‘Leave those Golden Dawn stickers alone!’ barked a large young man at a group of school children and their teacher who were spending the day cleaning traffic signs. ‘Leave them alone for Christ’s sake, they are just kids!’ the teacher implored. ‘We don’t believe in Christ, but in Jupiter and the true Greek gods!’ came the reply. This incident took place at Chania, Crete in May 2009.
A few years later Golden Dawn (GD – Xrysi Avgi in Greek) became a major player in Greek politics. Recent censuses indicate that in the next elections it may emerge as the third most powerful party in parliament. In Greece, however, it is still treated as something of a blip, an offspring of the financial crisis and nothing more. As a political party, GD has already consolidated its position in urban areas with its anti-immigration rhetoric and actions. The census groups that conducted exit polls during the last national elections have shown that GD tops the list of parties whose voters most identify with its political stances. This suggests that Greeks who voted for GD really do believe in the party and what it stands for, rather than selecting them as the least bad option in a hugely divisive election.
In order to move forward, GD has tried recently to attract right-wing voters from the ruling center-right New Democracy party and the collapsed LAOS (Public Orthodox Alert), which defines itself as a patriotic right wing party. However, Greek right-wing voters are usually deeply religious people, with close ties to the Orthodox Church, and in the last two months GD has adopted pro-Orthodox positions despite its Hellenic neopagan roots.
On 23 September 2012 GD delegates made an official enquiry in the Greek Parliament about a blog which mocked a popular Orthodox monk, the now deceased Gerontas Paisios. The blogger was subsequently arrested on the basis of a forgotten legislation on ‘Insulting the Religious Beliefs of the Nation’, which has been considered obsolete since 1989.
Less than a month later, GD took on a second pro-Orthodox initiative, organising a protest of fanatic Orthodox believers outside of the premier of “Corpus Cristi”, a play that depicts Jesus and his apostles as modern-day gay men. Led by GD delegate Ilias Panayotaros the protesters shouted abuses at play’s actors and producers. They claimed that the play was insulting to Jesus, stating: ‘a play which presents the Savior as a homosexual pervert is corrupting the young generations’ and stands ‘against the beliefs of the nation and the Orthodox doctrine’. The protest eventually succeeded in canceling the premier.
This militant action in favor of Orthodox sensitive issues is fundamentally against the core beliefs of the organisation, and is a planned and well executed effort to attract voters. Despite using their tried and tested practices of intimidation, insults and violence, this new strategy shows that they are morphing into a real political party that bases its actions on cold political calculations. The leadership has identified the pool from where new voters can be drawn and has no qualms about abandoning an idealistic ancient Greek revival – which includes worship of the Olympic Gods – if it means being able to tap into a large base of Orthodox voters. For this closed, militarily structured organisation the shift was easy to make, and most members have fallen into line.
However, many voters are ignorant of this u-turn in GD’s beliefs. Their pro-Orthodox actions (which are not supported by the official Orthodox establishment) have received great publicity, while their past remains in the dark. If the mainstream and democratic forces of Greece want to prevent this attempt at a populist Orthodox voter-grab from succeeding, they must expose the pagan past of GD. With any luck, this will deprive them from the only pool of voters they aspire to attract in order to expand their support base.