Greece’s recent elections saw two new far-right parties enter parliament for the first time. Grinding austerity is not fueling continued popular resistance but the rise of conspiracy theorist cranks who promote war among the poor.
The leader of Greek far-right party Niki (Victory), Dimitrios Natsios, delivers a speech during his last campaign rally in Piraeus on June 22, 2023, ahead of Greek legislative elections. (Theophile Bloudanis / AFP via Getty Images)
Greece’s two general elections in 2023 showed the strength of the far right — but also how this political camp has transformed during the COVID-19 pandemic. One reason is that today it has many representatives within the ruling party: New Democracy, the conservative outfit that won a majority of seats in the second election held on June 25. Yet in that same contest, over 12 percent of votes went to far-right alternatives, with two tickets — Niki (Victory) and the Spartans — entering parliament for the first time.
This is not because the far right is a new force in Greek politics. Still, this political space has many different faces, and various developments over the last decade pushed it toward an internal restructuring. Factions of the antisystemic far right had been integrated into government already in 2015, when the Independent Greeks (ANEL) were included in the coalition led by Syriza. More recent years also saw the decline of the more overtly neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, which was banned in 2020.
Three years ago, the court ruling against Golden Dawn — judged a criminal organization, with some of its leaders jailed — was hailed by some liberals as a decisive blow against the far right. Yet the period since then has shown that this was far from true. Even without this party, new strains of the far right appeared during the pandemic, and today they play a key role on several fronts: within the governing bloc, in street mobilizations, and in other rising electoral forces. The Spartans gained momentum in short order ahead of June’s elections, after Golden Dawn’s second-in-command Elias Kasidiaris offered this newer party a public statement of support from jail.
New Democracy has consistently followed a harsh anti-immigration agenda, within a wider ultraconservatism that allows far-right personalities and their supporters to swim like a fish in water.
Yet, also decisive were recent mobilizations: the Macedonia name dispute rallies in 2017–18, the anti-immigrant pogroms on the island of Lesbos in 2018 and at Evros on the Greek-Turkish border in 2020, and the pandemic deniers’ movement in 2020–21. Each of these movements enabled the forceful return of the nationalist mob, which took to the streets with both mass numbers and militant energy.
The most important enabler for the far right’s breakthrough is the New Democracy government. While based on the established conservative party, this is, in essence, an informal coalition government between New Democracy and Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), a far-right party active between 2000 and 2012, three of whose key members hold important ministries. Since returning to office in 2019, New Democracy has consistently followed a harsh anti-immigration agenda, within a wider ultraconservatism that allows far-right personalities and their supporters to swim like a fish in water. The establishment of the Ministry of Social Cohesion and Family following New Democracy’s recent election win is a clear example of the continuous osmosis between the systemic and antisystemic (far) right.
Moreover, the repressive management of the pandemic and the many irrational measures implemented by the New Democracy government provided the opportunity for various manifestations of the far right to present themselves as “defenders of freedom” or “defenders of self-determination of the body.” Government policy shaped a framework of public debate that favored the far right — and fueled its self-representation as a force of “resistance” to state authoritarianism.
Surely, a considerable part of the responsibility for the social and electoral rise of the far right lies with the Left itself, parts of which have allied with various far-right formations, formed common political fronts, and even presented far-right figures active in the health workers’ anti-vax movement (such as election candidates Argyris Dalianis, Zoe Vaiopoulou, and Lambros Tsapalis) as class heroes. It is obvious now that this osmosis between a section of the Left and parts of the far right strengthened these latter’s supposedly antisystemic profile, contributed to their communication facelift, and allowed them to take to the streets again en masse.
But does the far right really take an antisystemic position? In all the various forms it assumes, not only does it not clash with the bourgeois state and capital, but it instead operates as their long arm. A key assumption for the far right is that class reconciliation, under the iron boot of the state, is a fundamental condition for “the benefit of the nation as a whole.” This essentially means the subjugation of the subordinate classes to the dominant class.
We have known since the days of Benito Mussolini that fascism was created as a strikebreaking apparatus. For the ex-leftist Mussolini, strikes and factory occupations were “Bolshevism in action.” Even if the strikers may sometimes be right to turn against the government, they are always wrong vis-à-vis the nation: “To inflict upon a people the mortification of an ill-advised strike, to trample upon the rights of the whole, meant to lead men from modern civil life back again to tribal conflict.” Thus, in order to achieve social harmony, class peace must be imposed by an authoritarian state, as the liberal state is weak and cannot rein in the working-class pressure from below.
The osmosis between a section of the Left and parts of the far right strengthened these latter’s supposedly antisystemic profile.
