Golden Dawn Party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris rises to the podium in front of a few hundred cheering supporters at a final rally in an Athens suburb ahead of today’s elections.
A surprisingly mixed crowd of skinheads, women and students applaud the elected ex-soldier who slapped a female communist politician on live television last week, after being elected to parliament in an inconclusive vote last month.
“Another punch for the lesbian,” supporters called out to general hilarity.
Martial music blared out at the rally as supporters waved blue-and-white Greek flags ahead of elections that could determine Greece’s future in the eurozone.
The site chosen for the gathering — opposite the Greek Ministry of Defense — was also no coincidence for the tightly knit, martial-oriented group many accuse of being neo-Nazis
Kasidiaris faces a trial for assault over his televised stunt, but is far from cowed.
“I have heard it said, from -coffee shops to social media sites, why don’t we send Kasidiaris to talk to [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel?” he said.
Once a tiny minority group regularly accused of racist attacks, the party entered parliament in last month’s election with a vote of 6.9 percent.
Its supporters are hoping for a even better score in a follow-up ballot today in an ever more uncertain climate for Greece, which is suffering a fifth year of recession and painful budget austerity cuts foisted on it in return for bailout money.
“I think this election is going to be better for us than the last one ... Maybe 10 percent,” said Vassilis Bardis, a tattooed 43-year-old security guard.
Another rallying cry for the party has been immigration, a concern among many Greeks in this time of crisis.
“We have nothing against immigrants, but we believe we have to secure our country,” Bardis said.
Nearby Panos chants with vigor: “This is our country. Foreigners out.”
“[Former French National Front leader Jean-Marie] Le Pen is not as strong as we are. We are more extreme,” the 30-year-old engineer said with pride.
Around him, there are a few skinheads, but also many ordinary local residents and groups of young people who are tempted to vote for a politically extreme party at a time when almost half their generation is unemployed.
“I am not a fan of hooligans, but I like this party’s ideas,” said a 17-year-old just old enough to vote, who declined to give his name.
“I don’t believe in barbary against immigrants, but we don’t have jobs for all these people. We want Greece to be for the Greeks,” he said.
Stavroula, 22, said she was going round all the parties’ election rallies “to listen to what they have to say.”
The nursing student said she could not exclude a vote for the ultra-nationalists despite the violence linked to Golden Dawn.
“There is no hope left for young people. I do not know whether I will have to go abroad to find a job,” she said.
Asked if she was shocked by the slapping incident on television, she said: “There is always a reason for things to happen. I don’t really care.”
Another lawmaker from the party, Ilias Panagiotaros, said the incident had had the effect of attracting voters instead of driving them away.
“He defended himself, he was attacked by this lady. A majority of Greek people blessed him for doing this. This has a ‘red bull’ effect on our party,” he said.
When a journalist mentions the word “neo-Nazi” a thuggish-looking man with a shaved head behind him bristles threateningly and shouts: “We are not Nazis. Who is the idiot who said that? We are nationalists.”