ATHENS - Politics has been a rough-and-tumble affair here this year, but mostly in a metaphorical sense until Thursday, when a male legislator from an extreme-right political party attacked two rival legislators on a live television talk show, both of them women, throwing water in the face of one and slapping the other in the face repeatedly.
The outburst came just more than a week before general elections that could determine Greece’s future in the eurozone, shifting the debate at least for the moment from commitments to foreign creditors and financial woes to the legislator, Ilias Kasidiaris, and the party for which he was the chief spokesman, Golden Dawn. A prosecutor issued a warrant for Kasidiaris’s arrest on charges of attempting to inflict bodily harm.
The assault dominated Greek news sites and blogs, although most commentators played down its possible impact on the outcome of elections June 17, though they agreed that Greece’s international image would suffer.
“It’s another nail in the coffin’’ for Greece, said Babis Papadimitriou, a political commentator for the TV channel Skai and a center-right daily newspaper, Kathimerini. Politically, he said, the impact would probably be slight.
“Most of the people that voted for Golden Dawn know what the party is about, and they sent them to Parliament knowing that, to empower them to do what they can’t do,’’ Papadimitriou said.
The outburst was a first for Greek television. Kasidiaris, who has served in the military’s special forces, emptied his glass of water in the face of Rena Dourou, of the ascendant leftist party Syriza, before turning on an outspoken Communist Party candidate, Liana Kanelli, who had risen from her seat.
Kasidiaris snapped following an argument with the Communist hopeful over accusations about links between Golden Dawn and members of the Greek police force and Dourou’s reference to a pending court case against him for the beating of a left-wing student in 2007.
Why the accusations so upset Kasidiaris is not immediately clear, as Golden Dawn has made a name for itself over the past few years for its attacks on immigrants and leftists, although it strenuously denies any involvement. Last week, the daughter of the party’s leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, and another five party members and supporters were arrested over the beating of a group of immigrants. They were released without charge, the police said, because of “insufficient evidence.’’
In another incident widely believed to be linked to extreme rightists, a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Gil Sehefler, said he was beaten Tuesday by a group of masked assailants wielding sticks as he tried to photograph a group of immigrants.
Kanelli said Kasidiaris’s behavior was a wake-up call for some 450,000 Greeks who voted for Golden Dawn on May 6, catapulting it onto the political stage.
“With the power of their vote on June 17, citizens must isolate every thuggish hand,’’ she said, adding, “Now that we know what his party is made of, let’s hope voters realize it, too.’’
The office of President Karolos Papoulias condemned the outburst as “a violation of the rules of democracy,’’ while the caretaker prime minister, Panagiotis Pikrammenos, a former top judge, called for laws to be respected during what is left of the election campaign.
Party leaders had harsher words for Golden Dawn, which garnered a stunning 7 percent of the vote in the May 6 polls, up from just 0.29 percent in 2009, riding a wave of popular discontent with a rapidly expanding population of illegal immigrants.
Conservative New Democracy, which came first in the May 6 polls but short of a majority after losing a significant portion of its voter base to the extreme right-wing group, accused Golden Dawn of “trying to bring the laws of the jungle into society.’’ The socialist Pasok party, which co-signed Greece’s debt deal in February with the conservatives and has seen its support plummet as a result, warned that Greece faced the risk of becoming a “fascist society.’’