Right before the legislative election in May, questions are being raised over the state of democracy in Greece as the country faces the potential resurgence of far-right extremism for the second time within two decades, Georgios Samaras writes.
The upcoming Greek legislative election, set for 21 May, is taking place in an extremely polarised atmosphere.
Over the past two years, PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of the New Democracy party, has been accused of various transgressions, such as engaging in systemic corruption, violating human rights,
He was also involved in several scandals, including the 2022 revelations of systematic wiretapping that have been dubbed Greek Watergate.
These accusations have had a significant impact on his approval ratings, and the far-right is the one capitalising — again.
A party that was a criminal organisation guilty of murders
In the 2012 election, a comparable scenario unfolded as New Democracy was confronted with a crisis of confidence amidst a period of coalition governance.
The government suffered a loss of support as a considerable number of voters defected to far-right groups — in particular, the nefarious Golden Dawn.
In light of Golden Dawn's conviction for running a criminal organisation in 2020, the party has been expunged from the political landscape, as its leader and MPs were found guilty of murders.
Golden Dawn, which was formed in 1985 by Nikolaos Michaloliakos, is a neo-Nazi party that gained traction in Greece during the fiscal crisis.
It was able to capitalise on the severe socioeconomic deprivation that plagued the country for several years, eventually securing its first parliamentary seats in 2012.
The party's ideology emphasises ethnic purity and is heavily steeped in neo-Nazi rhetoric, with a manifesto that actively promotes hatred for immigrants and minorities.
Golden Dawn opens the door to Greek Solution
One of the political entities that emerged was Greek Solution, a small far-right party led by senior MP and vaccine sceptic Kyriakos Velopoulos, which replaced Golden Dawn in the Greek parliament after it lost all its seats in the 2019 legislative election.
Velopoulos managed to cross the 3% threshold with ease, while recent polls indicate his party's support to be at approximately 5-6%.
Aside from Greek Solution, polls have shown a significant surge in popularity for the relatively new far-right party, Hellenes or "Greeks", which was founded by Ilias Kasidiaris, a former MP and spokesperson of Golden Dawn.
Despite Kasidiaris' currently serving 13 years and six months in prison for his role in running the criminal venture, he has managed to maintain control of the party through social media.
Hellenes’ manifesto espouses an extreme ideology of xenophobia and closed borders while also highlighting the perceived threat of Islam in Greece.
Notably, the party formerly known as Greeks for the Fatherland has recruited several former members of Golden Dawn, including former MP Konstantinos Barbaroussis, who has been released from prison, and former MEP Lampros Fountoulis.
And now, it's Hellenes
The resurgence of Kasidiaris on the political scene has caused concern within the Greek government, prompting Minister of the Interior Makis Voridis to introduce legislation aimed at completely banning political parties led by convicted individuals who have been previously involved with Golden Dawn.
In response, Kasidiaris announced his resignation as leader of Hellenes and as a parliamentary candidate.
However, the move to step down was likely a strategic one. What is particularly alarming is that Kasidiaris “sacrificed” himself to save the party and was replaced at the helm by Anastasios Kanellopoulos, a former assistant Supreme Court prosecutor.
Adding to this intrigue, Kanellopoulos' brother currently holds the position of Vice President of the Supreme Court.
To make matters even more dubious, Kanellopoulos was appointed as the new leader due to his prior position as the head of an inactive far-right party named EAN — a move most likely engineered by Kasidiaris as a workaround if the Supreme Court ultimately bans Hellenes from participating in the election.
If that were to happen, Kanellopoulos could potentially reactivate EAN just before the upcoming election, allowing him to absorb Hellenes and run without any legal impediments.
Indicatively, the website of EAN seems to have reappeared online in recent days, possibly in preparation for the bait-and-switch.
In Greece, anger propels the vote — and it might do so again
This case brings to mind the events of 2013 when members of Golden Dawn were arrested for their involvement in the murder of left-wing hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas.
Following this, in the 2014 European election, the anger of Golden Dawn supporters propelled the party to almost 10% of the vote.
The similarity of circumstances raises the question of whether history will repeat itself and fuel public sentiment towards Hellenes in the upcoming election as a result of the last-minute suspension.
Despite the Greek government's efforts to prevent Hellenes from participating in the upcoming election, all their attempts have proven to be extremely ineffective.
This is due to the fact that the three legal amendments were specifically designed to target Kasidiaris rather than considering the possibility of his party merging with other political entities to participate legally in the election.
An inquiry is currently looming over the state of democracy in Greece as the country faces the potential resurgence of far-right extremism for the second time within two decades.
The rise of the extreme right should be cause for concern
Despite this threat, Mitsotakis’ government appears unfazed and has shown slow reflexes in attempting to prevent Kasidiaris from running in the upcoming election, which is only weeks away.
Instead of opposing the far-right, New Democracy has taken a conflicting stance by aligning itself with far-right views.
This shift has also been demonstrated by New Democracy’s recent calls to recruit Greek Solution MPs.
The rise of extreme-right politics is alarming, and the lack of concern from the government raises serious questions about their commitment to preserving the quality of democracy in Greece in this highly polarised environment.
It is of utmost importance that the country demonstrates an unwavering determination to eradicate the influence of neo-Nazism.
To effectively combat the dangerous threat, a comprehensive and rigorous regulatory framework must be established after the May election, leaving no room for the remnants of Golden Dawn and its abhorrent legacy.
Georgios Samaras is an Assistant Professor of Political Economy at the Department of Political Economy, King’s College London.
At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.