Alexis Tsipras says outcome of the vote robs government of any 'political or moral legitimacy' to continue with austerity policies
Alexis Tsipras speaks to the press in Athens after the success of the Syriza party in the European elections. Photograph: Petros Giannakouris/AP
The election marked a turning point for Greece on Sunday with voters delivering a resounding victory for the radical left Syriza party while sending at least three neo-nazi Golden Dawn members to Brussels.
In a historic day for the left, the anti-austerity Syriza won the ballot by a margin of nearly four points over the conservative New Democracy party led by prime minister Antonis Samaras. Addressing supporters as the results rolled in, Alexis Tsipras, Syriza's leader, called for general elections to be held immediately, saying the outcome robbed the government of any "political or moral legitimacy" to continue enforcing policies that were overwhelming rejected.
As the country on the frontline of Europe's debt crisis, Greece has been forced to adopt excruciating reforms and spending cuts in return for rescue packages sponsored by the EU and International Monetary Fund.
"Tomorrow all of Europe will be talking about Syriza," said the 39-year-oldTsipras, also the European Left's candidate for commission president. "Already the peoples of Europe are celebrating the defeat of the memorandum [the accord outlining Athens' two bailout agreements] in the country chosen as a guinea pig by the European leadership.".
But with nearly half of the vote counted and 26.4% compared with the two-party coalition's combined 30.2 %, Samaras insisted that the result had not been the endorsement Syriza had been looking for to overturn the government.
Instead, with about 9.37% of the vote it was the far-right Golden Dawn's showing that is likely to shake the Greek political establishment most.
Following up on their strong performance in local elections last week, the extremists were catapulted into third place in the country's political constellation, behind Syriza and New Democracy.
Although stridently anti-EU and anti-bailout – sentiments that speak increasingly to the heart and minds of a nation felled by the debt crisis – Golden Dawn is also the most vicious far-right party on the continent of Europe with a third of its leadership in prison on charges of running a criminal organisation.
In a first for any political force, the extremists who have recently gone out of their way to soften their image but are the focus of a government-ordered judicial investigation, have been accused of murder, racial violence, illegal weapons possession and extortion.
In a message delivered from his Athenian prison cell, Golden Dawn's leader Nikos Michaloliakos told supporters: "I congratulate you for managing to resist the government's terrorism and for not believing their lies. We are the only political power that actually stands up against our state being run by foreign powers …
"Golden Dawn is now the third force in the political life of the country. New Democracy paid the price for their policies against our people … and Syriza has failed to express the public anger. Our slogan was the thieves should be in prison and the money they embezzled returned to the people but the thieves managed to put us in jail," he railed. "They tried to dig a grave for us but they fell in it themselves."
In its bid to gain international acceptability, Golden Dawn has recently made overtures to other far-right parties in the EU. Its spokesman and candidate for Athens mayor, Ilias Kasidiaris, last week described France's Marine Le Pen as a "visionary." Le Pen's Front National has repeatedly rejected calls for cooperation from Golden Dawn whose symbol resembles the Swastika and whose leaders have publicly applauded Adolf Hitler.
Saturday, May 31, 2014
By Fiona Govan, Athens 26 May 2014
The party, accused of neo-Nazism and the murder of immigrants, triumphs in European elections on an anti-austerity, anti-immigration ticket
Supporters of the Greek ultra nationalist party Golden Dawn attend a pre-election rally in Athens Photo: GETTY
With their 18 parliamentary lawmakers facing charges for criminal activities and six of their leading figures behind bars in a crackdown that aimed to “eradicate” the party, Greece’s extreme-right Golden Dawn still garnered enough votes on Sunday to send three MEPs to Brussels.
The ultra-nationalist party found success at the polls, becoming the third force in Greece’s political spectrum with nearly ten per cent of the vote, after a concerted effort to tone down its Neo-Nazi image and appeal to those sickened by Greece's social and economic crisis on an anti-EU, anti-austerity and anti-immigration ticket.
It was a makeover that saw Golden Dawn soften its traditional strong-arm tactics and instead strengthen its voice as the antidote to unpopular Troika-enforced austerity measures.
One of those who will be heading to Brussels under the party’s red and black flag, whose symbol is strikingly similar to that of Nazi Germany, is Lampros Fountoulis, a man who until eight months ago, had little interest in politics.
“I joined the party and agreed to stand in these elections simply as a result of what happened to my son,” he told The Telegraph on the eve of the European vote.
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Last November his son Georgos, 26, was one of two Golden Dawn members killed at point-blank range in a drive-by shooting outside the party office in a working class district in Northern Athens.
The assassinations were blamed on an ultra-Left terrorist group in retaliation for the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, a leftwing hip-hop artist, who was stabbed to death by a self-confessed member of Golden Dawn in another Athens suburb.
“No-one has been brought to justice for my son’s murder,” explained Mr Fountoulis, 53, adding that he suspected “dark government-endorsed forces” were responsible, “and by winning a seat for Golden Dawn perhaps I can make sense of it and do something positive”.
Softly spoken and wearing a black suit over a crisp white shirt, the retired post office worker rejects accusations that he represents a party known for Neo-Nazi rhetoric and the black-shirted hit squads responsible for street attacks on immigrants.
“A political party cannot be held responsible for individual incidents in which hot-headed young people sought to defend themselves and yes, maybe in the past members flirted with Neo-Nazism but since we became a legally elected party those elements are in the past,” he insisted.
“Because we are a party of Greek patriots, of people who really love their homeland and want to preserve our cultural integrity and keep Greece for the Greeks, does that make us fascists and Nazis?” he asked. “People vote for us because they have had enough of a government that is subordinate to foreign tyrants, because Greece has been brought to its knees and the only way to avoid its downfall is to fight back against the corrupted system that has put us here.”
While the elections saw a surge of support for the radical left Syriza party, which also ran on an anti-austerity and anti-EU ticket and won the biggest number of votes, it is the lurch to the far right that most worries analysts.
“I have no doubt that the majority of people who voted for Golden Dawn did so, not because they supported the Neo-Nazi ideology of the party but because they are feeling the pain after years of economic crisis and want to express their anger,” said George Tzogopoulos of Greek think tank Eliamep.
“But it is extremely dangerous to see power handed to what is still undoubtedly a fascist organisation,” he said.
In a triumphant televised address on Sunday, Ilias Kasidiaris, the party spokesman who has extolled Hitler and has a swastika tattooed on his upper arm, said Golden Dawn was a new force in Europe.
“We will continue our political struggle ... and we will score even higher in the next election," he said.
It still remains to be seen whether Greece’s Golden Dawn will find support from other far-right parties newly elected to the European parliament.
“Just because we share a nationalist ideology with other groups, if they don’t share our vision for Greece then we will be a lone voice,” admitted Mr Fountoulis.