The rise of the star of Makis Voridis – from the far-right margins of respectability to the main halls of parliament and government (minister for Public Infrastructure in 2011-2012, parliamentary spokesman for New Democracy in 2012-2014, and now Health minister) – opens a window to the ways that the Greek political and media establishments facilitated, step by step, the legitimisation of the Far Right since the start of the crisis. This was done through two main paths: partly by opening up to Voridis’ views on a number of issues, and partly by editing his past.
In the first years of the crisis and until the autumn of 2011 Makis Voridis (Μάκης Βορίδης) was a household name in Greece for two main reasons. For some it was because of what they saw as the crisp and calm parliamentary performances of the ex-lawyer and first-time MP of LAOS (ΛΑΟΣ) (e.g. an interview for the far-right Eleftheri Ora, or the comments section in the nationalist news-site Antinews). But for others the MP’s fame came not from his present activities but from his long past as a ‘branded member of the Far Right’.
At least until the autumn of 2010, it was this latter view – the perseverance of memory – that was the dominant one in the public sphere. Any mainstream media or politicians that talked about Voridis had to address the general negative consensus over his long-term association with the Far Right.
This was explicitly acknowledged even by the leader of LAOS, the shifty populist Giorgos Karatzaferis (Γιώργος Καρατζαφέρης). LAOS had already pushed the limits of public acceptability towards the right-wing extremism few years earlier, when in 2007 it became the first ever far-right party to enter the Greek parliament. Voridis was one of its first ten MPs. But when, three years later, he became too ambitious for Karatzaferis’ liking, the latter bit back. In an interview in the establishment daily Ethnos in October 2010 Karatzaferis cited Voridis’ past as a burden that should condemn him to stay out of the political limelight. ‘Voridis has a story that I have covered with great art’ he said, flagging out as examples Voridis’ long-term close relations with Jean-Marie Le Pen of the Front National, and a photograph from the 1980s that had recently resurfaced in the media, showing an axe-yielding Voridis at the head of a far-right gang prowling the streets of Athens.
Voridis might had entered the parliament wearing a civilised smile but it seemed he had fooled no one.
And suddenly attitudes started changing. It began through media representations. The best example of this process comes from the most respectable broadsheet, owned by the Alafouzos business-family, the liberal Kathimerini, which back in 2007 had described Voridis as the most ambitious ‘hardcore far right’ politician of the new parliament. Three years later Stephanos Kasimatis (Στέφανος Κασιμάτης), prefacing an interview with the MP, introduced Voridis simply as ‘right-wing’, noting that he was seen as ‘far-right’ only by leftists, and even that was only ‘up until recently’. It is worth noting that this was the same time that the marginal figure of Karatzaferis was trying to undermine Voridis’ ascendance by publicly denouncing that same far-right identity that the mainstream Kathimerini was denying that Voridis ever had!
A year later it was the political establishment’s turn to open its doors to Voridis. When Papandreou fell and was replaced by Loukas Papademos (Λουκάς Παπαδήμος) in November 2011, LAOS was one of the three parties (along with the socialist PASOK and the conservative New Democracy) participating in the new government, with two ministers. Voridis was picked to be the minister for Infrastructure. The fact that the Far Right LAOS, a party that had ‘railed against black people, Jews, homosexuals, and “Gypsies”’, had entered the Greek government was widely condemned across the globe. Βut in Greece it created no political storm. On the contrary, when one of the doyens of New Democracy, the grey-haired, centrist, Chomsky-citing Sotiris Chatzigakis (Σωτήρης Χατζηγάκης) expressed his disapproval abo
ut the rising influence of far-right, nationalist groupings over the party’s policy, he was instantly struck off the party list.
This was the period of the normalisation of the image of the Far Right. Voridis floated along.
The next move came almost naturally. In the turbulent waters of the Papademos period, and as Karatzaferis started wavering over his support to the government, in 17 February 2012, Voridis, abandoned the LAOS boat and landed in Antonis Samaras’ New Democracy. He was followed by a number of promine
nt members of LAOS, among them the extremists Adonis Georgiadis (Άδωνις Γεωργιάδης) and Thanos Plevris (Θάνος Πλεύρης) – son of the most notorious figure of the Far Right in post-dictatorial Greece, Kostas Plavris (Κώστας Πλεύρης). In the ensuing elections the party base endorsed Voridis with great enthusiasm, voting him first among a number of more experienced conservative politicians in Attica county. Samaras’ choice had been approved and cleansed. The next step for him was to appoint Voridis as one of the two parliamentary spokesmen of New Democracy.
No journalist has ever quizzed Samaras about the explicit triangular link he has established between Voridis and his co-ideologues, the Far Right, and New Democracy. The only time that Samara’s embrace of Voridis and the latter’s past were noted in parliament this was by a deputy of the leftist SYRIZA, Stathis Panagoulis (Στάθης Παναγούλης). Responding to his accusation that the Far Right is sitting on New Democracy’s front row, New Democracy accused him for being a demagogue!
Throughout all this time Voridis continues being a man at the centre of politics, in perfect calmness, without him ever denying anything from his past, or making a single ideological concession, or admitting that he ever had a moment of epiphany that turned him away from extremism. The establishment accepted as the pure far-right man he had always been.
Voridis’ rehabilitation is one good example of the ‘short memory politics’ exercised by the establishment throughout the Greek crisis – of its function and aims. But how does this manipulation of memory work?
to be continued
[edited: 4 February 2013, 17 July 2013, 5 July 2014]