Greek neo-Nazis' popularity defies containment, experts warn

Efforts by Greek authorities to contain aggressive neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, implicated in the shock murder of an anti-fascist singer, will be difficult given the party's rising popularity among recession-weary Greeks, experts warned Friday.

Outlawing Golden Dawn "would be technically very difficult and politically dangerous," noted Dimitris Christopoulos, an associate professor of law at Athens' Panteion University.

"The constitution makes no provision for the dissolution of a parliamentery group, even it there is proof that it is a criminal organisation," Christopoulos told AFP.

Golden Dawn, which saw 18 of its members elected to parliament last year, has sharply improved its public opinion ratings after a bruising year of foul-mouthed rhetoric in parliament and aggressive posturing outside the chamber.

The party has sent black-clad squads to smash the stalls of migrant peddlers, held torch-lit rallies lambasting political opponents as 'traitors' and 'thieves' and organised food donations exclusively for Greeks.

It has also been blamed for a series of brutal attacks on migrants and political opponents, though the neo-Nazi group strenuously denies any responsibility and claims to be the victim of slander.

Capitalising on the immunity from prosecution enjoyed by Greek MPs, Golden Dawn lawmakers have even been involved in assaults against left-wing politicians and the Athens mayor.

Parliament has agreed to lift the immunity of at least three neo-Nazi deputies to enable their prosecution.

Golden Dawn's opponents claim police inaction in many incidents as proof that the party has close links with security services and enjoys a certain impunity.

Little was done in January when a Pakistani migrant was murdered by suspected Golden Dawn members.

But the authorities are now bringing the full force of the law against the party after the fatal stabbing of 34-year-old hip hop artist Pavlos Fyssas at the hands of a self-confessed Golden Dawn affiliate on Wednesday.

On Friday, Citizen's Protection Minister Nikos Dendias entrusted the investigation of alleged Golden Dawn crimes to the nation's elite anti-terrorism squad.

This came a day after Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said he would not allow Golden Dawn to "poison" society and "undermine" democracy.

Nevertheless, the inaction of police and judicial authorities in the face of successive incidents troubles observers both in Greece and abroad.

On Wednesday, the leader of the Socialists and Social Democrats group in the European parliament, Hannes Swoboda, expressed his concern in view of Greece's six-month stint as EU president starting in January.

"If the Greek government... fails to put a stop to the hate-filled behaviour of Golden Dawn... it will be an unacceptable presidency and not likely to bring any progress, either for Europe or for Greece," he said.

Years of anti-government protests have also immunised many in Greece to violence, experts note.

"There is a tolerance of violence (in Greece)," Sophia Vidali, a criminologist at the University of Thrace, told AFP.

"The political system operates selectively against violence and justice does not do its job properly."

Some warn that the conservative-led government -- whose top members include far-right politicians -- may not be whole-heartedly committed to the fight against Golden Dawn.

"There are two lines within the government," argues Christopoulos, the law professor.

"There are those who see Golden Dawn as a criminal organisation, and those who see a short-term political gain", he said.

The conservative New Democracy party headed by Samaras has lost supporters in droves over the last four years, with many Greeks blaming mainstream parties for running the country's economy into the ground.

Many former New Democracy voters are believed to have flocked to Golden Dawn, so the reasoning goes that they will return if they are alienated by the neo-Nazi party's excesses.

However, this theory is not borne out by opinion polls, in which Golden Dawn's ratings remain strong.

The party currently polls at over 10 percent, and its approval is even higher in the 18-44 age group, making them the country's third ranking political force.

A year ago, it was polling at around seven percent.

Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos has publicly denied the existence of gas chambers and crematoria during World War II.

He has also called Adolf Hitler "a major historical figure of the 20th century".