), 46.7%, which at the same time transformed the traditional political profile of the historic municipality (figure 4).


Post-election surge


Golden Dawn’s double success at the polls created momentum among the electorate and elevated its support in Greek society to new levels. Since the elections, XA has increased its support among young people aged 18-24 (19.5%, +6.5%) and become the third strongest party. At the same time, it has also extended its support among middle age groups. Its support has also risen among the unemployed (18%, +6%), where it holds second place after SYRIZA, housewives (13%, +10% – the biggest increase) and pensioners (9%, +6%), where it is still well behind.

The party’s uptrend came to a halt in Autumn, after having reached almost 12% in Public Issue’s estimate of voter support in October. In the first half of 2013, with slight fluctuations, its support has stabilized at levels of 10-12%. In the last two months, just before the ERT crisis, it has remained at 11.5% (figure 1). According to a parallel assessment, which is based on the party identification index, XA’s inner core is estimated at 3.7% and its immediate outer layer at 6.9%, i.e. 10.7% in aggregate.

ND’s turn to the right (which will no doubt continue) and the escalation of the new authoritarian statism may have halted the further rise of XA, but it has not managed to reduce it in the slightest. In the first half of 2013, three-quarters (75%) of XA’s 2012 voters remain firm in their choice of party, whilst the party’s electoral audience has expanded further, at the expense of both ND and ANEL. Due to the post-election further swelling of its electoral support, the party’s ‘old’ voters now account for only 1 in 2 (47%) of its present voters. Of those who have been added, 15% are from ND, 10% from ANEL and 7% from SYRIZA. ThebattlefortheRightcontinues.

Date of publication: 01/07/2013

Publication: Newspaper “ΕΦΗΜΕΡΙΔΑ ΤΩΝ ΣΥΝΤΑΚΤΩΝ”