DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Sunday is voting day in Greece and many voters there head to the polls angry that their country has become an economic basket case. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports that protest votes could fill parliament with an array of new parties. Most surprising is the growing popularity of the xenophobic Golden Dawn Party, which espouses a neo-Nazi ideology.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: There are hardly any posters of the long-dominant Socialist and New Democracy parties. Traditional outdoor rallies have been replaced by quiet indoor gatherings with loyal supporters. The muted, apparently clandestine campaign stems from the two big parties' plummeting credibility.
Costas Panagopoulos, who runs the Alco polling agency, has never seen such an unstable political climate.
COSTAS PANAGOPOULOS: There is a lot of anger within the Greek society, we are moving to the upcoming elections wanting to punish those we blame for today's situation.
POGGIOLI: The mainstream parties are paying the highest price for the country's economic decline. One of the most active new parties is the ultra-right wing Golden Dawn. Its latest rally was in the working class neighborhood of Bournasi.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)
POGGIOLI: Party supporters here are mostly young, muscular, tattooed men, heads shaven, and wearing black T-shirts with the party logo - an ancient Greek motif resembling the swastika. They blame the eurozone crisis on what they call international banksters. After almost negligible support in elections three years ago, polls suggest Golden Dawn could win as much as 5 percent.
Its message is simple: dump austerity measures and kick immigrants - all of them are considered illegal - out of Greece.
ILIAS PANAGIOTAROS: We are a Christian nation and we are Europeans. We don't need Asian, Muslim fanatics in our country.
POGGIOLI: Ilias Panagiotaros, Golden Dawn spokesman, explains party policy.
PANAGIOTAROS: Seal our borders with mines, full protection from army in the borders, high penalties and fines for Greeks who are renting houses to illegal immigrants, high penalties and fines to Greeks who have illegal immigrants in their jobs.
POGGIOLI: The Golden Dawn book shop sells Hitler's "Mein Kampf" and other neo-Nazi propaganda. But Panagiotaros sidesteps a question about members' use of the Nazi salute.
PANAGIOTAROS: You call it Nazi salute. That was how they were saluting in ancient Rome, and ancient Greece. So we consider this ancient Greek saluting.
POGGIOLI: Agios Panteleimonas is a neighborhood densely populated by Asian and African immigrants. In recent years, the crime rate has soared. This is Golden Dawn's recruiting ground, among the native, impoverished and frightened underclass. Party members offer themselves as bodyguards to escort the elderly to ATM machines and grocery shopping. In front of the Orthodox Church, a large graffiti proclaims, Greece for Greeks.
An elderly woman, who gives only her first name, Stavroula, is grateful to Golden Dawn
STAVROULA: (Through translator) I pray to God they will enter parliament and restore order.
POGGIOLI: Pollster Panagopoulos says Golden Dawn does not have deep political roots in a country that prides itself on its heroic anti-Nazi resistance in World War II. He blames the mass media for failing to inform voters about the party's real ideology.
PANAGOPOULOS: They do not know what these guys believe. Those people, first of all, they do not believe to democracy. We are talking about Nazis.
POGGIOLI: And yet, Golden Dawn's anti-immigrant campaign has put the spotlight on an issue long ignored by the political mainstream: the large inflow of immigrants, now representing 10 percent of the population. In a bid to catch up, the government this week opened the first of dozens of detention camps for illegal immigrants.
Golden Dawn is one of several fringe parties - on the left and the right - taking advantage of the discredited political mainstream. Several analysts say this fragmentation will make governing difficult - a reminder of the instability and social unrest of Weimar Germany in the 1930s.
Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Athens.
GREENE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.