Greece Just Elected the Most Right-Wing Parliament Since the Return to Democracy

Greece’s elections on Sunday brought a conservative majority — and seats in parliament for three far-right parties. With the collapse of the left-wing alternative to austerity, neofascist and ultra-Orthodox groups are pulling Greece to the right.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis delivers a speech in front of New Democracy party headquarters on June 25, 2023 in Athens, Greece. (Ayhan Mehmet / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The result was no surprise — but showed how much Greek politics has swung to the right. The conservative New Democracy clinched a definitive victory in the country’s second set of parliamentary elections on Sunday, winning 40.5 percent of the vote and 158 seats. The center-left Syriza and Pasok parties trailed with 17.8 and 12.1 percent of the vote, giving them forty-seven and thirty-two seats, respectively. “People gave us a safe majority,” said reelected prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. “The major reforms will therefore proceed with speed as this is the choice of the Greek people and I will honor it in full.”

But the big story of these repeat elections played out on what might once have been called the margins. Three far-right forces, two of which had never previously entered parliament, won seats. A party called the Spartans won thirteen seats, the ultranationalist Greek Solution won twelve, and the Christian-conservative Victory won ten. Together they garnered 16 percent of votes and thirty-five seats. Even in its postcrisis parliamentary heyday, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn had rang in around 7 percent support. These forces’ combined tally makes clear that, with Sunday’s election, Greece has elected its most right-wing parliament since the end of the military dictatorship in 1974.

Cosplaying 300

The nationalist Spartans gained support especially quickly over the past month. In his first postelection speech, the Spartans’ founder Vasilis Stigkas thanked Ilias Kasidiaris, a historic leader of Golden Dawn, for his backing. Kasidiaris is currently in prison, convicted for his part in the criminal neo-Nazi organization that was found guilty of a murder and racist beatings across Athens. This did not stop Kasidiaris from founding the nationalist Hellenes party from inside Greece’s Domokos prison. After the Hellenes were banned from running in May’s first set of elections due to Kasidiaris’s criminal record, he threw his lot in with Spartans, endorsing them on his popular Twitter and YouTube accounts.

For their part, the Spartans’ platform calls for completely closed borders, “Greek-centric” education, “distancing” from LGBTQ rights, and the return of all ancient Greek artifacts from museums worldwide. Their messaging is nationalist with a specious classical bent: “We are the Greek ‘SPARTANS’ in soul and body! We are the ones who want and claim to be worthy of Leonidas’s 300 by guarding ‘Thermopylae’ again,” claims their website, along with a mishmash of other historical references. Founder Stigkas has ties with several other neo-Nazi parties in Greece and was once leader of Political Spring, a single-issue party opposed to the renaming of North Macedonia on the grounds that Macedonia is Greek alone.

The Democratic Patriotic Movement–Victory, or Niki, had surprised pollsters in May’s election, securing 2.9 percent rather than the predicted 1 percent. This time around it won even bigger and entered the parliament with 3.9 percent of the vote. This Orthodox-nationalist party’s political self-presentation warns that Greece faces a struggle against “hatred of the native Greek and his traditional family, the loss of the sanctity of gender and procreation, economic poverty crushing children and emigrating our young people, and their place being taken not by persecuted refugees but by illegal uninvited settlers.”

Its founder has close relations with many fringe conservative church organizations, as well as the monasteries of Mount Athos. The party is vocally antiabortion, anti-immigration, and opposed to COVID-19 vaccines. “‘Niki’ will mount a real opposition in the coming Parliament,” said party president Dimitris Natsios, in a postelection statement. “With respect for the vote of our fellow citizens and with the fear of God we will march fighting for the victory of Hellenism, the victory of human dignity, the victory of the common people.”

The other far-right party, Greek Solution, will reenter parliament down a few seats from its first entry in 2019, but still alive and kicking. This party often uses the slogan “Greece first, Greeks first.” It calls for Greek “economic sovereignty,” an increased fertility index, reduction of youth unemployment, the “return of illegally entered refugees and immigrants to their home countries,” and “respect” for the Greek culture and religion.

“We thank all Greek men and women,” said the party leader, Kyriakos Velopoulos, as the results came in. “The Greek Solution is too strong to die.”

Historic Failure of the Left

Greek poll watchers have observed that these elections were not simply a success story for the far right, but also a result of the fragmentation on the other end of the political spectrum. University of London modern history lecturer George Giannakopoulos credited the results partially to “a historic failure of the Left.” He pointed to Syriza’s loss of support — the party has gone from winning the parliament (in a coalition with a small nationalist party) in 2015, to being the main opposition party with around 32 percent of the vote in 2019, to finishing this Sunday’s contest with only 18 percent.

Voters felt Syriza’s messaging was unclear, with many strongly disappointed by the party’s handling of negotiations with Europe and Greece’s creditors in 2015. Some Syriza voters moved toward the center-left stalwart Pasok, some to the far right. Others seeking anti-austerity solutions turned to splits such as MeRA25 (led by Yanis Varoufakis, failing to reenter parliament) or Course for Freedom (led by Syriza’s former parliamentary speaker Zoe Konstantopoulou, which did win seats).

Course for Freedom was also a surprise success story during the May elections, gathering almost 3 percent of the vote. On Sunday it performed about the same and edged just over the line to gain seats in the parliament. The party was founded by Konstantopoulou in 2016 as a splinter party opposed to the terms of the 2015 bailout and austerity. Some have critiqued the party as a cult of personality or, given its nationalist hues, simply “populist” and not leftist. After the vote a triumphant Konstantopoulou promised “an opposition that the Parliament has never seen before.” The other winner of the realignment of the Left was the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), which having fallen to only 5 percent in recent years, recovered to 7.7 percent, in line with its advances in May.

New Parliament

As for Prime Minister Mitsotakis, it remains to be seen how he will deal with this jumble of parties in his parliament. Will he swing even further to the right to appease the far-right voter base and work with them? His ongoing project for a border wall along the entire land frontier with Turkey and anti-immigration rhetoric will certainly find easier support.

The left-wing force MeRA25 did not garner enough votes to enter parliament this term. As the results came in, and it became clear the far-right had won big, its main leader, Varoufakis, regretted: “We were unable to convert the decade-long resistance against the disastrous bailouts into a progressive coalition . . . we failed to prevent the transformation of anger into a far-right movement.”

But the far-right parties who made their way into parliament have picked up on not just anger, but the ideological threads — and sometimes even the personnel — of long-running nationalist and extremist movements in Greece. “Many thought that by jailing the Golden Dawn, the problem with the far-right wing, fascism, neo-Nazism, in Greek politics was over,” said Giannakopoulos. “And that was clearly a mistake.”