Dancing with Greece’s extreme right

«First of all, I am not a Jew. Can the prime minister say that of himself? Secondly, I am not a communist. Can Mr Karamanlis say that?» asked LAOS leader Giorgos Karatzaferis, speaking in Corinth on May 28, 2002. «Thirdly, I am not a homosexual. There aren’t many who can say that,» he added. He was not widely quoted at the time, but Karatzaferis is given to making remarks of a similar nature, and had in the past made reference to a grandfather of then Prime Minister Costas Simitis, Aaron Avouris. Anti-Semitism has long been the LAOS leader’s favorite subject. Long before he founded LAOS, when he was still a parliamentary deputy for the New Democracy party, he had founded Nea Elpida (New Hope), something between a non-profit firm and a political party, through which he made overtures to the extreme right-wing Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) and its «worthy fighters.» At some point, however, he was bound to be inconsistent. The revelation that his list of candidates for the Athens prefectural elections included four known members of Chrysi Avgi annoyed the LAOS leader, who believed at the time that he could attract votes from the liberal and centrist camps. So Karatzaferis hastened to state that the same list included two homosexuals and a Gypsy, angering then leader of Chrysi Avgi, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, who said, «We deeply regret that members of Chrysi Avgi have been offset by Jews, homosexuals and Gypsies.» (The Central Jewish Council denied at the time that Greek Jews were included on Karatzaferis’s list of candidates). Karatzaferis’s relations with the neo-fascist bloc and with remnants of the dictatorship have often been characterized by mutual suspicion. Although he claims to have united them all under one umbrella, firstly under New Democracy and later under LAOS, these others have always been seeking what only Karatzaferis could give them – a seat in Parliament. And that is what he has done. The question now is how far he can control them, particularly given that their political culture has been formed by the multiplicity and intensity of personal rivalries since the first years after the restoration of democracy. European extreme-right parties owe their short-lived success chiefly to their representatives’ excellent relationship with the media. Jean Marie Le Pen and Carl Lang in France, Giancarlo Fini in Italy, Joerg Haider in Austria and many of their associates distinguished themselves as television personalities on political talk shows or at public rallies. Several political analysts have pinpointed this as LAOS’s main problem. With the exception of its leader, the party did not have cadres that could easily cope with a television debate. Now it does, but that is another major problem for Karatzaferis, since at least three or four of his deputies have both the political stature and the experience to hold their own on television. That is precisely the problem – these cadres have become known for their neo-fascist or ultra-right activities and that will only strengthen LAOS’s ultra-right image. So Karatzaferis wants to depend solely on himself, particularly since in the recent elections his party was trying to appeal to all sectors of the electorate. The party’s campaign platform was an example of this. Focusing on excessive statism (the powerful state is the fetish for all new ultra-right parties) it presented «leftist» proposals (such as a basic minimum wage but also a maximum wage) and nebulous concepts such as a five-year recruitment of immigrants into a «auxiliary military corps.» Karatzaferis has long made it clear that just a few years ago it was his policies that allowed extreme right-wing groups to enter the heart of the European parliamentary system, embracing not only right-wingers but dissatisfied leftists who were not part of left-wing parties. However, it will be difficult to keep up appearances with the likes of Makis Voridis, Thanos Plevris, Adonis Georgiadis and Kyriakos Velopoulos. At LAOS headquarters next to the Panathenaic Stadium on Vassileos Constantinou Avenue, the first clouds have already appeared on the horizon. Leading party cadres found they had not garnered the votes they expected. Worst of all, these votes had gone to the «upstarts.» The most typical example was in Piraeus, where former Deputy Education Minister Giorgos Kalos lost out (over the history textbook uproar) but the sexologist Vaitsis Apostolatos almost lost to Christos Haritos, publisher of the newspaper of the Elliniko Metopo (Hellenic Front, which had the blessing of Le Pen) and president of the Olympiakos fan club. Haritos joined LAOS along with