OPINION

After 38 years, New Democracy finally packs up and leaves its headquarters on Rigillis Street

For almost 38 years, the building at 18 Rigillis Street in central Athens has been identified with New Democracy, Greece’s conservative party, and by extension with the country’s post-1974 history. The two have been linked so closely that when ND head Antonis Samaras decided to move the party’s headquarters to new offices on Syngrou Avenue, south of the city center, many journalists continued to quote “sources at Rigillis.”

Now the Rigillis chapter appears have closed for good as ND has stopped renting the building, which belongs to the Agricultural University of Athens.

It was spring of 1975 when the late Constantine Karamanlis decided to ignore the building’s historical associations (before the country’s military dictatorship, it had housed the royal gendarmerie and served as a controversial polling center in the 1961 elections) and gave then ND director Timoleon Louis the go-ahead to open up the building for the party. Since then, the building has gone through good times and bad.

The swing had never been more abrupt than on election day on April 8, 2000. Prompted by an optimistic exit poll, ND officials and supporters rushed to celebrate what appeared to be a victory for Costas Karamanlis over his PASOK rival Costas Simitis. However, the celebrations soon turned into despair as the Socialist party went on to win the vote with a razor-thin margin of a few thousand votes. Karamanlis had to wait another four years before he could taste victory while standing on the first-floor balcony of the neoclassical building. Constantine Mitsotakis had appeared on the same balcony after winning the 1989 elections, whereas current ND leader Samaras had already moved his office to Syngrou before winning the June elections last year.

Since the party apparatus moved into the new headquarters, the Rigillis Street property has accommodated the Constantinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy, the official think-tank of the Greek conservatives. The institute’s event on the German elections brought an end to ND’s presence in the building. The event was held in the same hall that Evangelos Averoff was appointed president of the party, succeeding Georgios Rallis. Also in the same hall, Mitsotakis was elected president after beating Costis Stefanopoulos in 1984. In 1993 Miltiadis Evert beat fellow conservative Ioannis Varvitsiotis, and, three years later, Giorgos Souflias. The hall was later renamed after Mitsotakis but the inscription has not really been well taken care of since.

In 1997, Karamanlis was the first to suggest the idea of leaving the old neoclassical building and moving to a modern establishment. The idea did not come to fruition then as ND was elected to govern. Interestingly, during the periods when New Democracy was in government the offices were mostly empty, and it was only while the party was in the opposition that its offices were a hive of political activity. Eventually it was Samaras who took the decision to leave Rigillis as it could no longer meet the needs of a modern party apparatus.

The Rigillis building was until now the only one of those kept by the party to survive the Syngrou move. The decision to hold on to the property, in spite of the financial cost, was driven by political sentiment as well as pragmatism. It carried emotional weight as a symbol of continuity for the party. More cynically, there was also the fear that Dora Bakoyannis might have rented the premises to house her short-lived Democratic Alliance party.

But it’s finally over for Rigillis. Constantinos Tasoulas, head of the Karamanlis Institute, will be the one to lock the door opened in 1974 by Louis. With a monthly rent of 10,000 euros and with unpaid debts to the Agricultural University, the state and its staff, abandoning the property is also a condition for the institute’s own survival.