The neo-Nazi-style Golden Dawn party, which operates as a kind of Greek shadow security force, won close to seven percent of the vote in Sunday's election because it fills a crying public need that the government does not, a Greek political analyst told Haaretz.

"It's a combination of Hamas and the New York mafia in the 1930s," said George Kapopoulos, a senior political analyst for the Greek business magazine Imerisia and commentator for NET TV and ERA radio.

Athenians we met spoke of feeling very unsafe in the city center at night, even in middle-class neighborhoods. Since ATM robberies became common, members of Golden Dawn provide security for older people when they go to withdraw cash.

Greeks seemed surprised by Golden Dawn's electoral success, although many said they understood why it got so many votes. "If I were unable to move from my apartment in the center of town to a safer area, maybe I would have voted for them," a young Athenian who declined to give her name told me. "And I'm Jewish!"

Golden Dawn is filling the vacuum left by the bankrupt Greek government's inability to provide basic services to its citizens, swooping in like Superman to save them in their time of need. Party members have joined the firefighters who are toiling to extinguish the forest fires that have been raging in southern Greece since Saturday afternoon, for example. Two small villages whose men were murdered and their homes burned by the Nazis turned out for Golden Dawn on Sunday: "Five hundred people in each village," Kapopoulos says in a tone of disbelief.

In today's Greece it is very hard to distinguish between extremists on the right and the left. "People tell me they're wavering between SYRIZA [the left-wing coalition] and Golden Dawn - unbelievable, between the radical left and the fascists," Kapopoulos says.

There is a general sense that Golden Dawn's ascendance is the consequence of the impotence and corruption at the highest levels of government. "The government of the PASOK [Panhellenic Socialist Movement] party and [former Prime Minister] George Papandreou gave rise to Golden Dawn," says Ioannis Delimichalis, a local accountant who served as secretary at a central Athens polling station.