The unorthodox Greek

26/9/19 | 0 | 0 | 552 εμφανίσεις


Leader of Greek Solution is a snake-oil salesman with a sideline in nationalism — and seats in the national and EU parliaments.




The leader of nationalist party “Greek Solution” Kyriakos Velopoulos | Sakis Mitrolidis/AFP via Getty Images

ATHENS — Kyriakos Velopoulos dresses in the blue and white of the Greek flag and sells populist politics with the same panache that he markets miracle baldness cures and “handwritten letters” from Jesus on TV.

But the telemarketing man-turned-MP can’t just be dismissed as a snake-oil salesman with a sideline in nationalism: With 10 seats in the national parliament (not to mention one MEP), his fledgling party Greek Solution (Elliniki Lysi) has quickly replaced Golden Dawn as the far-right bad boy of Hellenic politics.

While some of Velopoulos’ policy proposals will never see the light of day, unless European law is entirely rewritten — he wants the death penalty for people smugglers, and landmines and electric fences along the Turkish border to keep illegal migrants out — he is starting to find an echo in the mainstream. One of his latest brainwaves — to send illegal immigrants to remote, uninhabited islands to await deportation — has been enthusiastically adopted by an MEP from Greece’s ruling party, George Kyrtsos of New Democracy.

And if third countries refuse to take their migrants back, under Velopoulos’ plan “their ambassador will be immediately deported, the borders will be closed, all ties will be cut.”

Velopoulos, who wants to transpose his telemarketing business model to the Greek economy, uses his TV show to sell everything from toothpaste, to clinical depression and baldness.

No matter that 53-year-old Velopoulos’ own parents were Greek farmers who emigrated to Germany, where he was born, in search of a better life.

“My parents didn’t just show up in the German borders,” he told POLITICO in an interview. “They got a health check, they even checked their teeth, my mother had to do a pregnancy test and then they were given permission to go and work in Germany. Those people showing up in Greece are not migrants, they are illegal intruders, that’s what I call them.”

Velopoulos, who launched Greek Solution in 2016, shares Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s vision of a Christian Europe without Islamic influence.

“I like Viktor Orbán, he took a country that was following the International Monetary Fund’s orders and succeeded in making its economy produce primary surpluses. And yes, I like his policy on migration: He puts his country’s interests first,” he said.

Speaking in his new office in parliament, which was once used by Prime Minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis, the father of the newly elected Greek premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Velopoulos points to a painting on the wall behind him that depicts the fall of Constantinople.

“Those people showing up in Greece are not migrants, they are illegal intruders, that’s what I call them,” says Kyriakos Velopoulos | Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images

“I know it’s probably not your style, but this picture depicts the clash of the two civilizations: Christianity and Islam,” he said.

Miracle cure

Velopoulos, who wants to transpose his telemarketing business model to the Greek economy, uses his TV show to sell everything from toothpaste, beauty creams and food supplements to miracle cures for rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s, clinical depression and baldness. There are “exclusive copies of Jesus Christs’ handwritten letters” and books that include works of his own such as “Greece is bleeding.”

Some lucky customers also receive a charm from the late ascetic Orthodox monk Elder Paisios, revered as a seer, and he also sells goods produced on the monastic peninsula of Mount Athos in northeastern Greece.

His sales patter quickly passes to political analysis littered with conspiracy theories: how Greeks and Russians won World War II, how Greek migrant workers in the ’60s created Germany’s economic superiority, riffs on Germans’ hatred of Greeks, Turkey’s hybrid war against Greece, and the plot between Greece and its renamed neighbor North Macedonia (he continues to call it “FYROM”) to isolate Russia.

But his politics, like his arthritis cures, find buyers: In July’s general election, just as Golden Dawn fell from third-biggest party to below the 3 percent threshold for a place in parliament, Greek Solution took up the ultra-nationalist cause. At campaign rallies, he whipped up the crowds into a blood lust.

“Does a smuggler deserve death? Yes or No? Does a child rapist deserve death? Yes or No?” he thundered to a few hundred flag-waving followers in Menidi, a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Athens.

Velopoulos dismisses accusations in the local and international media that Greek Solution is pro-Russian or gets Russian funding, though openly admires Vladimir Putin, and feels the same about Donald Trump.

“Yes!” the crowd bellowed back.

“But I’m a democrat,” Velopoulos added. “So I would call a referendum to ask all Greeks whether they are in favor or against,” he continued, standing in front of a banner with the slogan “Greece First.”

“What are you all?” he asked. “Greeks,” the crowd responded.

“The others can be Europeans first if they wish — we are Greeks,” he said.

His election platform centered on shutting down all the NGOs currently operating in Greece, which he calls “trafficking companies” — an idea with heavy echos of Matteo Salvini’s League in Italy.

“None of those people working there would be willing to host migrants in their own homes,” said Velopoulos. “Help means doing that without expecting anything in return. They all get big salaries and see it as a profitable business.”

On the rebound

Greek Solution may only be three years old, but its leader is not a newcomer to Greek politics. He was initially elected as a lawmaker for small nationalist party Popular Orthodox Rally, “LAOS,” in 2007 and again in 2009. It was the junior partner in the coalition government that voted for Greece’s first bailout program in 2010, which Velopoulos now says he opposed but had to vote for under the party whip.

Greek Solution leader Kyriakos Velopoulos says its party will continue growing “if we stick to our values” | Sakis Mitrolidis/AFP via Getty Images

In 2012, with support for LAOS waning, he — along with other members, such as the current Minister for Development Adonis Georgiadis and Agriculture Minister Makis Voridis— left to join the New Democracy party. Left off the party’s ballot papers in 2012, he later quit to found Greek Solution.

Velopoulos dismisses accusations in the local and international media that Greek Solution is pro-Russian or gets Russian funding, though openly admires Vladimir Putin, and feels the same about Donald Trump.

“They are both great leaders for their countries. Trump says “America first,” we say “Greece first.” I would like to implement his idea about tariffs on imports from third countries. Why should Greece import potatoes or tomatoes from Turkey?”

One reason for Greek Solution’s success among the nationalist electorate was Velopoulos’ vocal and visible opposition to last year’s agreement between Greece and North Macedonia to change the name of the tiny Balkan nation. Velopoulos, who was raised in northern Greece, had a high profile at rallies against the deal.

The Macedonia issue resonated among Greeks reeling from a decade of economic depression, their self-worth suffering from the perceived humiliation by international creditors and austerity policies. The Greek government of the time, under leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, came under pressure from the United States and EU to close the deal, amid allegations that it did so to secure more favorable bailout terms.

The Greek Solution leader predicted his party will double its support in the next national election.

Velopoulos’ patriotic office decor includes a flag showing the Vergina Sun, symbol of the ancient kingdom of Macedonia which North Macedonia has removed from all public places under the deal with Greece. He accuses the New Democracy conservative government of being too soft on North Macedonia and vows that his party will never let the issue rest until the neighboring country drops “Macedonia” from its name.

“I would press them to abide by cutting their food supplies. Most of them go through our port in Thessaloniki. But New Democracy is implementing every word of the deal,” he said.

The Greek Solution leader says his party will not suffer the same fate as other fringe nationalist, like LAOS or the Independent Greeks, who joined coalition governments. “I don’t trust New Democracy, I don’t trust its ministers,” he said.

Velopoulos predicted his party will double its support in the next national election, versus the 3.7 percent it won in July, and will continue growing “if we stick to our values.”

Category: International

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