Jewish leaders and politicians in Greece lashed out Wednesday at a neo-Nazi party which won seats in parliament elections on Sunday, as the country marked the anniversary of the 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany.
The election of 21 representatives of Chryssi Avghi (Golden Dawn) is "a serious attack on Greek democracy," the Jewish Council in Greece said in a statement.
"The election of those nostalgic for fascism and Nazism" means that "citizens, democrats, the media, and cultural figures must unite to fight racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism," the council said.
The previously marginal party reached twice the required threshold to secure a parliamentary presence, with seven per cent of the popular vote.
Despite the fact that extreme right wing parties have always been active to some extent in Greek politics, Golden Dawn – who openly display Nazi memorabilia in their party headquarters – have never before achieved parliamentary representation.
The shift in support towards extremist groups in Greece is seen by many as a reaction to the country’s well-documented economic crisis and a tactical vote against the two main political parties.
In a statement following Sunday’s results, the President of Greece’s Central Board of Jewish Communities Daniel Saltiel expressed surprise at the level of support received by Golden Dawn, whose prior activities have been restricted to localised rallies and protests. “‘I think the parliament will isolate the extreme right. We are examining the situation; the Greeks are not afraid, and democracy will continue,” he said.
One of the most extreme of the current crop of far right parties in Greece, Golden Dawn has so far confined its rhetoric to illegal immigrants, with founder and chairman Nikolaos Michaloliakos declaring of his post-election agenda that “all immigration will be stopped. They (foreigners) will have to leave – they must leave.”
Greek Interior Minister Tassos Giannitsis expressed hope that "in a deeply democratic country like Greece, the irony of history does not result in the re-emergence" of Nazism.
Yannis Boutaris, the mayor of Thessaloniki, the country's second-largest city and formerly home to many Jews deported by the Nazis, called for the party to be banned.
Journalist federation Poesy also issued a warning to the party not to attempt to intimidate reporters.
When Mihaloliakos gave a news conference Sunday, his bodyguards attempted to force journalists to stand when he entered the room, shouting at them "get up, get up!".
The President of the European Jewish Congress Moshe Kantor expressed “major concerns” over the rise of extreme-right parties. “Golden Dawn is a party that does not even hide its Nazi tendencies and is the type of group that used to only appear on extreme margins of European society. We hope that this party will be ostracised and will not be included in the coalition government,” he said.
“‘The fact that they have now gained a semblance of support and power should rock Europe to its foundations and force European leaders to rethink their priorities.”
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders has similarly condemned Golden Dawn’s electoral gain. In an interview with Belgian Jewish magazine Joods Actueel, he described their showing in Sunday’s vote as a ‘cause for concern’. “This is not just a rightist party – it’s actually a Nazi party’, he said.
In a speech to the Forum of Jewish Organizations in Antwerp, commemorating the deportation of Antwerp’s Jews to Auschwitz, on Monday, Reynders added: ‘Populist parties often do well in times of crisis. But this party, which uses such obvious references to the Nazis, is very problematic.’
David Saltiel remains calm about the prospects for Greece’s 5,000 Jews, in the wake of an election that was by no means conclusive, with no party achieving a clear majority and the chances of a second ballot very high.
“Right now, Golden Dawn is not coming out against Jews. Instead, it attacks immigrants. Still, there are right-wing extremists, and we need to assess the situation and see how Greece's democracy will deal with this. There is no reason for worry.’