The Golden Dawn party in Greece have been the most troubling example of the rise of the extreme right in Europe since 2008. With a meteoric rise in popularity, heavy presence in parliament and an entrenched support base in some key parts of the country, coupled with a violent militancy and overt fascist outlook, they present one of the greatest threats to Greek stability and indeed, the entire ethos of the European Union at this moment. Now however, the tide has turned against their favour, and the party which was once untouchable now finds itself in an increasingly hostile environment.

The party, like many currently popular far right parties, began its life in the 1980’s a small and largely irrelevant group but have since seen their popularity explode. By 2012, they had 18 MP’s and only until a few weeks ago, some 13% to 15% of the population expressed support for them. Indeed, they are the third largest political force in Greece behind the two ruling parties. At the same time, Golden Dawn has incited and indeed, carried out acts of violence against ethnic minorities, homosexuals, gypsies and its perceived political enemies on the left. Despite the blatant use of violence by Golden Dawn, there have been no serious repercussions, and its MP’s are protected by the legal immunity granted to Greek politicians. The state has appeared unable to stand up to them.

How could this have happened? Aside from the obvious impact of the Eurozone crisis, which have arguably hit Greece the hardest, there are other factors, not unique to Greece, which have also aided Golden Dawn. Greece for many years has suffered from chronic state corruption, and Golden Dawn, untainted by the brush that tarred the political establishment, are able to present themselves as honest outsiders. Golden Dawn have also tapped into the anti-immigrant vote. For years immigration has been used by parties of all walks to gain votes by constantly misinforming voters. Golden Dawn has simply taken these steps to their conclusion, forming Greek only food banks and having its columns of armed thugs drive non-ethnic Greeks from their homes in communities they’ve lived in for generations.

The reaction of the Greek state, the political establishment, and even apolitical institutions has also contributed to their success. The police were routinely accused of turning a blind eye to the militancy of Golden Dawn and the Greek newspapers Ethnos and Vima accused elements of the police and special forces, who they claimed were sympathetic to the group, of actually training the Golden Dawn militia. Indeed, in the recent words of Christos Fotopoulos, head of the Federation of Greek Police officers, “During the last 3 years, there were many cases during which our colleagues displayed tolerance towards outbreaks of violence by members of the Golden Dawn,”

This, however, has begun to change. On the evening of September the 18th, a famous Greek rapper, Pavlos Fyssas, well known for his left leaning attitudes and lyrics, was killed by a group of men outside a café in the working class district of Keratsini, Athens. The killers later confessed to the murder, directly mentioning the Golden Dawn party as a motive. This lead to a massive public outcry, and several large protests all over Greece against Golden Dawn and their use of politically motivated violence. This public backlash has finally galvanized the state to begin taking actions to hold Golden Dawn to account for its crimes.

Golden Dawn’s headquarters have been raided by the police, and 5 of its MPs arrested in connection with the murder, including the party leader, Mihaloliakos. Two police officers have been seemingly forced to resign, and four others, including the officers in charge of the organized crime and internal security units, have been relocated pending investigation. Even President Popoulias has stepped in to condemn the actions of Golden Dawn. “It is my supreme duty as president of the republic to defend democracy and its people,” Political action has not stopped there. Justice Minister Haralambos Athanasiou is currently working on stricter legislation regarding hate-crimes and Interior Minister Yiannis Michelakis is drafting legislation to cut state funding for parties involved in illegal activities. There is also an ongoing effort in the supreme court to reclassify Golden Dawn as a criminal organization, which would remove the groups legal immunity and also allow the government to ban the organization entirely.

This unprecedented mobilization has only been met with defiance by Golden Dawn, but they have clearly been set back by the fall out of the murder of Fyssas, turning many of their own supporters against them, and galvanizing public hostility. These are positive steps for Greece and the authority of the state, however they must be followed through with a clear, public and fully unbiased investigation, a tough order for a government still struggling with state corruption.

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