Monday, 12 November 2012
When nationalists fall out: what distinguishes LAOS from Golden Dawn
I’ve previously suggested that radical nationalist, anti-immigrant discourse has had resonance in Greece for a while now, as demonstrated by the emergence of LAOS (Popular Orthodox Rally) from 2000; that LAOS’s recent dramatic decline has coincided with the rise of Golden Dawn; and that it’s superficial to unduly connect the rise of the far-right in Greece to the country’s economic collapse that began in 2009. Of course, LAOS and Golden Dawn aren’t identical – Golden Dawn has openly flirted with Nazism, has had a more ambivalent attitude towards Christianity and describes itself as anti-capitalist whereas LAOS has generally played by the rules of parliamentary democracy, would regard itself as upholding Greek Orthodoxy and even though speaks out against globalisation has no real anti-capitalist agenda. Nevertheless, the two parties do share many characteristics and it was only LAOS’s disastrous decision to back the first austerity bailout that led to it’s decimation at the May and June elections and the abdication of the far-right populist space to Golden Dawn.
In fact, if you watch the above (often comical) debate, aired just before this year’s June election on the appropriately named Kontra channel, between Golden Dawn’s Ilias Kassidiaris and LAOS’s Kostas Plevris, it becomes clear, despite the vitriol of both men, that the differences between LAOS and Golden Dawn are marginal, coming down, according to Plevris, to violence and nepotism, and, in Kassidiaris’ view, to ideological consistency and collaboration with the existing political system.
Indeed, it’s worth pointing out that Kostas Plevris is regarded as a leading ideologue of the particular form of far-right nationalism common to LAOS and Golden Dawn. His most notable work is Jews: the whole truth, a tract for which he was tried for inciting racial violence. Despite being acquitted of the charge, it’s fair to say that Plevris is a Holocaust denier and proponent of the theory that there exists a Jewish conspiracy aimed at bringing down Western civilisation as revealed by the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Below is a summary of the debate between Plevris and Kassidiaris.
It starts off with Plevris accusing Kassidiaris of assaulting a number of LAOS luminaries – publisher Dimitris Zaphiropoulos and former MPs Adonis Georgiadis and Thanassis Plevris – using a knuckle-duster and pepper spray; a charge Kassidiaris denies, saying if he were so tough he wouldn’t be in Greece but in Hollywood, starring in karate films alongside Chuck Norris. Plevris then presses the button he knows will upset Kassidiaris most, and this relates to the criminal charges Kassidiaris faces of assault and robbery, charges Kassidiaris strenuously denies and insists he’s being framed for by the false testimony of Syriza ‘pimps’, who he accuses Plevris of now supporting by repeating the allegations.
Plevris returns to his claim that Kassidiaris assaulted various senior members of LAOS and takes out his mobile to phone one of Kassidiaris’ alleged victims, Adonis Georgiadis, to confirm the incident. Plevris repeats the accusation that Kassidiaris assaulted Dimitris Zaphiropoulos with pepper spray and a knuckle-duster, in the presence of Zaphiropoulos’ pregnant wife, leaving Zaphiropoulos needing six stitches to his head.
There then follows an exchange on financial propriety, with Kassidiaris accusing LAOS of lashing out at Golden Dawn because LAOS, since it lost its parliamentary representation (in the May elections) and the funding that goes with it, is now in serious financial straits and desperately needs to pick up Golden Dawn votes to return to parliament. Kassidiaris adds that, unlike LAOS, Golden Dawn will use the money it’s entitled to as a parliamentary force not to enrich itself but for social programmes to benefit the hard up in society – a claim Plevris laughs at.
Kassidiaris then accuses Plevris of proclaiming he’s an anti-Zionist while at the same time being a member of a party that supported prime minister Lucas Papademos – the Jews’ point-man in Greece, according to Kassidiaris – whose government negotiated the second bailout memorandum.
One of the panel of journalists then asks Plevris, given he is a Holocaust denier and regarded as a leading theoretician of nationalism, why he is not drawn to joining Golden Dawn. Why are you in LAOS and not Golden Dawn?
Plevris: I disagree with certain political tactics and actions associated with Golden Dawn. I don’t believe you tackle the immigration issue by going out and assaulting some wretched immigrant. Furthermore, I consider such actions cowardly, which don’t correspond to the spirit or ethics of nationalism. For five or six men to go out and attack some wretched Pakistani does not provide a solution to the immigration problem, nor is it ethical when one man is beaten my many.
Plevris goes on that nationalism is incompatible with nepotism and he accuses Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos of placing his wife on the party’s list of parliamentary candidates and smoothing the way for her to becoming an MP.
Kassidiaris responds by bringing up the subject of Plevris’ son, Thanassis, a post-room boy, according to Kassidiaris, who only became a prominent LAOS MP because of his father’s reputation and influence. Plevris denies he had anything to do with promoting his son’s career in LAOS.
The sniping continues for a bit, until Plevris suggests that he wouldn’t be surprised if, backstage, Kassidiaris were to assault him just like he assaulted other LAOS stalwarts. Except, Plevris says to Kassidiaris, unlike Georgiadis, who didn’t fight back, if you touch me I’ll lay you out flat. Plevris challenges Kassidiaris to step outside and show what kind of a man he is. Kassidiaris laughs this off and calls Plevris an ‘old man’ and a ‘little man’.
Kassidiaris then suggests that Plevris is an entrenched part of the political system that brought Greece to its knees and again accuses Plevris of only pretending to be an anti-Zionist, saying he foisted Jews on the country by supporting the bailout memorandums and the government of Lucas Papademos, who, Kassidiaris says, has served on the shadowy Trilateral Commission, established by David Rockefeller. All of which prompts Plevris to offer an ironic round of applause.
A journalist on the panel then asks Plevris how he feels about his aforementioned son, Thanassis, leaving LAOS to join the mainstream conservative party New Democracy. Plevris denies any family rift, then engages in a monologue regarding Greece’s debt, wanting to know where all the money that contributed to the exorbitant debt was spent and saying he has launched a legal complaint against former prime minister, Giorgos Papandreou, to find out the truth.
Returning to Kassidiaris, Plevris expresses regret that they had such an unpleasant argument and says that for 50 years he’s been writing and educating young people about Greek nationalism and in return he only ever asked for one thing: respect.
In this spirit of reconciliation, Kassidiaris says his confrontation with Plevris was political, not personal, only for Plevris to remind Kassidiaris that he called him a ‘little man’ and Kassidiaris to accuse Plevris of calling him a ‘thug’. Kassidiaris says: ‘I’m not a thug. I’m the spokesman for a political party that sits in parliament.’
Plevris then attempts to defend LAOS’s decision to vote in parliament for the first bailout memorandum and argues about this with Panagiotis Melas of the conservative Independent Greeks party, which is anti-memorandum.
Plevris is again asked about his son, who defected from LAOS to New Democracy, whether he regards him as a ‘traitor’ and he says he doesn’t. Plevris then repeats his accusation that Golden Dawn is nepotistic and says that the wife of party leader Nikos Michaloliakos was placed on the party’s parliamentary candidate list at the behest of her husband; something Kassidiaris vehemently denies, arguing it was a question of fulfilling the law on women’s quotas and that, in any case, she was put forward independently, under her own name, Eleni Zaroulia, not as the party leader’s spouse. Kassidiaris ends the debate by accusing Plevris of being a liar, ridiculous and hard of hearing.