On November 1-3, as part of the “Protecting European Values” project co-funded by the European Commission, KEW organized a study visit to Athens. It was attended by Adam Balcer, KEW program director, his assistant Siarhei Dubina, and experts Kristina Tsabala from the Center for Democracy Research in Sofia and Florian Lippert from the University of Groningen.
On the 1st of November, we met with Angelos Kaskanis, Executive Director of Transparency International Greece, who talked about links between organized crime, drug trafficking and illegal arms smuggling to far-right groups. We also talked about radical right-wing and left-wing parties, their Eurosceptic attitudes and tensions between the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches.
During the meeting with Professor Maria Gavouneli and Professor Spyros Blavoukos at ELIAMEP, we discussed the impact of the economic crisis on Greece, focusing on a unique situation in the history of Greek democracy: the political dominance of New Democracy (centre-right) and the weakness of the divided left and challenges stemming from this situation. The conversation also touched upon a changing discourse on immigration. Our interlocutors also told us about the reasons standing behind the popularity of New Democracy, also showing its limits: defeat in local elections in the largest cities in October 2023. We also talked about the problem of the strong influence of oligarchs in the media, Russian interference in Greece’s internal affairs, corruption and inefficiency of the justice system and economic pressures. Professor Gavouneli, admitting the above-mentioned shortcomings of Greece, emphasized the vitality of Greek democracy, which has been functioning continuously for the longest time in history (almost 50 years) and the strength of pro-EU sentiment in Greece.
With Stefanos Loukopoulos, Executive Director of Vouliwatch, we discussed the erosion of political checks and balances under the New Democracy-led Greek government, highlighting the concentration of power in the hands of the prime minister Mitsotakis. Our interlocutor drew attention to the Mitsotakis family’s connections with far-right politicians and last year’s wiretapping scandal, which poses a serious threat to media freedom. We also touched on the negative impact of the economic crisis on the Greek middle class and the challenges facing the divided left in the coming years.
During our last meeting with Professor Vassiliki Georgiadou from Panteion University, we talked about the last local elections in Greece. We also discussed the historical dynamics of party support in Greece, including the reasons for the decline in support for Syriza in the recent years related, among other things, to the formation of a coalition with the radical right. Additionally, Professor Georgiadou explained the divisions within the radical right represented by parties such as Spartans, Niki and Greek Solution.