Golden Dawn arrests mark major moment in Greece's history

Party leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos was arrested on Saturday Photo: RTV

The arrest by Greek police of the leader and the spokesman of the far-right Golden Dawn party is a significant moment in Greece’s history.

It is the first time since 1974 that a party head and sitting members of parliament have been arrested and has the power to throw the Greek parliamentary system into further chaos.

Convictions of any of those currently elected as MPs would see them have to stand down and their seats be voted on again in by-elections.

Golden Dawn, and its neo-Nazi ideals, has been opposed in many parts of Greek society yet strongly supported in others, becoming the third most popular party with 18 members elected to the 300 strong Hellenic parliament.

Police officers stand guard outside the Greek police headquarters in Athens Credit: Reuters

Those 18 seats give them power over Greece’s political future.

Earlier this week Golden Dawn threatened to pull all its MPs out of the democratic process.

That would force by-elections across the country and add to the continuing pressures on the country, it’s people and politicians.

As such there is little appetite for a return to the polls.

It will be interesting to see if these arrests alter Golden Dawn’s desire for such action – recent opinion polls suggesting a halving in their support and that was before the detention of the leader and other significant party figures.

With its neo-Nazi roots, Golden Dawn entered the Greek parliament for the first time in May 2012, capitalizing on Greece's deep financial crisis, rising crime and anti-immigrant sentiment.

Golden Dawn supporters picket the police station where party members are being held Credit: Reuters

The party's members and supporters have frequently been suspected of carrying out violent attacks, mainly against immigrants.

Despite its reputation for violence, the party had enjoyed until the past days, growing popularity.

Their presence in parliament has proved uncomfortable but democratically elected there were few options open other MPs.

However the killing of the anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fissas on September 17 and arrest of a self-proclaimed Golden Dawn supporter for his murder raised very different questions about the position of the party.

The government knew they had an opportunity to act and with violence on the streets knew they needed to given they have been accused of lacking political will to tackle the issue.

What will be telling in the coming days and hours is the reaction of those who continue to support Golden Dawn and its ideals.

With their leadership in custody will they be able to move ahead in protest or will they find themselves increasingly disorganized and lacking a clear way forward.