The imprisoned former leader of the Nazi criminal organization Golden Dawn, appears on the ongoing second degree trial, in order to promote the ‘Spartans’ which appeared suddenly in the June elections and made it into parliament with 12 MPs. ©Marios Lolos
The result of the parliamentary election of 25 June 2023 in Greece was anything but a repeat of the May election. The second election was called as the first party, the conservative right wing New Democracy, had failed to win the required number of seats to form a one-party government. But, in addition to a significant, further decline in SYRIZA’s centre-left vote to 17.83% and an increase in strength for the Communist Party to 7.69%, the results returned not one but three clearly far-right parties to parliament, along with another formation that proclaims itself to be “neither right nor left”.
Greek Solution, the far-right party that entered parliament in 2019, maintained its share at 4.44%, roughly the same level that it achieved in the opinion polls for all of last year. Niki (“Victory”), a party with far-right positions of a strongly religious nature that suddenly appeared in the May 2023 elections, entered parliament with 3.23% of the vote. However, the largest share of the vote taken by the far-right entity was 4.63%, literally at the last moment. The Spartans, a party that did not even exist in May, is composed of associates of Ilias Kasidiaris, an imprisoned former leader of the Nazi criminal organization Golden Dawn.
At the same time, Course of Freedom, the leader-centric party of Zoe Konstantopoulou, a former member of SYRIZA who left the party in 2015, entered parliament with 3.17% of the vote. Although it does not have all the characteristics that would place it squarely on the far right, Course of Freedom incorporates elements of far-right discourse in its communications, such as the line “we are neither right nor left” while also investing in patriotism.
To return to the identity of the three far-right parties.
Greek Solution, led by Kyriakos Velopoulos, is a classic far-right party, especially in the Greek political context. Its leader comes from the Popular Orthodox Rally (Laos), the main exponent of the Greek far right from 2007 until 2012, when New Democracy absorbed its most prominent members and the Nazi Golden Dawn party dominated the far right. Greek Solution’s positions are nationalist, anti-immigration, anti-feminist, anti-LGBTQ+, with a particular emphasis on conspiracy theories.
Niki is a new player in the Greek far right. An ultra-conservative, deeply religious party, with a clear anti-immigration, anti-feminist, anti-LGBTQ+ agenda, it easily fits into the broader framework of the parties of the European Christian far right. Having fallen just short of the 3% parliamentary threshold in May and, after its extensive appearances on all TV stations and, above all, its promotion by a specific sports newspaper owned by the shipowner Victor Restis in the meantime, it took a 3.69% share in the 25 June elections and returned 10 MPs to parliament. It has become clear that Niki ran its election campaign, before May, largely out of the limelight and within some circles of the Greek Orthodox Church. This even led the Archbishop of Athens, who traditionally maintains good relations with the government, to issue an angry statement against those who “use the Church and faith as a tool for selfish purposes”.
The party that “suddenly” appeared in the June elections and made it into parliament with 12 MPs, after a call for support for the imprisoned Nazi Ilias Kasidiaris on 8 June, is the Spartans. The group existed before, as a “political reflection group”, always nationalist and friendly to Golden Dawn and its offshoots and with an online presence. Its connection with Kasidiaris did not come about by chance, as he is the most communicative and has the most active online presence of the three leaders of the once unified Nazi organization that each have their own party today.
Kasidiaris remains imprisoned, serving his original sentence as one of the leaders of the Nazi criminal organisation Golden Dawn, while his second-degree trial is ongoing. However, he has at his disposal much of the staff and organised propaganda structure he built up when he was Golden Dawn spokesperson, as many of its cadres followed him into his own party, Greeks for the Fatherland. Since the conviction of the members and leadership of Golden Dawn in October 2020, Kasidiaris’ mechanism has continued to work despite his imprisonment.
Kasidiaris’ online campaign, conducted mainly on YouTube and Twitter, is intense. His associates record his speeches through the phone calls he was entitled, like any prisoner, to make from prison. They package them into videos for TikTok and YouTube or forward them to other far-right influencers, some of whom were members of his party. Then they distribute them frantically over and over again, and one can easily notice dozens, maybe even hundreds of accounts made over the last 2-3 years, making lots of comments and shares, thus increasing engagement.
Kasidiaris, however, did not have just an online presence.
Since the conviction of Kasidiaris and others in October 2020, the New Democracy government did not take any immediate legislative measures that would have ensured the exclusion from the elections of both the convicted Nazis themselves and the parties that they belonged to or that supported them. What it did do was to issue a monstrous regulation on the eve of the elections (March 2023) that gives Greece’s Supreme Court the power to judge whether a party’s programme “ensures the uninterrupted functioning of the democratic constitution”. The law that New Democracy proposed and passed was even dubbed the “Kasidiaris amendment” by the media, thus giving, in addition to publicity, the privilege of having the jailed director of the Nazi criminal organization present himself as a martyr. What is worse, when it appeared that the original arrangement might not work, because of possible ideological sympathies of members of the Supreme Court, New Democracy tabled an additional amendment in May to change the procedure, which was described by the far right as “direct interference in the functioning of the judiciary”.
At the same time, Greece, like many other countries, experienced a blossoming and regrouping of extreme right-wing forces during the pandemic, when strong fronts were formed based on antivaccination and conspiracy theories around the coronavirus, ostensibly as a “reaction” to the – indeed erratic in most cases – measures imposed by the government, which was more interested in strengthening the police than in a real strategy to contain the pandemic.
Thus, opinion polls recorded Kasidiaris’ share of the vote at close to 6%, a few days before his own party was blocked in May. After finally being disqualified, Kasidiaris submitted a new application to participate in the June elections, this time not as a “party” but as a “combination of independent candidates”, with the same faces. This attempt also failed. However, he had another ace up his sleeve. The Spartans had already submitted their application to participate in the elections, as a backup plan, with candidates again being members of Kasidiaris’ party. Therefore, after ensuring that their participation in the elections was approved by the Supreme Court, Kasidiaris made his public statement of support on 8 June, through his lawyer, outside the courtroom.
The Spartans are just the stabilisers on Kasidiaris’ bicycle. As Kathimerini writes, most of the members of the “new” party are members of Kasidiaris’ party, Greeks for the Homeland. Under the Greek Penal Code, the Nazi will have the right to apply for early release on parole in April 2024 for his conviction in the first instance. However, the Court of Appeal will probably still be dealing with his second-degree trial, which leaves open the possibility that the leaders of the criminal organization could receive longer sentences. In his case, this could mean an additional two nominal years to his sentence (which now stands at 13 years), which would mean almost an extra year of actual imprisonment.