The Adults Are Back in Charge of Greece. And They Are Really Right-Wing

Greece’s new prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Credit Ngelos Tzortzinis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Greece’s new prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Credit Ngelos Tzortzinis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Last month, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a Harvard-trained former banker, was elected prime minister of Greece. His victory — and that of his party, New Democracy — was widely greeted with a sigh of relief. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn had been removed from Parliament, and the leftist Syriza from government. For some, the adults were back in charge.

But there is a problem with the consensus: It isn’t true.

New Democracy, far from being a moderate, liberal force, seems to be a right-wing party with pronounced authoritarian tendencies. And Mr. Mitsotakis, who promised to unite the country, is following divisive and polarizing policies. The return of order is proving to be the return of the hard right.

You don’t have to search far for evidence. Mr. Mitsotakis’s first month in charge provided plenty of examples of the new prime minister’s antidemocratic instincts. Three crucial regulatory agencies — protecting the country’s finances, work force and environment — have been effectively dissolved as part of a bill, recently passed by Parliament, to restructure government. A new institution, grandly called the Presidency of Government, has been created exclusively to support Mr. Mitsotakis. And the state broadcaster has been taken into his control, along with the intelligence services. This is not just a different approach to administrative efficiency. It looks like a purposeful concentration of power in the prime minister’s office.

For Mr. Mitsotakis, hypocrisy is meat and drink. During the campaign, he railed against the historic agreement that settled the dispute between Greece and Northern Macedonia, only to accept it fully once in power. The son of a former prime minister from one of the country’s most powerful political dynasties, he condemns nepotism — but appointed one nephew as chief of staff, while another is the mayor of Athens. And both he and his wife, a businesswoman whose name appears in the Paradise Papers, a huge inventory of tax evaders, have been implicated in scandals.

As for his government, there can be no mistake about its principles and priorities. During the first week in office it revoked the right of asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants to access public health services, canceled planned reforms separating state and church, and added “Family Policy” to the title of a government agency for gender equality. When asked why there are only five women in a 51-member cabinet, Mr. Mitsotakis didn’t hesitate to reply — to the reporter’s astonishment — that he had difficulty finding any more women to appoint.

One of those five women, Domna Michailidou, the vice minister of labor, personifies the cabinet’s ideological agenda. In 2017, she openly praised cuts in wages as “necessary” for the sake of competitiveness. More recently, she implicitly characterized the collective memory of the struggle against the dictatorship of 1967 through 1973 as a “mental illness of the Left.” And she is currently proposing, in a crassly conservative attempt to address the problem of an aging population, to subsidize every birth by Greek mothers with a 2000-euro stipend.

It’s not just the leadership of the Labor Ministry that looks Orwellian. Konstantinos Loulis, accused of being an admirer of the former dictator Georgios Papadopoulos, was chosen to run the Tourism Ministry. Makis Voridis, who in his own words “coexisted politically” with Holocaust deniers, was appointed minister of agriculture, to the shock of the Jewish community and Israel. And the former chief of police, denounced by Mr. Mitsotakis for his fumbling response to last July’s tragic wildfires in which 102 people died, was appointed general secretary of the Ministry of Citizen Protection, a powerful, newly expanded role.

Greece finished its third and last bailout program last August, but remains shellshocked after nearly a decade of austerity. Official unemployment is at 18 percent; youth unemployment scores a staggering 40 percent. As the grounds of solidarity are eroded, the government’s plan to abolish a law that bans the police from universities is a sign of the ugly times to come — as is an attempt by the coast guard to block a boat carrying refugees. Mr. Mitsotakis’s refugee policy, it seems, is to build a wall in the sea.

None of New Democracy’s vaunted policies — to cut corporation taxes and privatize industry in an effort to stimulate economic growth and create “new jobs” — are likely to address the country’s problems. They may well do the opposite.

In a slip of the tongue a few days before the elections, Mr. Mitsotakis said in an interview that the country should “return to the past.”

It seems that he was sincere.

Matthaios Tsimitakis is a Greek journalist.

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