How is such a stance toward strikes different from the dominant rhetoric emanating from the mainstream media in Greece today? To illustrate this point, we need only mention the connections between the Nazis of Golden Dawn and business interests. This can be deduced not only from their position regarding strikes, but also from their parliamentary activity. As demonstrated by one comrade who studied 5,700 questions submitted to parliament by Golden Dawn from July 2012 to September 2016, behind the antisystemic profile we can see a complete convergence of goals:
They align with the interests of shipowners and contractors, of pharmaceutical manufacturers and military equipment manufacturing industries, with the interests of businessmen, with Russian monopolies, sports federations, etc. Behind their yelling and their performance before the cameras lies capital’s much desired “labor peace,” for which the Golden Dawn Nazis work, obviously expecting reward in return. [They do so by] attacking workers’ trade unions, dividing the working class into locals and foreigners, blaming all the problems on the latter, trying to mask class antagonisms behind the so-called national interest. Using all means possible, they try to convince the workers that they have common interests with the capitalists. . . . There are thousands of words and speeches, but anti-capitalism is nowhere to be found. . . . This is not a coincidence for those who want to make the oppressed class forget that “freedom, equality, and justice cannot exist simultaneously for capitalists and workers alike.”
In brief, we can safely contend that, despite the antisystemic profile the fascists advertise, they maintain direct relations with business interests and execute various jobs and services on their behalf. At the same time, they have footholds in parts of the deep state (ranging from the military, secret services, and police to the church and the judiciary). Their enemy is not “the system.” Their enemies are the excluded, the poor, the immigrants, those who are “different,” and all those who engage with the struggle in the workplaces and neighborhoods, as well as anarchists and the communists.
It is important to point out that this isn’t the first time that the self-proclaimed antisystemic far right — insofar as this is distinct from a “mainstream” far right embedded within the ruling New Democracy — has made such inroads in the Greek parliament. In the May 2012 elections, amid a structural crisis and the discrediting of the political center, the various far-right formations added up to 23 percent of the vote. Evidently, the special circumstances of that moment are important to understanding this: back then, the traditional poles of the dominant two-party system (the social democratic PASOK and New Democracy) were literally collapsing; indeed, it has been observed that the rise of the far right in that moment was largely connected to the electoral disintegration of New Democracy.
Yet today these circumstances no longer apply in the same way. Significant parts of the electorate who did not traditionally vote for conservatives have now moved closer to far right. This more recent development allows us to see the significance of the coexistence and collaboration between the Left and the far right regarding the Macedonia name dispute rallies and the anti-vaccination movement.
If we add up the far right and New Democracy votes, in 2012 they amounted to 45 percent. Thus, a considerable number of right-wing conservatives were radicalized and switched from New Democracy (then under the ultranationalist New Democracy leader and prime minister Antonios Samaras) to the new far-right party of ANEL (which eventually formed a coalition government with Syriza between 2015 and 2019). It is indicative that, at the time, New Democracy received only 19 percent of the vote, while ANEL received an impressive 11 percent. Golden Dawn won 7 percent, which translates into more than 440,000 votes, while other far-right formations also had a significant presence (LAOS, Recreate Greece, United Popular Front etc.).
Yet, this picture soon began to change. The June 2012 elections witnessed a relative retreat of far-right electoral influence, which was reduced to 18 percent, as voters who had defected from New Democracy returned to that party. In January and September 2015, the far-right vote receded further, reaching no more than 12 percent, while the July 2019 elections saw the retreat of Golden Dawn as well as the general decrease of the overall far right, to 8 percent.
To put it differently, what we observe over the decade following the 2008 crisis is the explosive rise of the wider antisystemic far right. The significant part of the electorate that seceded from New Democracy and chiefly found its home in ANEL played a major role in this development. Golden Dawn’s breakthrough was the first time that a “purebred” Nazi party dramatically increased its electoral influence, thus making the process of right-wing radicalization in the conservative quarters of Greek society obvious. Gradually, the far right’s electoral influence decreased, while — for the first time — Greece saw a peculiar government uniting the Left and far right, i.e. Syriza and ANEL.
New Strains After the Pandemic
The rise of the far right in the period since 2019 — in which New Democracy was itself in power — especially needs understanding in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic and the authoritarian management of its effects by the state. It is during this period that we see the restructuring of the political space to the right of the ruling party. And it is certainly no coincidence that of the thirteen far-right/alt-right formations that participated in the May 2023 elections, twelve actively participated in the anti-vaccination movement. Both older far-right forces and more recent contenders committed to using the pandemic — along with the Macedonian name dispute and the anti-immigration agenda — to build their influence.
