Greece's 'New Democracy' Are On The Cusp Of Power, But They Are Anything But 'Moderates'

SYRIZA's betrayals will see them crushed in the upcoming elections, but New Democracy's victory will see far-right members of the party as key powerbrokers

SYRIZA, Greece’s governing party, is expected to lose the upcoming national election, scheduled for July 7th. Its main opponent, New Democracy, appears to be holding onto the lead it established in the recent EU election, where it won by a margin of ten points.

For many of its supporters, but also many commentators in Greece and abroad, New Democracy’s recent successes and likely conquest of power represent a win for the moderate, pro-European centre-right. But is this the case?

Much of this public image of moderation and “centrism” rests on New Democracy’s leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis. A member of a family that has been a protagonist in Greek political affairs for several generations, Mitsotakis became party chairman in 2016, and is seen as a moderate, largely because of his emphasis on “liberalism”—though it must be said that he mostly means it in economic terms.

What is often overlooked, however, is that Mitsotakis won the leadership of New Democracy thanks to the support of the far-right faction of the party, led by former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, and former minister and party vice-chairman Adonis Georgiadis.

An unabashed nationalist, Samaras had served as Foreign Minister in the early 1990s and became Prime Minister in 2012, heading a coalition government. Samaras supported a “horse-shoe” theory, according to which SYRIZA and Greece’s notorious neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn were “two extremes” that equally threaten democracy. While accusing immigrants and refugees of “occupying our cities”, and calling on Greeks to “reoccupy them”, he pursued a policy of pushbacks in the Aegean, and took no action as Amnesty International, among others, documented dozens of cases of abuse and torture by the Greek police and coastguard.

Adonis Georgiadis, himself a first round contestant for New Democracy’s leadership in 2016, threw his support behind Mitsotakis in the second round, and was rewarded with the vice-chairmanship of the party. Formerly an MP of the extreme-right party LAOS, he transferred to New Democracy in 2012. Georgiadis, who first became widely known as a TV salesman of pseudo-scientific, nationalist books—including one anti-Semitic title, “Jews: The Whole Truth”—is one of the most outspoken nationalist ideologues in the country. Though he has apologised for “tolerating anti-Semitism” in the past, he makes no secret of his disdain for liberal values: during an interview, he said he opposed a law that would allow transgender people to amend their data with public authorities, because it might allow “someone with a life sentence to have gender reassignment surgery, so they can serve in a women’s prison”.

Another prominent figure of New Democracy’s far-right faction is Makis Voridis, who has also served as a minister. Voridis started his involvement in political affairs as what he has called “an activist of the right”. Photographs of him clad in jackboots and brandishing an axe might serve as an illustration of this particular brand of “activism”. He served as a youth leader of a fascist party, EPEN, succeeding Nikos Michaloliakos, who went on to be the leader of Golden Dawn. He then founded his own extreme nationalist party, Hellenic Front, which enjoyed excellent relationships with Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front National, and other European extreme-right parties, before joining LAOS and finally switching to New Democracy along with Georgiadis.

There is wide agreement that without the far-right faction’s support, Mitsotakis would have never become leader, as his opponent was the favourite of former Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, a member of the political family that founded the party. So, it is not unreasonable to ask: what sort of influence do the “kingmakers” have over the current leadership?

Indeed, the far-right faction’s influence in New Democracy is highly visible in issues such as the rapprochement with North Macedonia, which led to the Prespes Agreement—widely celebrated in moderate European political circles as a victory against virulent nationalism. New Democracy not only opposed the deal (despite having adopted a position in favour of a “composite name” solution in the past), but did so through a nationalist rhetoric that sought to deny the existence of a “Macedonian identity and language”. Many of its officials supported and participated in anti-government demonstrations over the deal, where the main tone was set by Golden Dawn, SYRIZA MPs were besieged in their homes, reporters were assaulted by neo-Nazis, and chants that called for “a knife to the heart of every Antifa” were heard, referring to the murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas by a Golden Dawn member. As the national election campaign was kicking off, a prominent New Democracy MP and close associate of former Prime Minister Samaras made a statement that he would not be opposed to renegotiating the Prespes Agreement “from the beginning”.

What is more, under the influence of its hard right faction, New Democracy has in recent years opposed human rights legislation that sought to alleviate discrimination, especially for LGBTQI people. Its leader himself justified his opposition to the aforementioned legislation for transgender people by saying that he had asked a “specialist”, who told him that a “minor wanted to change his gender because an alien on a mountain had told him to do so”. New Democracy has also opposed legislation to reduce overcrowding in prisons through reduced sentences, and to offer citizenship to children of migrants who are born in Greece. And it has vowed to reopen “Type C” maximum-security prisons that have been decried as unlawful and inhumane by human rights organisations, and to reinstate DELTA motorised police units, which have been implicated in cases of brutality and torture.

The question whether New Democracy is a moderate party of the centre-right, or a party where insular nationalism, reactionary conservatism, and intolerance go unchecked, is an important one. Not just for Greece, but for the democratic forces in Europe—as they gaze upon the resurgent far-right across the continent.

Centrists might choose to disregard this question for the sake of winning, but they do so at their peril. At the moment, whatever it was that won the EU election in Greece, and is poised to win on July 7th, does not look like your typical centre-right party.