Authoritarian nationalism: a way for the Greek Right to regroup
Issues of national and religious identity have always been an important field for the regrouping and radicalization of the Greek Right –the construction of its “people”-, a tool for constructing consent and a means for confronting left-wing radicalism. Back in 1992-93, under a New Democracy (ND) government, the then Foreign Minister Antonis Samaras was happy to see student youth out in the streets, as long as they were demonstrating against the naming of FYROM as “Macedonia” instead of occupying schools, as they did in 1990-91. A few years later, in 1999-2000, Archbishop Christodoulos (a very politically-minded, right-wing populist) emerged as the strongest opposition against the centre-left PASOK government, organizing rallies of hundreds of thousands and luring the moderate ND president Costas Karamanlis to follow suit, asking the government to repeal a reform that abolished the recording of religious affiliation on identity cards. Today, the opposition to Syriza-ANEL government comes not only from the left (anti-memorandum strikes, student or farmer demonstrations and the anti-racist movement), but also from the right: 45 New Democracy MPs, Golden Dawn and cultural associations of Pontic Greeks ask for the resignation of Education Minister Nikos Filis. Why? Filis said recently on TV that, while he respected the official state policy that recognized the massacre and displacement of Pontic Greeks from the Young Turks of 1914-1923 as being a “genocide”, his own scientific view was, as those held by many historians and international relations experts, that it was rather a bloody ethnic cleansing operation.
The issue proved to be taboo for the government, partly because many of its members have for years been after the votes of members of Pontic associations. Interior Minister Panagiotis Kouroublis, who moved to Syriza from PASOK, publicly disagreed with Filis, while the government’s media apparatus leaked to journalists that Filis’ opinion was his alone and was in no way binding for the government. This was, however, not enough for ND or Golden Dawn. What’s more, ND’s moderate MP Yiorgos Koumoutsakos took part in a rally against Filis organized by Pontic associations on Thursday night outside Parliament and, despite being beaten by Golden Dawn members (who had a strong presence in the rally) for being a “traitor”, he later said that the instigator of his beating was… Filis.
ND and Golden Dawn might be the orchestrators of the outcry against Filis but, crucially, the Centre-left has also joined the chorus. “Mr Filis’ claim is a provocation and totally historically ignorant”, was the official statement of the Democratic Coalition (PASOK-DIMAR). This is not inexplicable. It was under a PASOK government in 1994 that Parliament voted a resolution recognizing the massacre of the Pontic Greeks as “genocide” – a resolution for which, surprisingly, the Greek communist Part, KKE, voted in favor. The climate during those times is well explained in an article published in Avgi newspaper, written last year by none other than Nikos Filis himself (then director of the historic left daily):
"That was the time when Pasok fantasized about isolating or “encircling” Turkey via a coalition with Öcalan’s Kurds, the Armenians and the “thousands of crypto-Christians” living in Asia Minor. PASOK didn’t really believe in all this, but it satisfied strong political stereotypes that parts of the Pontic element, with strongholds in the party, shared […]. The Greek State never really pursued a recognition of the genocide by international fora, like the Armenians did, who obtained a favorable decision by the French Senate. On the contrary, the Simitis government, and its Foreign Minister George Papandreou, had tried to downplay the importance of the “genocide” resolution, following reactions on the Turkish side. The resolution was turning into a thorny issue for Greek-Turkish relations."
Stirring up the “Pontic genocide” issue for reasons pertaining to internal affairs is not just a thorn for Greek-Turkish relations. The last time the issue made headlines was just last September, when 38 New Democracy MPs asked for the antiracist act then passing through Parliament to include a clause for the criminalization not just of Holocaust denial, but also of “Pontic genocide denial”, based on the 1994 resolution. Because this is always the problem with nationalism: its efforts to secure consent against the external enemy, passes unavoidably through authoritarian practice in order to defeat the internal one. The Greek Right knows this mechanism all too well since time immemorial. And it also knows that, in the field of economic policy, it has nothing different to propose to what Syriza is forced to implement. Under these circumstances, nationalism offers some sort of solution…