As Greece labours under its fourth year of recession, and austerity measures bite hard into the lives of everyday citizens, right-wing politics is gaining a stronger foothold in the country.
Figures published yesterday show how unemployment among Greeks under the age of 25 has reached a staggering 51.2 per cent.
And it is against this backdrop that a group of neo-Nazi political parties – which would have struggled to even remain on the periphery in happier times – could be influencing policy after Greek parliamentary elections on Sunday.
The Golden Dawn party, which adopts the Nazi salute and has a stylised swastika as its logo, has already made inroads into local government – in areas of Athens where there are large numbers of immigrants.
They have not been considered a relevant political force outside poorer areas of the capital, and have adopted vigilante-style tactics of beating migrants and spraying zenophobic graffiti on city buildings.
However, some polls show that ultra-nationalist parties such as Golden Dawn, LAOS and Independent Greeks could take as much as 20 per cent of the vote on Sunday.
Greek law forbids surveys of voting trends to be published two weeks before the election – but the latest figures show Golden Dawn with a popularity base of between five per cent and eight per cent.
This easily clears the three per cent threshold for entering the 300-seat Greek parliament – potentially giving Neo-Nazis between eight and 12 MPs.
The Independent quotes central Athens candidate Elias Panayiotaros, who pulls no punches when it comes to his immigration policy.
He said: ‘All of the immigrants are illegal, even the ones that have been in the country for a long time, and they have to be punished.’
Astonishingly, a plank of Golden Dawn’s electioneering includes the proposal to create ‘work camps’ for foreigners refusing to leave Greece of their own accord – a chilling echo of the concentration camps of World War II.
The rise of Fascism in Greece is made all the more frightening by opinion polls that predict no clear winner in the upcoming election.
The two main parties, centre-right New Democracy and PASOK’s socialists, are likely to attract around 38 per cent of the ballot, barely enough for a parliamentary majority under Greece’s electoral system.
Either they will secure just enough to work together, albeit uncomfortably and with a very slim majority, or steps will have to be taken to form a broad coalition with minor parties.
This is where the ultra-right can exercise power well beyond its voter popularity. Opposing policies unless their own demands are considered could block important reforms for Greek politics.
The right is also firmly opposed to the European Union’s austerity measures.
A shaky, divided group of politicians will increase the pressure on the new government to renegotiate parts of the second bailout programme, an ambitious deal struck in February that aims to clear the way for Greece to return to financial markets by 2015.
Some economists take the view that Sunday’s election could push Greece back to the nadir it touched in November last year, when there was widespread talk of an exit from the euro zone. The contagion effect would drive Spanish and Italian bond yields straight back into the danger zone, economists say.
RISE OF FASCISM IN EUROPE: COUNTRY BY COUNTRY
France: The National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, won nearly 18 per cent of the vote in April’s first round of presidential elections. The party is eyeing seats in June parliamentary elections.
Greece: Golden Dawn is the chief right-wing movement in the country, an openly neo-Nazi party that is one of Europe’s most extreme. Could take a dozen seats in May 6 parliamentary election.
The Netherlands: The Freedom Party, led by Geert Wilders, is the third-largest in parliament – and brought down the minority government by withdrawing support.
Austria: The Freedom Party, having 34 of the 183 seats in parliament, is the second-strongest party in opinion polls.
England: British National Party has a policy that restricts membership to ‘indigenous British people’. Ten local councillors, a fall from 50 in 2008.
Germany: The NPD has two of 16 state legislators but no seats in national parliament. Support base in former Communist east German states, where unemployment and discontent is high.
Norway: The Progress Party holds 41 of 169 seats in parliament and is Norway’s biggest opposition party. More moderate than many European counterparts.
Denmark: The Danish People’s Party is the nation’s third largest political organisation, and has pushed Denmark to adopt some of Europe’s strictest immigration laws.
Sweden: The Sweden Democrats entered parliament in 2010 with 19 of 349 seats, but has had no major impact on legislation.
Finland: The Finns party won 19 per cent of parliamentary election votes in 2011 – up from four per cent four years earlier.
Hungary: Jobbik won nearly 17 per cent of the 2010 vote, and is one of two leading opposition parties.The conservative Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban has passed laws restricting civil rights and basic freedoms that go against the country’s EU membership.