It is not easy nowadays even to mention the word conservative in Greece. Historical factors, as well as the cultural dominance of the left since the restoration of democracy in 1974, have put immense pressure on everyone who is trying to represent the right in the modern Hellenic Republic. Even when speaking of the ruling right-wing New Democracy (ND) Party, the word liberal is most often used to express its ideology. In 1977, the term radical liberalism was adopted by the ND congress, in order to describe the ideology of the party. Such terms as conservative and Christian democrat, used by other parties that collectively form, along with ND, the European Popular Party (EPP) in the European Parliament, were excluded, demonstrating the existence of anti-right reflexes within the rank and file of ND.
Fearful of the dominance of the left-wing intelligentsia and its influence on the media, ND has tried to distance itself from its former policies. Today, Greek historians contend that, following World War II, the (mainly urban) middle class which formed the backbone of ND and its predecessors did not bother much to counter the left’s propaganda, having been appeased by the victory of the monarchist national army during the clashes with the communists (1946-49) in the period that followed the liberation of the country from the occupation by the Nazis and their allies. This left a dangerous vacuum that was then filled by the left, which systematically infiltrated the universities, the public-administration sector, and the arts. For the Greek right, the ideological battle was lost from the beginning, since it was never fought.
Recent research has revealed that 75 percent of the electoral base of ND is conservative, meaning that they adhere to the core traditional values—motherland, religion, and family—that were ridiculed by the military junta that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974. The research also shows that, in Greece’s largely conservative north, especially in Macedonia and Thrace, nationalism is prevalent among the party ranks. There is not a single village, town, or city in the north of the country where the national flag does not fly, along with the Byzantine one, on the tops of buildings and schools, or at the gates of industrial, commercial, and public-administration complexes.
The transformation of the Panhel-lenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), which ruled Greece (with disastrous results) from 1981 to 2004 (with ND holding power briefly from 1990 to 1993), into a modern social-democratic but also liberal political party (much like the Democratic Party in the United States) has changed the political climate in Greece. Under the “centrist” leadership of Mr. George Papandreou, Jr. (son of the late Andreas Papandreou, who was an enemy of Ronald Reagan and a friend of the Soviets), PASOK’s radical socialist elements (trade unionists and overt leftists) have been isolated, while the incorporation of neoliberals (Stefanos Manos and Andreas Andrianopoulos) has shown that, in the field of social rights, the modern or reformist left and the liberals have arrived at some sort of temporary convergence.
This development has alarmed the right-wing elements within ND. At the same time, ND’s recently adopted strategy of capturing the ideological “middle ground” has engendered confusion and disappointment among party members. Such rhetoric did yield temporary results in the elections of March 2004, but it is not creating an ideological trend that will form the basis of ND’s political dominance of the center-right in Greece. The party rank-and-file still have an allergic reaction to any proposal for a dialogue on ideology. But genuine politics is about ideas and ideals, not the mere conduct of public affairs, which could be managed by the CEO of any mid-sized company. Yet the right suffers from an irrational ideological embarrassment, which is not historically justified, given that the right saved democracy and freedom in Greece.
The socialists still use the word conservative in a derogatory manner when describing the center-right ND. When things get tough for the corrupt socialists, they use the word right instead, in order to whip up fear among the people that some sort of political devil is going to ascend to power and deprive the “progressive” citizens of their rights and privileges. Such tactics are employed even by supposedly serious and “modern” politicians of the left, including the “progressive” Mr. George Papandreou.
The emergence, since 2000, of the nationalist right-wing party LA.O.S (Popular Orthodox Rally) has also caused headaches for the leadership of ND. In the last parliamentary elections, LA.O.S garnered a formidable 2.3 percent of the vote, which is not far from the 3-percent prerequisite for entrance into parliament. In recent public-opinion polls, LA.O.S gained the approval of 5.6 percent of the electorate by appealing to voters’ frustration over not enjoying the fulfillment of their political aspirations. The populist approach of the LA.O.S leadership, its attacks on the ruling party, its efforts to win over autonomous and radical left-wing elements, and its anti-American and nationalist rhetoric have temporarily attracted the attention of the electorate, especially in the conservative north.
The need for ND, which houses the overwhelming majority of right-wing voters, to return to its conservative roots is more than obvious. Holding the “middle ground” will not take the Greek right anywhere; it only serves the liberals and the left. The patriotic right in Greece should not surrender more vital space to the propagandists of liberalism, immorality, and internationalism.