Who is Nikolaos Michaloliakos?

Yiannis Baboulias

Nikolaos Michaloliakos, the 55-year-old leader of the Golden Dawn, has been remanded in custody pending trial, after a lengthy court hearing last night. He was arrested in the early hours of Saturday morning, accused of leading a criminal organisation. He and 21 others – MPs from the party, members of local branches, police officers who co-operated with the group – may face charges of conspiring to murder, attempted murder, assault and blackmail. The report by the deputy public prosecutor Haralambos Vourliotis describes a group more concerned with making a quick buck and building a pseudo-patriotic front than of ‘citizens concerned with the condition of their homeland in these dark times’.

Three of the Golden Dawn MPs have been released on bail; Michaloliakos remains in police custody. This isn’t the first time he has seen the inside of a holding cell. He was arrested three times in the 1970s: during a protest outside the British Embassy in Athens in 1974; for attacking journalists at the funeral of the junta torturer Evangelos Mallion in 1976; and In July 1978, in relation to the bombing of a cinema frequented by leftists in downtown Athens. The third time he went to jail, though he served only a short sentence, as he got it reduced by informing on his comrades. In prison he met his heroes, Georgios Papadopoulos and the other colonels who overthrew the government in 1967.

In the 1980s he started publishing the fascist magazine Golden Dawn (Chrysi Avgi). At least one issue carried a picture of Hitler on its cover. Christos Pappas, one of the other Golden Dawn MPs arrested at the weekend, wrote hymns to the Führer in its pages. Michaloliakos and Pappas have since called these ‘youthful indiscretions’.

The magazine closed in 1984, when Michaloliakos was made one of the leaders of the youth wing of the National Political Union (EPEN), the party Papadopoulos founded while in prison. With Makis Voridis (now a New Democracy MP) he limited his party’s activities to shutting down student assemblies and the sort of ‘right-wing activism’ that involves wielding DIY axes. The party got just over 2 per cent of the vote in the 1985 European elections, securing them one of Greece’s 24 seats. This was the first time, and the last before 2009, that the far right saw any electoral success.

Michaloliakos left EPEN to found the Golden Dawn in 1985. The organisation registered as a political party in 1993. One of its commanders was sent to jail for the attempted murder of a student in 1997. The party, failing in elections and facing massive opposition in the streets, was absorbed by the Patriotic Alliance in 2005. But the Golden Dawn relaunched itself two years later and in 2009 Michaloliakos found himself in the city council of Athens.

Was he a different man by then? His Nazi salute in a council meeting, after a dispute with the mayor of Athens, suggests not. Police found a portrait of Hitler when they raided his house at the weekend, along with three unlicensed guns and €40,000 in cash. They made similar discoveries at Pappas's house too.

In a speech last year, Michaloliakos declared he felt uneasy in parliament, disgusted. He stayed there, though, and just before his arrest tried to open the door to a coalition with New Democracy, saying they could work together. 'I am not a Nazi,' he said last night, denying all charges against him. Outside the courthouse, his supporters chanted: 'Blood, honour, Golden Dawn.' Does anyone believe him?