New conspiracy theories were born alongside old ones. Thus, the denial of the danger represented by the pandemic and anti-vaccination ideology were combined with older theories, such as the theories of the Great Replacement, the depopulation of the planet, the New World Order as a single center of power that rules and dictates its agenda as it pleases over all states, etc. On this basis, an unexpected convergence emerged between far-right conspiracy theorists and certain leftists. One such example is the Interdisciplinary Association for the Protection of Democracy and Bioethics, a political front bringing together elements of the Left and far right, created in early 2021.
It is certainly no coincidence that of the thirteen far-right/alt-right formations that participated in the May 2023 elections, twelve actively participated in the anti-vaccination movement.
Rich on this new support, in the May 2023 election, after four years of conservative rule, thirteen far-right/alt-right formations won 12 percent of the vote. As mentioned above, twelve of them were of conspiratorial bent: Greek Solution, Victory, Alliance for the Subversion, Unite, Movement 21, Breath of Democracy, Free Again, EAN (“What if”), Dare!, Assembly of the Greeks, Unity-Truth (ENA), and the Northern League. The thirteenth far-right formation, National Creation, had a different political aim and focused its campaign on what it names as “constructive opposition” to the government. We could possibly add to these results the percentage of the peculiar party Course of Freedom, headed by ex-left-wing MP and former president of the Parliament Zoe Konstantopoulou, who promotes hard-line nationalist positions and who included far-right personalities in her ballot papers. An example is Vassilis Grammatikopoulos, a follower of the Nazi Great Replacement theory and known figure from nationalist rallies over the Macedonia name dispute.
During the month between this year’s two elections, the far-right map changed: its forces were realigned in new political formations. A clear catalyst was the electoral success of Golden Dawn’s second-in-command, Kasidiaris (currently serving jail time after this party was judged a criminal organization in 2020). His vehicle was a new party with the rather telling name “the Spartans.”
Thus, in the second election at the end of June, the far right further increased its percentages, obtaining 14.2 percent of the vote. Of the eight far-right/alt-right formations running for the elections, seven were clearly conspiracist: The Spartans, Greek Solution, Victory, Patriotic Coalition, Assembly of the Greeks, National Front, and Spirit of Democracy. Of those, the first three are now represented in the parliament, along with Konstantopoulou’s Course of Freedom.
As for the Spartans, their leader (who is also an executive of the National Party of Greeks, another offshoot of Golden Dawn, which attracted many of the latter’s members and managed to acquire a hegemonic position in the far-right arena), Vassilis Stigas, maintained relations with the former head of the LAE–Popular Unity, Panagiotis Lafazanis (a historical figure of the Left and minister productive reconstruction, environment and energy in the first Syriza/ANEL government from January to June 2015) since the rallies for the Macedonia name dispute. Stigas’s right-hand man (and Kasidiaris’s too) is the lawyer Haris Katsivardas. He was instrumental in the campaign of defamation against a teacher accused of showing her students a “homosexual” film (the award-winning Shower Boys). Katsivardas, using his contacts in the mainstream media, fueled moral panic by spreading fake news, a common practice in far-right quarters.
However, those who have been following the developments within the far right in recent years certainly remember Katsivardas as a speaker at anti-vaccination rallies, as well as the friendly relations he maintained with far-right law professor Kostas Vathiotis, a familiar name within the conspiracy-theorist “left.” Katsivardas is also the author of a book titled Health Auschwitz, published by the far-right publisher Pelasgos, following in his Golden Dawn führer Kasidiaris’s footsteps. This latter is the author of the book The Truth Behind the COVID-19 Disease, which, in addition to the conspiracy theories it reproduced, figures a chapter on the “Auschwitz of the vaccinated.”
In this way, the descendants of the Nazis instrumentalize and relativize the Holocaust for their own political purposes. This is a common far-right tactic that presents fascists as the “modern Jews” who are persecuted by the “regime.” The pro-Nazi Holocaust denier Ernst Zündel had a similar strategy, when he sported a concentration camp prisoner’s uniform to his trial in Canada. This vulgar practice was also adopted by organic intellectuals of the “left-wing” conspiracy-theorist milieu, such as Fotis Terzakis, a seminal intellectual of the Left and a founding member of the Interdisciplinary Association for Democracy and Bioethics along with several well-known far-right figures. He wore the yellow star to present himself as a “modern Jew” at a public event.
Attacks on Holocaust memorials indicate that antisemitism is a reemerging force. The ban on Golden Dawn has not stopped the far right from gaining ground in Greek society, or even the attacks with knives, iron fists, and clubs against immigrants and anti-fascists. The far right has deep roots — and is benefiting from the conditions of capitalist crisis. Countering its continued rise demands an anti-fascist movement on many fronts.Original post