ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The 300 legislators elected in Greece’s inconclusive May 6 ballot were sworn in Thursday, including 21 from the right-wing Golden Dawn party — one of the most extreme nationalist parties to have taken seats in a European parliament since World War II.
Formerly a shadowy fringe group, Golden Dawn vehemently rejects the neo-Nazi label, insisting it is a nationalist patriotic party. But its meteoric rise from a largely marginalized party a few years ago to one that won nearly 7 percent in recent elections has alarmed many in Greece and in Europe.
The 21 legislators — 20 men and one woman — were the first to enter the main chamber of Parliament for the swearing-in ceremony. The Golden Dawn ones refused to stand for the separate swearing-in of two Greek Muslim legislators who took their oaths on the Quran instead of on the Bible, remaining seated as the rest of the assembly stood.
“Beginning today Golden Dawn is officially in Parliament to speak the language of truth and to express all Greeks,” said Ilias Kassidiaris, who was elected deputy and also acts as the party spokesman.
The legislators will only be in power for one day. The May 6 election left no party with enough votes to form a government after Greeks furious over the handling of the country’s financial crisis deserted the two formerly dominant parties, the socialists and conservatives, and turned instead to smaller groups to the right and left of the political spectrum.
Coalition talks collapsed after nine days, leaving no other option but a return to the ballot box. A caretaker government has been appointed, to be led by a senior judge, and the newly sworn-in Parliament is to be dissolved Friday so an election can officially be called. It is expected to be held June 17.
Golden Dawn gained both on the protest vote from people angered by the increasing hardship ensuing from the austerity measures imposed in return for billions of euros in international rescue loans, and from the backlash against an illegal immigration problem that has spiraled out of control.
It campaigned on an anti-immigration platform, promising to expel all illegal immigrants and clean up crime-ridden neighborhoods, while also delivering care packages of food and clothing to needy Greeks. It also advocates planting land mines along Greece’s border with Turkey to stop any more illegal immigrants entering the country. And its members have been blamed for violent racist attacks in the center of Athens and elsewhere.
“People say they are trouble, they might hit people and do other things, but there are some people that were helped by Golden Dawn,” said Athens resident Mattheos, who would not give his surname. “They are not right about everything, about land mines on the border, but they are right about one thing — the immigration.”
Still, there has been a backlash against the party in Greece and abroad in the run-up to the last election and since their strong showing at the polls, with politicians and civil rights groups criticizing them as an extremist party that has no place in Parliament.
“The Golden Dawn party is a dark stain on European politics. For the first time in over six decades a seemingly long hidden Nazi ideology returned to power,” said Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress. “The Golden Dawn party is not a far-right wing party, it represents a neo-Nazi vision and ideology that many believed was isolated. Their political rise should have sent shock-waves through Europe and we expect politicians to openly reject this new-old danger.”
To some extent, the party has been rejected.
Its leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos, who came to prominence a few years ago when he gave a fascist salute during his first appearance as a newly-elected member of the Athens City Council, was not invited to power-sharing talks in the aftermath of the May 6 vote.
None of the other parties sought out Golden Dawn’s support, and the country’s president, who brokered the last efforts at breaking the political deadlock, didn’t invite Michaloliakos to negotiations over agreeing on a potential technocrat government.
“This is sign of the times and of deterioration and mistakes of the political system that allowed those things to be created,” said Efi Hadziandreou, a business consultant in Athens.
Opinion polls in recent days have shown a fall in support for Golden Dawn, although it might still gain above the 3 percent threshold needed to enter parliament.
“The party of Golden Dawn is small and will probably decline in its electoral influence,” said political science professor Dimitris Sotiropoulos. “If it has an influence, this will not be in terms of affecting parliamentary politics of our country. It will be an influence on matters of foreign policy.”
Greece’s 16-member caretaker Cabinet, led by Council of State head Panagiotis Pikrammenos, a 67-year-old judge, was also sworn in Thursday to lead the country to next month’s election.
Giorgos Zanias, a senior Finance Ministry official and top negotiator in the nation’s huge debt write down deal concluded earlier this year, has been appointed caretaker finance minister. Veteran diplomat Petros Molyviatis was named foreign minister, a post he also held in 2004-06.
The temporary government will not be able to take any internationally binding decisions, and its sole aim is to lead the country into the new elections.
Karel Janicek in Prague and Annita Mordechai in Athens contributed.
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