Makis Voridis and the other Le Pen followers in 2005. What displeases LAOS’s old guard most is the number of votes that went directly to Haritos on the ballot papers. The same scenario was played out in the first Athens constituency, where lawyer Thanos Plevris, son of the neo-Nazi Costas Plevris (and who represented his father in the recent trial over a book by the latter attacking Jews and defending Hitler), left some of LAOS’s oldest cadres way behind him in the voting, including one of Karatzaferis’s deputies Giorgos Georgioiu, as well as Vangelis Papadopoulos and Panayiotis Theodorakidis. Thanos Plevris is less compromised by neo-Nazi activities. Within LAOS, there is talk of an «historic compromise» between Plevris senior and Karatzaferis, who needed the Plevris name but did not want to assume responsibility for the activities of the «father» of Greek neo-fascism. Using his son was the golden mean. Still, LAOS’s biggest problem is expected to be Makis Voridis, not only because of his activities to date, but because the Elliniko Metopo that has joined LAOS is a tight-knit group with a solid ultra-right ideology and, above all, a better electoral record than other LAOS cadres. Voridis has rejected the ultra-right label (allegedly at the prompting of the party leader). He first appeared in the extreme right shortly before 1980. Four years later, he was elected president of the EPEN youth group (the party founded by ex-dictator George Papadopoulos in 1983 from within Korydallos Prison). However, his career really took off a year later, as current Transport Minister Costis Hatzidakis will remember only too well. At a stormy meeting on March 15, 1985, Voridis was expelled from the law school student union for his ultra-right activities. All student political groups voted in favor of the move (Hatzidakis was head of New Democracy’s student association DAP). A few months later, Voridis, heading a group of EPEN members, laid siege to the law school with axes and iron bars. In 1994, Voridis established the Elliniko Metopo and shortly afterward published the newspaper Ellinikes Grammes. The neo-fascist ENEK group and many EPEN cadres joined him. His favorite targets are immigrants, chiefly Albanians, particularly since members of the Northern Epirus Liberation Front (MAVI), such as Yiannis Yiannakenas, joined the party. Police raided the latter’s home to search for weapons, although none were found. A court hearing established a relationship between Yiannakenas and others awaiting trial with regard to MAVI activities in Albania. Voridis became well known to the ultra-right through his relationship with Le Pen. At that time, Greek ultra-right groups were all jockeying for Le Pen’s favor. It was Voridis who succeeded, defeating Plevris, Ioannis Schinas and Chrysi Avgi. Eventually on October 18, 1997, Le Pen recognized Elliniko Metopo. In 2005 shortly before Elliniko Metopo joined LAOS, Voridis made a show of strength by bringing Le Pen to Athens to attend his wedding. Best man at the wedding was another French ultra-rightist, the deputy leader of the Front National, Carl Lang. At about the same time, Kyriakos Velopoulos abandoned a local television station in Pieria for the bright lights of Thessaloniki. The eloquent TV star made a cautious beginning. His book «Greece is Bleeding» was nothing like his more recent publications where he claims that, among other things, that Greeks are from Sirius and that the Maya are descended from the Greeks. Still Velopoulos has managed to do more than all the other new LAOS cadres, that is, to attract the northern Greek mainstream with his rhetoric on the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Even the prefect Panayiotis Psomiadis has embraced him, adopting his idea of an annual festival in Thessaloniki to commemorate Alexander the Great. On June 13, the festival inspired by Velopoulos was held at the prefectural headquarters. According to the rumor mill, Psomiadis was encouraged by ND headquarters so that LAOS would not be credited with the festival, but he does not appear to have succeeded. Adonis Georgiadis is treading more carefully than the others, perhaps because he has been close to the LAOS leader from the start, enjoying his trust and some publicity on the Teleasty channel. Nevertheless his ultra-right views have often found voice in his books, the most recent of which leaves no room for doubt. His comments on Costis Plevris’s most recent book and his appearance as a witness for the defense in the trial make that quite clear. In a recent article in the online edition of Ellinikes Grammes, Georgiadis congratulated Karatzaferis on his «historic speech» in Parliament. He was the only one to do so.