Plans from Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn to open a chapter in Astoria have met strong resistance from elected officials, local residents and various political groups.
Following a protest on Oct. 5 led by New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, a group of Astoria residents held an open meeting last Tuesday to discuss the possibility of taking further actions against the right-wing party.
“Hitler rose because nobody cared,” said Antonio Meloni, a member of Astoria’s community board for the last 25 years and a City Council candidate, who spoke at the meeting held in the local Catholic Church of the Redeemer.
Golden Dawn, a minor Greek political group until almost a year ago with anti-Semite rhetoric and extreme anti-immigrant positions, rose to prominence last May, when in the country’s national elections won almost 7 percent of the public vote, comfortably above the 3 percent threshold needed to enter parliament.
The party led by its founder Nikolaos Michaloliakos, a Holocaust-denier, managed successfully to take advantage of the growing public disenchantment for the rising illegal immigration in times of painful economic hardships for the country.
“Golden Dawn is scapegoating immigrants for the economic crisis,” said Costas Panayotakis, a professor of sociology at the CUNY College of Technology. “Those people are passing through Greece to go somewhere else in search of a better life. They want to go to the northern European countries. But the large numbers of immigrants are overwhelming for the Greek society.”
In repeat elections a month later, Golden Dawn retained its percentage, and since, the party’s popularity has exploded, according to various polls. Encouraged by its success, the group is now trying to expand, reaching out even to the Greek diaspora.
Golden Dawn branches were reportedly established this summer in Melbourne, Australia and Montreal, Canada and most recently in Astoria, home to the largest Greek community in the United States.
The party initially announced its presence in New York via its website, which depicted the Manhattan skyline with a large Swastika. Hackers quickly took the site down, but a few weeks later, photos were posted on social media platforms showing members of Golden Dawn at the offices of Federation of Hellenic Societies, a Greek-American organization, implying that the building belongs to the party.
At the Oct. 5 protest, the federation’s first vice president Christos Vournas explained to the media that a group of young Greek-Americans came to his office last July saying that they wanted to help with the community’s efforts of clothes collection for struggling families in Greece. However, they never revealed their affiliation and their true intentions.
As a result, many members of the Greek community in New York seriously doubt Golden Dawn’s claims that it has a true branch in Astoria, although they remain alarmed.
“They are trying to show that they have more power than the 7 percent they got at the elections,” said Neni Panourgia, an anthropology professor at Columbia University, who suggested that Golden Dawn’s members in New York cannot be over a few dozens. “We don’t want to give them one inch more of what they have.”