The Greek far-right is advancing under the radar

In Greece, a light blue bar climbs a little higher with each new opinion poll. For the time being, the number is below 10% and the trend could prove anecdotal. Except that this light blue bar belongs to a dark party: Elliniki Lissi (Greek Solution), which falls on the far-right of Greece’s political spectrum.

According to those polls, the 3% threshold needed to enter the European Parliament will also be passed by The Spartans and Niki (Victory), two other right-wing populist outfits already established in the national parliament, the Vouli.

If the trend continues, this ensemble could take more than 15% of the vote and emerge stronger than ever. And yet the reaction to this dark turn of events has been weak, bordering on non-existent. In fact, the specialists questioned on the subject tend to have the same response: a long silence, followed by “I don’t know what to say”, or “it’s tough”!

For filmmaker Angélique Kourounis, who has made two documentaries on the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn (Golden Dawn – A Personal Affair in 2016, and Golden Dawn – A Public Affair in 2021), “only people who are already mobilised, on the left and the far-left, are taking part in the anti-fascist movement”.

In other words, the battle against the far-right is being waged by a small circle of activists. Indeed, at the anti-fascist, anti-racist or migrant-rights demonstrations held in Athens, it is always the same faces that show up. This despite the fact that the Greek capital is home to almost a third of the country’s population.

These activists are members of organisations with eloquent names, most of which emerged from the “Greek crisis” of the 2010s. Among them: the Keerfa (an acronym for United Movement Against Racism and the Threat of Fascism), Deport Racism!, and the Athens-Piraeus anti-fascist network.

They all share one particular concern: “Does civil society really exist in Greece?”, in the words of Ioanna Meitani. She runs Simeio, a five-person group who are raising awareness of the danger of the far-right by means of research and educational material.

“With a series of articles in the online newspaper Lifo, we are trying to deconstruct the rhetoric and themes of far-right parties”, says Meitani.  For example, with Greenpeace they looked at the agriculture issue when the farmers were demonstrating earlier this year. Elena Danali, of Greenpeace, elaborates: “We know how the agricultural crisis and the climate crisis are linked, and how the far-right uses these crises to gain a foothold in the rural world and win votes. We published our alternative proposals.”

She adds that, unfortunately, “we do not have the resources to mount a campaign to get out the vote, as Greenpeace France has done”.

In answer to the question of how much effect these efforts are having, Simeio’s Ioanna Meitani is frank: “Unfortunately, not much, for two reasons: we’re a small organisation, only three years old. And in Greece, when organisations like ours propose alternatives, it’s as if they are subject to an embargo.”

A quick analysis of TV talk-show line-ups confirms this: the right and far-right are systematically invited onto those channels owned by shipowners, the construction industry or Big Oil. Theirs are also the most watched.

Christos Papagiannis, director of the think tank Eteron, believes that “in the media there is no real space for a positive account of social trends or social movements. When the far-right’s antagonists do appear on the news – usually outside primetime – they face attempts to discredit them: ‘you’re leftists’, ‘you’re not objective’, and so on. Alternative ideas are not tolerated.”

Angélique Kourounis agrees: “Greek society is not aware of the dangers that are coming. The rise of the far-right is happening under the radar. People’s main problem is to make ends meet.”

Ioanna Meitani adds: “Our society is afraid for its future. People wonder whether they will still have access to healthcare or education, whether they will be able to make ends meet. They are therefore receptive to simplistic solutions.”

Things are all the more delicate given that in 2015, after five years of crisis – financial, economic, social, political and democratic – many Greeks believed that an alternative was possible and said so by voting for Syriza, a left-wing party that spanned the spectrum from Euro-communists to Greek-style socialists.

For Yannis Androulidakis, a journalist and keen observer of Greek political life, “the hopes of the left were shattered everywhere in Europe, but the disappointment was even more brutal in Greece. The government of Alexis Tsipras did not solve any of the fundamental problems of Greek society, and worse still, it sent the message that we should expect nothing from the left. It contributed to the growth of the far-right.”

With a gun to his head, Alexis Tsipras ended up signing a memorandum which confirmed the policies he was denouncing… And Europe’s institutions put an end to the hopes for profound change expressed by Greeks in elections.

Thus, says Androulidakis, “the rise of the far-right can be explained by two concomitant phenomena: on the one hand, the European, or even global, climate; on the other, a Greek specificity”. In his view, the workers’ movement and the trade unions, which are losing ground all over Europe, are simply unable to come up with a response to the far-right.

Finally, Greek society faces another unique challenge: “With the dissolution of the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn in 2020, many people thought that the far-right had been broken, but in fact it has merely been restructured”, says Angélique Kourounis. Part of it has joined the ranks of the governing New Democracy, Greece’s affiliate of the conservative EPP. Another part sits in parliament under other labels.

The picture may seem bleak. Greeks have not appreciated thefar-right’s staying power in society. Nor are the rhetoric and actions of activists making much impact.

Greek society seems divided between three tendencies: fatalism, a wait-and-see attitude, and outright paralysis. Meanwhile, the far-right continues to rise: in bar charts, and in people’s minds.

Angélique Kourounis died on 6 May 2024, just a few days after contributing to this article. We would like to pay tribute to her here.

With the support of Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung UE

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