Posted on June 29, 2023

Greek Voters Propel New Far-Right Spartans Group Into Parliament

Helena Smith, The Guardian, June 26, 2023

Greece’s general election has propelled a far-right group called the Spartans, a previously unheard-of political force, into the Athens parliament with the help of an imprisoned, neo-Nazi leader of the now-disbanded Golden Dawn party.

While the centre-right politician Kyriakos Mitsotakis has won a second term as prime minister, the Spartans have emerged as the fifth biggest group in the 300-seat parliament.

With 4.7 % of the vote, it was the Spartans who could claim real victory in a bloc of unabashed neo-fascists, religious fundamentalists and ultra-nationalists catapulted into parliament with two similarly minded far-right groups: Greek Solution and Niki.

For Greece’s president, it was a turn of events that warranted comment on Monday: “I think the composition of the new, eight-party parliament will give rise to many challenges … which we will all live together,” said Katerina Sakellaropoulou as she met Mitsotakis to hand him a mandate to form a government. “I wish the best for the country.”

It is not only Greece’s political establishment that has been blindsided by the outcome of the general election.

The ascent of the far right – in a country where memories of Golden Dawn have yet to fade despite the imprisonment of the now defunct organisation’s leader, Ilias Kasidiaris – has sent a shudder through the media and, undoubtedly, parts of the judiciary, which earlier this year prevented Kasidiaris’s hate-mongering party, Hellenes, participating in the national vote.

“The elections have produced the ‘darkest’ result of the last half-century,” wrote the leftist newspaper Syntakon, describing the 25 June poll as the grimmest day since the restoration of democracy in 1974 after the collapse of military rule.

Mitsotakis’s New Democracy party, it lamented, had not only won with a record-high margin over the leftist opposition – cumulatively, the three far-right parties garnered close to 13% of the vote, a share that gives them 34 seats in parliament. The Spartans will be represented by 12 MPs.

Economic uncertainty, Greece’s pro-Nato stance in the war in Ukraine, lingering anger over the Macedonia name deal, frustration over immigration and growing anti-westernism have provided fertile ground for the return of the populist radical right in Greece.

The gap left by Golden Dawn after its entire leadership was sentenced to long jail terms at the end of a marathon trial was waiting to be filled.

Just as the extremist group exploited fury over austerity policies demanded by Greece’s creditors during its debt crisis, the renascent right has been able to tap into anger over soaring prices.

Sunday’s race was the first to be contested by the Spartans, a group that had no campaign programme, let alone a party headquarters.

Both Greek Solution and the newly formed Niki had run in inconclusive elections in May, where Mitsotakis failed to win an outright majority.

But despite their lack of apparent preparedness, the Spartans were backed by more than 240,000 Greeks at the ballot box, with the party’s leader, Vassilis Stigas, in his first public statement, thanking Kasidiaris profusely for providing “the fuel” for the party to do so well.

Like the anti-abortion, profoundly religious Niki, which rallied the Greek Orthodox church to win support in the villages and small towns of Balkan northern Greece, the extremist party was supported by young and old nationwide.

The backlash against leftwing Syriza, which saw its support drop to under 18 % – levels not seen since 2012 – has also played a role in the right’s reanimation, analysts believe.

“What we are seeing is the rebirth of Golden Dawn through a Trojan horse called The Spartans,” said the leftwing writer, Dimitris Psarras, whose dogged investigations played a central role in uncovering Golden Dawn’s dark ideology and embrace of violence.

“Six of the Spartans’ 12 MPs were in Kasidiaris’s Hellenes. Rhetorically and ideologically, it is a carbon copy of racist, anti-immigrant Golden Dawn but whether it is as violent, or will set up hit squads, has yet to be seen. They are a work in progress, organising themselves as we speak.”

With the benefit of hindsight, the crackdown on Kasidiaris, who tweeted jubilantly about the Spartans’ victory, had been utterly counterproductive, said Psarras.

“For three months, there was blanket media coverage about him and the Hellenes. It was the best advertisement he could have had.”