Greece’s parliament on Wednesday approved a law barring the jailed ex-spokesman of neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn from heading a new nationalist party in upcoming national elections.
The move has been controversial in Greece, with the country’s communist party saying the law would create a dangerous precedent for other parties, and legal experts warning it could be tricky to apply in practice.
The proposed law blocks parties “whose de facto leader is someone convicted as a criminal” from running in elections, Conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.
“Democracy has a moral obligation to protect itself from its enemies” and “cannot fund organisations that openly undermine its operations,” the prime minister told his cabinet ahead of the vote.
The small nationalist party Hellenes was formed in 2020 by Ilias Kasidiaris, the 42-year-old former spokesman and lawmaker of neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, a few months before he was sent to prison.
Kasidiaris was among several top Golden Dawn members handed heavy prison sentences in October 2020 by a court that labelled the neo-Nazi party a criminal organisation.
He was among nearly 60 Golden Dawn members who were convicted in 2020 of the murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas and other crimes including murder, assault and running a criminal organisation.
The hot-tempered former food scientist — who was a lawmaker from 2012 to 2019 — was sentenced to 13.5 years behind bars.
But this has not stopped him from preaching to his supporters through voice messages from prison and running a YouTube channel with over 120,000 followers.
Another former Golden Dawn MP, Constantinos Barbaroussis, and several active and retired army officers are among the cadres of the new Hellenes party.
It has inched up in the polls, and now looks capable of reaching three percent — the minimum required for entry into parliament.
Elections in Greece are scheduled to be held by the summer, but they could be as early as April.
A poll by the Marc company last week found nearly 74 percent of respondents want Kasidiaris’ party banned from running.
But Nikos Alivizatos, one of the country’s top constitutional law experts, told AFP that a liberal democracy “should tolerate these kind of (fascist) parties, as well as small parties on the left that invoke a proletarian dictatorship.”
Main opposition leader Alexis Tsipras on Wednesday warned parliament that the new law could galvanise and “give a major boost to the neo-Nazis”.
The Hellenes party has called the new law unconstitutional and plans to contest it.
Kasidiaris — who gave street fighting lessons to Golden Dawn recruits — became a household name in 2012 after he punched a female Communist MP during a talk show.
Photos taken at a beach ten years ago showed him sporting a large swastika tattoo on his left shoulder.
Golden Dawn existed on the fringes of Greek politics until the country’s 2010 debt crisis.
It capitalised on…