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Right-wing populists

November 16, 2011

For the first time in nearly 40 years, a far-right party is sharing power in the Greek government. But in the midst of a political crisis, the Popular Orthodox Rally is becoming increasingly mainstream.

Election campaign posters of Giorgos Karatzaferis
The LAOS has been gaining political ground amid the crisisImage: AP

Giorgos Karatzaferis leads the right-wing Popular Orthodox Rally, or LAOS party, as an undisputed autocrat. Opinions differ on whether he is a true hothead or a merciless opportunist - or perhaps both. His political opponents say Karatzaferis is a man who immediately knows an opportunity when he sees it, and tells people exactly what they want to hear.

For example, he often pokes fun at the "boys from Boston," by which he means both the recently-resigned Prime Minister George Papandreou and his conservative counterpart, Antonis Samaras, who both studied in the United States. They have no clue what real life is, Karatzaferis implies - quite the opposite of himself, the man who dropped out of school and worked his way through careers as a journalist, copywriter, body-builder, small businessman, head of a modeling agency and finally politician.

Controversial statements

For years Karatzaferis belonged to the conservative New Democracy. But as the party moved markedly to the center in the 1990s under the leadership of later Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, Karatzaferis founded his Popular Orthodox Rally, attracting attention with right-wing populist and anti-Semitic comments.

Giorgos Karatzaferis leaves the Greek Presidential Palace
Karatzaferis has made inflammatory remarks about his opponentsImage: AP

In 2002, he described the difference between him, Karamanlis and then-Socialist Prime Minister Kostas Simitis in the following way: "First of all, I'm not a Jew. Let's hear Simitis say that about himself. Second of all, I'm not a Communist. Let's hear Karamanlis say that about himself. And third of all, I'm not a homosexual - only a few can say that about themselves."

Again and again, Karatzaferis made reference to a worldwide Zionist conspiracy, called for an immigration freeze for Greece and warned of the supposed Turkish threat to the east. Leftist commentators have long dubbed him "Karatzaführer" in reference to Adolf Hitler. And yet he consistently declares himself not to be a "right-wing radical," and he denounces anyone who claims that he is.

Karatzaferis's fellow party members espouse the same right-wing ideology - like Mavroudis Voridis, once a sympathizer with French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen and co-founder of the nationalist Greek Front. Or like lawyer Adonis Georgiadis, who made a name for himself as a televangelist and publisher of patriotic literature.

But Karatzaferis wouldn't be Karatzaferis if he left it at that. Now that he has won enough votes from the Greek right, he has begun to turn to the political center - at a time when the conservative opposition under Antonis Samaras is drifting further and further to the right.


In the political theater of the past few weeks surrounding the infamous bailout referendum, snap elections and the formation of a coalition government, Karatzaferis played the noble statesman.

Giorgos Karatzaferis sits at table with other leaders
The LAOS now has four seats in the transitional governmentImage: picture-alliance/dpa

And while Papandreou and Saramas squabbled as they maneuvered around their political stalemate, Karatzaferis repeatedly pleaded for a government of national unity, going so far as to call on President Karolos Papoulias to let him lead the government and put the two main parties firmly in their place. The well-known Athens journalist Alexis Papachelas told the TV broadcaster Skai that he couldn't believe his ears when he heard that: "We've sunk so low today that someone like Karatzaferis embodies the voice of reason."

Now he's harvesting the fruits of his tactics, and four ministers from the Popular Orthodox Rally have been included in the new transitional government.

In Greece, right-wing populists seem to have become socially acceptable. Should the mainstream parties continue their disputes, Karatzaferis the survivalist could hope for more.

Author: Jannis Papadimitriou, Athens / acb
Editor: Michael Lawton