‘New right’ appears on Greek political scene

‘New right’ appears on Greek political scene

If the Greek ultra-right Golden Dawn party was a political phenomenon difficult to stomach for many, it may be more interesting to look at the latest tribulations in the right of center politics in Greece. The cards are being reshuffled and a new party of the “genuine” right is being formed.
Since the reelection of a government formed by the leftist Syriza and the right-nationalist Independent Greeks last autumn, very little has changed in the lives of Greeks. 

With a new, tough bail-out program imposed by the country’s creditors involving heavy taxation, strict fiscal terms and capital controls still in force, many Greeks are now aware that the hope for a “leftist” solution to the country’s problems offered by Syriza cannot be realized, at least for the time being. The voters of the old Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) shrunk even further and new centrist parties were shaped, but none have managed to go any further than a simplistic accusative style against “everything and all.” 

In this vacuum of political narrative, disillusionment and economic hardship, it is only natural to expect the birth of a new political narrative that would promote a new illusionary vision, a hope for a new “promised land” where people could dream again and feel better about themselves. “Humans need illusions and dreams.

Life is too short and too hard,” a professor of political science told me recently while explaining why there was a need for a new conservative party in Greece. 

The election of a new leader of the historical conservative New Democracy party, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, in January signaled a new period of changes among the right of center politics in Greece. The new leader, the son of a prime minister with a reputation as a tough pragmatist, quickly managed to surpass Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ party in the opinion polls and left the door open to anyone who wished to join from the center.

But Mitsotakis’ first steps left free ground to the most nationalist conservatives of his party, who until recently were clustered under former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. The vacuum between a more centrist New Democracy and the Golden Dawn was there and was ready to be filled.

The new party was born last week under the leadership of near septuagenarian and former deputy, MEP and TV journalist Georgios Karatzaferis, president of a populist conservative party, the Popular Orthodox Rally, who briefly became a partner in a tripartite government under banker Loukas Papademos in 2011-12. The new party has no official name yet, although “NATION” seems to be the most likely. 

Karatzaferis is an experienced populist politician whose long career as a TV journalist and his mild style are in direct contrast with the provocative aggressiveness of the leaders of the Golden Dawn. Karatzaferis has a useful partner, Takis Baltakos, a former super-minister in the New Democracy government of Samaras, an ultra-nationalist and known for his links with the church, royalists and even links with the Golden Dawn.

Karatzaferis called his new party the “Syriza of the right,” implying he may incorporate a wide range of groups and tendencies under a nationalist-conservative banner.  It is said that retired members of the military and old royalists may join. The new party aims to resemble former French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), or the Christian Social Union.  

Karatzaferis said the new party will attract those who voted for the Golden Dawn out of indignation, but also the disillusioned voters of New Democracy and the Independent Greeks, as well as the ones who voted to “mock” the system.

Of course, for a right populist narrative, the refugee crisis is an opportunity to claim that “Europe has turned its back on Greece” and that among the migrants now trapped in Greece “probably, there are jihadists.” 

In his speech last week in Thessaloniki announcing the foundation of his new party, Karatzaferis described its ideology as “homeland, religion, family.” He advocated that Greece should be out of the eurozone and not pay its debts because “they [Europeans] owe us the teaching fees from when we were teaching them letters 2,500 years ago!”

We will have to wait and see how attractive this new illusionary political thinking will be. These are turbulent times for Greece and people have been living under their means for too long. If the current government does not find a solution soon, then illusions may turn into dangerous convictions.