Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis acknowledges applause from his lawmakers during a parliament session for the budget of 2023, in Athens, Dec. 17, 2022.

New Greek law blocks far-right party from running in upcoming election

Spyros Tsoutsoumpis, a lecturer in modern European history at the University of Manchester, discusses with The World’s host Carol Hills the implications of Greece banning the far-right Greek National Party from running in elections.

The World

In Greece, if you do time in prison, you can expect your political party to pay a price.

A new law passed this week blocks political parties from participating in elections if their leaders have criminal convictions.

The country’s center-right prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said the law would not ban ideas. Instead, it would protect the democratic constitutional order.

But the law is clearly taking aim at the country’s far-right Greek National Party.

Spyros Tsoutsoumpis, who researches far-right groups in Greece and is a lecturer in modern European history at the University of Manchester, joined The World’s host Carol Hills for a discussion on what the ban means.

Carol Hills: The law is intended to block the Greek National Party from running in upcoming elections. Why do Greek lawmakers want to keep this party out?
Spyros Tsoutsoumpis: Well, this party is effectively the continuation of the Golden Dawn party that was active for at least three decades and that was responsible for a large number of attacks against immigrants, leftists, ordinary citizens and very highly prolific murder. So, they did try to give them up because they generally see them as a threat to our democracy. 
So, is Golden Dawn banned, and the Greek National Party is simply another party that is operating in the same way?
Effectively, yes. They are not as strong and they do not have such a widespread presence, but they do command significant support among segments of society. And the figureheads, the leaders, the rank and file, the organizers are the same. More or less, it’s an effort to re-create Golden Dawn in a more respectable guise.
Now, this new law specifically targets parties with leaders who have criminal convictions. The leader of the Greek National Party is currently serving a 13-year prison sentence. Tell us who he is and what he what he did.
So, his name is Ilias Kasidiaris. He was a key member of one of the small elite that ran the Golden Dawn. He’s responsible for the paramilitary activities, involved in street-level violence. He was also involved in organizing attacks. He is an anti-Semite, a Holocaust denier, a man who publicly praised Hitler. The perfect cross between a street-level thug and an aspiring national socialist leader.
So, he’s the current leader of the Greek National Party, but had this role in the previous Golden Dawn party. But there, of course, is an irony here. The Greek prime minister says the goal of the new ban is to keep democratic constitutional order. But isn’t it undemocratic to ban entire political parties from running in elections?
Not if the political parties are actually threatening democracy. The National Socialists, they believe in political violence. They believe in using violence in order to manipulate the political process. They target immigrants, feminists, ordinary people who they do not like, minorities. They are not a normal political party. These are not the people who are going to discuss politics with you. These are the people who are going to hit you in the head with a hammer.
But it’s not just the far-right in Greece that’s concerned about this law. The Greek Communist Party also criticized it as “dangerous generalizations and preconditions for the participation of parties in elections.” I mean, how valid is the concern?
It is completely invalid. Segments of the left do know that the far-right and the mainstream right always had some relation in Greece. So, they hope that, if far-right parties do exist, they will be able to poach voters from the more mainstream right. So, for them, it’s political gamesmanship. The Communist Party has some reasons, they have some cultural reasons to be afraid, because it was effectively abolished for more than four decades. So, there is a sense of cultural memory, but no government is going to prohibit, dismantle or outlaw a left-wing party or a party that is not directly engaged in this kind of violence, or the history of Greece, the history of civil war, repression and communism, torture and dictatorship, the left is not going to be targeted.
But what about this? I mean, banning parties still seems like a game of whack-a-mole. You ban one and another arises. I mean, in this case, Golden Dawn has its offshoot now, which is the Greek National Party. I mean, how impactful can this law be?
The law can be impactful up to a certain point. Now, dealing with the problem of the far-right entails massive, sweeping reforms. The far-right builds on this anger and disappointment in de-industrialized areas, in rural areas, in places where there is no social mobility, in places where there are no chances for upwards advancement. So, they build on these fears or this disappointment. The only way to effectively deal with it is to reassert, to facilitate social mobility, to give chances to disenfranchised people, social reform. Now, I’m not sure that this government or any other government will be committed to enacting these reforms that will stabilize society.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

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