On June 25, Greece’s centre-right party New Democracy (ND) won the country's legislative elections in a landslide, propelling incumbent Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to a second term.
ND garnered over 40% of the vote and 158 seats in parliament, while the major opposition party, left-wing Syriza, only received 17% of the vote and 48 seats.
The third and fourth largest parties were, respectively, the centre-left Pasok and the far left Communist Party.
But what surprised observers was the performance of three far right parties, which received about 12% of the popular vote combined. The largest of them was the "Spartiates" (Spartans), which received 4.63% of the vote and 12 seats, followed by the anti-vax, Orthodox Christian nationalist Party "Niki" (Victory), and the far right Elliniki Lysi (Greek Solution).
|Spartiates logo, via Wikimedia Commons|
The Spartiates are a far right, ethnonationalist party backed by the neo-fascist politician Ilias Kasidiaris, who is currently serving a 13-year prison term. He was convicted for his leadership role in the now-disbanded Golden Dawn party, whose founder Nikos Michaloliakos and other senior members were found guilty of running a criminal organisation in 2020.
Golden Dawn engaged in racist and xenophobic rhetoric, carried out violent attacks on migrants and left-wing political figures. Its prosecution by the authorities was sparked by the murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas by Golden Dawn supporter Giorgos Roupakias in 2013.
Kasidiaris tried to run for the 2023 parliamentary elections, but was banned from doing so by Greece's Supreme Court.
On its website, the Spartiates party articulates its programme by using the typical themes of far right organisations.
"We want our country back" ("Θέλουμε την πατρίδα μας πίσω") reads one of its election slogans. The party platform states:
"We are Greek men and women, 'Spartans' in soul and body! Those who want and claim to be worthy of the 300 of Leonidas guarding 'Thermopylae' again [and to] protect the 'same blood, same language, same religion, and the same way of life'” ("όμαιμον, το ομόγλωσσον, το ομόθρησκον, το ομότροπον").
The last sentence paraphrases a passage from the ancient Greek historian Herodotus (Herodotus, Book 8, 144), in which the Athenians reassure the Spartans that they would not make an agreement with the Persian invaders, and they would defend Greece because of
"the Hellenic bond of same blood and same language, and the common shrines of gods and the sacrifices, and the same way of life" (τὸ Ἑλληνικὸν ἐὸν ὅμαιμόν τε καὶ ὁμόγλωσσον καὶ θεῶν ἱδρύματά τε κοινὰ καὶ θυσίαι ἤθεά τε ὁμότροπα).
Although ancient Greece as described in Herodotus' work was not a unified state, but a group of independent city-states, and the Greek religion was polytheistic and not Christianity, this sentence has become popular among Greek far right circles since about 2010 amid a debate over a draft bill designed to make it easier for immigrants to obtain Greek citizenship and vote in local elections.
Ancient Spartan tropes, and particularly the famous tale of the 300 soldiers fighting against the Persians at Thermopylae, "pervade far-right, neo-Nazi websites" around the globe, including in the United States. Golden Dawn used to hold rallies at Thermopylae, and the US far right group of the Oath Keepers planned to initiate a "Spartan" training programme (Niklasson 2023, p. 93).
As the Daily Beast reported in 2021, admiration of Sparta as a moral and political model "has gained ground on the American right and Thermopylae has taken on new relevance, especially after the 2006 film 300, an adaptation of a graphic novel by Frank Miller."
The Greek phrase "molon labe" ("come and take them") —attributed to King Leonidas of Sparta in reply to Persian demands that he lay down his arms—, was featured in "emblems displayed at the Jan. 6 insurrection." The slogan can be found on items such as "T-shirts, decals, epaulets, bumper stickers, tattoo templates, and, oddly enough, noise-canceling headphones" as a distinctive symbol of the far right.
The Spartiates' ideology echoes many of the themes of ultranationalist movements which seek to engineer a racially, culturally and religiously homogeneous national community.
With regard to the issue of immigration, the Spartiates describe people "from Asia, from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the other underdeveloped countries and Africa" as "the third world within the rich and civilized states" ("ο τρίτος κόσμος ανάμεσα στα εύφορα και πολιτισμένα κράτη").
They accuse immigrants of trying "in every way and by every means to impose their own culture on Greece and the countries of Europe, stubbornly refusing to integrate into the European way of life," and of trying to "change our own European culture." They also blame immigrants for "phenomena of delinquency and criminality."
The Spartiates advocate for the "preservation of our national identity and ideology" (διαφύλαξη της εθνικής μας ταυτότητας και ιδεολογίας). They oppose both the "cosmopolitan internationalist left" (κοσμοπολίτικη Διεθνιστική Αριστερά) and the "globalized centre-right" ("παγκοσμιοποιημένη Κεντροδεξιά").
Although 12% of the vote for the far right may seem like a small number, it must not be forgotten that several parties of the far right started as fringe organisations. For example, the far right Italian party Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d'Italia) won only 1.95% of the vote in 2013. But in 2022, the party received 26% of the vote, becoming the country's largest party, and its leader Giorgia Meloni is now Italy's Prime Minister.
Particularly interesting is the fact that the Spartiates seem to be growing in popularity among young people. According to an article by the Greek newspaper Kathimerini, the far right message is enjoying success on TikTok, where videos containing the keywords "Spartiates" and "Kasidiaris" have garnered about 60 million views.
Many videos have over 20,000 views each and hundreds of comments. Among the comments mentioned in the piece are those portraying Kasidiaris as a hero. "[Ilias], we need you!", one user wrote. "He's in jail because they're afraid of him. As soon as he gets out, they won't know what hit them," another one said.
The Hollywood blockbuster 300 is also a common theme in the videos, as is racist, nationalist and islamophobic content, Kathimerini reports.
If you found this article interesting, you may like some of my books:
•Niklasson, E. (Ed.) (2023). Polarized Pasts: Heritage and Belonging in Times of Political Polarization.