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By Takis Kambylis - Kathimerini

“First of all, I am not a Jew. Can the prime minister say that of himself?
Secondly, I am not a communist. Can Mr Karamanlis say that?” asked LAOS leader
Giorgos Karatzaferis, speaking in Corinth on May 28, 2002. “Thirdly, I am not a
homosexual. There aren’t many who can say that,” he added. He was not widely
quoted at the time, but Karatzaferis is given to making remarks of a similar
nature, and had in the past made reference to a grandfather of then Prime Minister
Costas Simitis, Aaron Avouris.

Anti-Semitism has long been the LAOS leader’s favorite subject. Long before he
founded LAOS, when he was still a parliamentary deputy for the New Democracy
party, he had founded Nea Elpida (New Hope), something between a non-profit

firm and a political party, through which he made overtures to the extreme right-
wing Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) and its “worthy fighters.”

At some point, however, he was bound to be inconsistent. The revelation that his
list of candidates for the Athens prefectural elections included four known
members of Chrysi Avgi annoyed the LAOS leader, who believed at the time that he
could attract votes from the liberal and centrist camps. So Karatzaferis hastened
to state that the same list included two homosexuals and a Gypsy, angering then
leader of Chrysi Avgi, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, who said, “We deeply regret that
members of Chrysi Avgi have been offset by Jews, homosexuals and Gypsies.” (The
Central Jewish Council denied at the time that Greek Jews were included on
Karatzaferis’s list of candidates). Karatzaferis’s relations with the neo-fascist
bloc and with remnants of the dictatorship have often been characterized by mutual
suspicion. Although he claims to have united them all under one umbrella, firstly
under New Democracy and later under LAOS, these others have always been seeking
what only Karatzaferis could give them – a seat in Parliament. And that is what he
has done. The question now is how far he can control them, particularly given that
their political culture has been formed by the multiplicity and intensity of
personal rivalries since the first years after the restoration of democracy.
European extreme-right parties owe their short-lived success chiefly to their
representatives’ excellent relationship with the media. Jean Marie Le Pen and Carl
Lang in France, Giancarlo Fini in Italy, Joerg Haider in Austria and many of their
associates distinguished themselves as television personalities on political talk
shows or at public rallies. Several political analysts have pinpointed this as
LAOS’s main problem. With the exception of its leader, the party did not have
cadres that could easily cope with a television debate. Now it does, but that is
another major problem for Karatzaferis, since at least three or four of his
deputies have both the political stature and the experience to hold their own on
television. That is precisely the problem – these cadres have become known for
their neo-fascist or ultra-right activities and that will only strengthen LAOS’s
ultra-right image. So Karatzaferis wants to depend solely on himself, particularly
since in the recent elections his party was trying to appeal to all sectors of the
electorate. The party’s campaign platform was an example of this. Focusing on
excessive statism (the powerful state is the fetish for all new ultra-right
parties) it presented “leftist” proposals (such as a basic minimum wage but also a
maximum wage) and nebulous concepts such as a five-year recruitment of immigrants
into a “auxiliary military corps.” Karatzaferis has long made it clear that just a
few years ago it was his policies that allowed extreme right-wing groups to enter
the heart of the European parliamentary system, embracing not only right-wingers
but dissatisfied leftists who were not part of left-wing parties. However, it will
be difficult to keep up appearances with the likes of Makis Voridis, Thanos
Plevris, Adonis Georgiadis and Kyriakos Velopoulos.

At LAOS headquarters next to the Panathenaic Stadium on Vassileos Constantinou

Avenue, the first clouds have already appeared on the horizon. Leading party
cadres found they had not garnered the votes they expected. Worst of all, these
votes had gone to the “upstarts.” The most typical example was in Piraeus, where
former Deputy Education Minister Giorgos Kalos lost out (over the history textbook
uproar) but the sexologist Vaitsis Apostolatos almost lost to Christos Haritos,
publisher of the newspaper of the Elliniko Metopo (Hellenic Front, which had the
blessing of Le Pen) and president of the Olympiakos fan club. Haritos joined LAOS
along with Makis Voridis and the other Le Pen followers in 2005. What displeases
LAOS’s old guard most is the number of votes that went directly to Haritos on the
ballot papers. The same scenario was played out in the first Athens constituency,
where lawyer Thanos Plevris, son of the neo-Nazi Costas Plevris (and who
represented his father in the recent trial over a book by the latter attacking
Jews and defending Hitler), left some of LAOS’s oldest cadres way behind him in
the voting, including one of Karatzaferis’s deputies Giorgos Georgioiu, as well as
Vangelis Papadopoulos and Panayiotis Theodorakidis.

