Antonis Samaras (Αντώνης Σαμαράς) is the leader of the conservative party New Democracy since 2009, and prime minister since June 2012.
Samaras first came to political prominence as foreign minister in the early 1990s, when he established his reputation as a nationalist, largely due to his role in the ‘Macedonian’ [‘Μακεδονικό’] debacle that still haunts Greek diplomacy. In the negotiations with the breakaway Yugoslav republic of Macedonia over the use of the name of ‘Macedonia’ which Greece claimed for itself, Samaras followed his own independent line, against the advice of his prime minister, all political leaders, and the octogenarian president of the republic Constantine Karamanlis [Κωνσταντίνος Καραμανλής]. For that reason he was forced out of the government, a move that Samaras retrospectively portrayed as the result of the clash of his principled nationalism with the old politics of compromise. The anti-systemic nationalists of the far right thus got their new hero.
His second most notable act was that in reaction to his expulsion from the government he left the parliamentary team of the conservative New Democracy [Νέα Δημοκρατία] and founded with other like-minded conservative MPs the nationalist Political Spring [Πολιτική Άνοιξη]. Eventually enough MPs crossed the floor that his former party lost its majority, bringing thus the fall of the Mitsotakis [Μητσοτάκης] government, and opening the door for the return of the disgraced Andreas Papandreou [Ανδρέας Παπανδρέου] to power. Vengefulness and disloyalty were added to Samaras’ image.
The demise of the first neo-liberal cabinet in Greek history was Political Spring’s only notable act. For the next ten years Samaras disappeared from the political radar. (For a closer analysis of Samaras’ political past see an excellent article by in HotDoc, re-posted here)
He re-emerged in 2009 when he was elected leader of New Democracy that he had rejoined few years earlier. His impact on national politics had a heavy taste of the old Samaras. Immediately he set about changing the party’s identity from typical centrist populist, shaped on the Gaullist model by Karamanlis, to one that is much closer to the New Right. The shift culminated in 2012 with the transfers to New Democracy of the far right idols Thanasis Plevris [Θανάσης Πλεύρης], Adonis Georgiades [Άδωνις Γεωργιάδης] and, most of all, Makis Voridis [Μάκης Βορίδης] – a past leader of the pro-Junta EPEN [ΕΠΕΝ] and a close friend of Jean-Marie Le Pen – whom Samaras has chosen as his party’s parliamentary spokesman.
2009 was also the time when the Greek Crisis first popped up. While in the opposition Samaras – an economist with a MBA from Harvard – adopted an hardline anti-memorandum stance that alienated many of his neo-liberal co-ideologues in Europe, without winning him much support among the rightwing Greek electorate. The memory of his betrayal in the 1990s was still haunting him. His past sins and Samaras’ inability to persuade that he had a viable rightwing alternative to the memorandum are two of the key reasons for which in both 2012 elections he failed winning a parliamentary majority.
In June 2012 Samaras finally became Greece’s prime minister, head of a coalition government, and immediately started implementing the same Troika policies he was hitherto rejecting. Mainstream media were highly supportive, projecting the image of a new Samaras: hardworking, hard-negotiating, patriotic. And compared to Georgios Papandreou [Γεώργιος Παπανδρέου], indeed he was all that. Centre-Right voters started warming up to the old apostate. They even accepted his constant flirting with the extreme Right and his regressive anti-communist rhetoric.
But his past vices still haunt him, and after a year in June 2013 they landed him in the biggest crisis of his premiership, totally of his own making: the ERT debacle that showed him once more treacherous (to his coalition partners), arrogant (in his refusal to consult or to change track), and anti-democratic.
[edited: 22 July 2013]