By HK Tzanis
After the national unity government in Greece was formed, the eurozone’s collective sigh of relief mostly overshadowed the queasiness in Brussels that a small right-wing party, often accused of taking extremist positions, joined the ruling coalition.
Greek and foreign political analysts wonder whether the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party qualifies as a bona fide European far-right party. It has often been characterised by the media, opposing politicians and others as “radical right”, “far-right”, “populist”, and a “nationalist” party.
Many question if LAOS is along the lines of France’s National Front or the more extreme Ataka in Bulgaria, or merely the latest manifestation of a “rightist-populist” movement — the likes of which spring up in Europe from mainstream Christian Democrat and conservative party groupings.
“I would not characterise it [LAOS] as a ‘genuine’ far-right party; it does combine elements of an extreme right-wing party, with certain xenophobic and nationalist language and symbols, with elements of a standard conservative party to essentially pluck votes from mainstream New Democracy voters,” political analyst and organiser Manos Eleftheriadis told SETimes.
“What this party does is appeal to the fears and anxieties of average citizens who feel that the state is not in a position to effectively handle, for instance, the problem of illegal immigration and its derivatives, such as an increase in violent and petty crime. Over the past few years it has also enjoyed an ever greater appeal vis-à-vis the popular masses due to the economic crisis,” added Eleftheriadis.
Kathimerini Managing Editor Nikos Konstandaras was unequivocal in calling LAOS an “extreme nationalist” party, although not in the vein of France’s National Front or Germany’s neo-Nazi-esque NPD.
LAOS — which means the people in Greek — was founded in 2000 by Giorgos Karatzaferis, a lawmaker expelled from New Democracy, and owner of a small but politically-charged television station broadcasting in the greater Athens area.
In the last general elections in October 2009, LAOS picked up 5.6% of the vote, or slightly more than 368,000 votes, sending 15 candidates to Greece’s 300-seat parliament. It also managed to elect that year two representatives to the European Parliament.
Two of the most high-profile and hardline LAOS deputies, Makis Voridis and Adonis Georgiadis, snared ministry portfolios in the new Greek government headed by Prime Minister Lucas Papademos.
Konstandaras called Karatzaferis’ role in the forming of Greece’s new three-party coalition government “significant”.
He said LAOS has repeatedly demanded that the new Greek government rescind a law by the previous socialist PASOK government making naturalisation easier for legal migrants.
On its website, LAOS states it is “Helleno-centric”, a “popular party, not populist, one that promotes the interests and protection of non-privileged Greeks and backs personal liberties in tandem with the rights to security, progress and the prosperity of all who live legally in Greece, indiscriminately”.
Queried during a nationally televised interview over sharp criticism regarding past remarks perceived as anti-Semitic, Karatzaferis countered by saying he has been the “rapporteur” of Greece’s ever-closer ties with Israel. He added that while he in no way disputes the Holocaust, he merely believes Jews have “over-promoted” certain issues.
He used the next sentence to both distance himself from the uncomfortable and irritating reminders of past statements, while brandishing his nationalist credentials.
“The crimes against the Jews and the crimes [committed] by Kemal Ataturk are the greatest crimes of the past century,” Karatzaferis, an avowed polemicist of Turkey’s EU membership, said.