Thanos Plevris is less compromised by neo-Nazi activities. Within LAOS, there is

talk of an “historic compromise” between Plevris senior and Karatzaferis, who
needed the Plevris name but did not want to assume responsibility for the
activities of the “father” of Greek neo-fascism. Using his son was the golden

Still, LAOS’s biggest problem is expected to be Makis Voridis, not only because of
his activities to date, but because the Elliniko Metopo that has joined LAOS is a
tight-knit group with a solid ultra-right ideology and, above all, a better
electoral record than other LAOS cadres.

Voridis has rejected the ultra-right label (allegedly at the prompting of the
party leader). He first appeared in the extreme right shortly before 1980. Four
years later, he was elected president of the EPEN youth group (the party founded
by ex-dictator George Papadopoulos in 1983 from within Korydallos Prison).

However, his career really took off a year later, as current Transport Minister
Costis Hatzidakis will remember only too well. At a stormy meeting on March 15,
1985, Voridis was expelled from the law school student union for his ultra-right
activities. All student political groups voted in favor of the move (Hatzidakis
was head of New Democracy’s student association DAP). A few months later, Voridis,
heading a group of EPEN members, laid siege to the law school with axes and iron
bars. In 1994, Voridis established the Elliniko Metopo and shortly afterward
published the newspaper Ellinikes Grammes. The neo-fascist ENEK group and many
EPEN cadres joined him. His favorite targets are immigrants, chiefly Albanians,
particularly since members of the Northern Epirus Liberation Front (MAVI), such as
Yiannis Yiannakenas, joined the party. Police raided the latter’s home to search
for weapons, although none were found. A court hearing established a relationship
between Yiannakenas and others awaiting trial with regard to MAVI activities in
Albania. Voridis became well known to the ultra-right through his relationship
with Le Pen. At that time, Greek ultra-right groups were all jockeying for Le
Pen’s favor. It was Voridis who succeeded, defeating Plevris, Ioannis Schinas and
Chrysi Avgi. Eventually on October 18, 1997, Le Pen recognized Elliniko Metopo. In
2005 shortly before Elliniko Metopo joined LAOS, Voridis made a show of strength
by bringing Le Pen to Athens to attend his wedding. Best man at the wedding was
another French ultra-rightist, the deputy leader of the Front National, Carl Lang.
At about the same time, Kyriakos Velopoulos abandoned a local television station
in Pieria for the bright lights of Thessaloniki. The eloquent TV star made a
cautious beginning. His book “Greece is Bleeding” was nothing like his more recent
publications where he claims that, among other things, that Greeks are from Sirius
and that the Maya are descended from the Greeks. Still Velopoulos has managed to
do more than all the other new LAOS cadres, that is, to attract the northern Greek
mainstream with his rhetoric on the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Even
the prefect Panayiotis Psomiadis has embraced him, adopting his idea of an annual
festival in Thessaloniki to commemorate Alexander the Great. On June 13, the
festival inspired by Velopoulos was held at the prefectural headquarters.
According to the rumor mill, Psomiadis was encouraged by ND headquarters so that
LAOS would not be credited with the festival, but he does not appear to have
succeeded. Adonis Georgiadis is treading more carefully than the others, perhaps
because he has been close to the LAOS leader from the start, enjoying his trust
and some publicity on the Teleasty channel. Nevertheless his ultra-right views
have often found voice in his books, the most recent of which leaves no room for
doubt. His comments on Costis Plevris’s most recent book and his appearance as a
witness for the defense in the trial make that quite clear. In a recent article in
the online edition of Ellinikes Grammes, Georgiadis congratulated Karatzaferis on
his “historic speech” in Parliament. He was the only one to do so.