Blame Games - “mainstream” and “fringe” populism in Greece

The relationship between sport and populism in Greece has meant that sport events, teams, and athletes were increasingly incorporated into the discourses of blame that often permeated the politics of a nation in crisis. However, it is important to discern between the two parties discussed in this analysis, and their particular strategies for including sport within populist rhetoric and policy. Following Vasilopoulou, Halikiopoulou, and Exadaktylos (2014), contemporary Greek politics can be understood through a typology of populism, focusing on “mainstream” and “fringe” types of populism, that allows for a consideration of the variety and variants of populist platforms that exist across the Greek political landscape. The discourses of blame analysed in this chapter demonstrate that particular parties incorporated sport-related issues and events into political rhetoric in order to operate within the “mainstream” and “fringe” populisms of Greek politics. In Chapter 9, Clift suggests that “corruption” serves a not dissimilar function in Brazil.

In regard to SYRIZA, the party’s rise to power in 2014 was often described in terms of the emergence of a relative newcomer to Greek national politics, and a similar narrative accompanied the election of Tsipras in 2015. Yet the discourses of blame developed and deployed by the party' could most often be characterised as a form of “mainstream” Greek populism: “a more concentrated form of populism: blame is directed against fewer actors, concentrating upon the major contenders in the system ... and external elites” (Vasilopoulou et al., 2014, p. 400). In this analysis, the Athens 2004 Olympic Games - and specifically the mis-used and poorly maintained facilities that served as the Games’ legacy in Greece - provided a useful symbol of the relationship between the country’s dominant political parties and the global elite. Within SYRIZA’s discourses of blame, the “white elephants” that marked the post-Olympic spaces of Athens therefore served as a marker of cooperation and collaboration between PASOK and New Democracy, the two conservative parties (and main rivals to SYRIZA) that had held power during the bidding process and hosting of the 2004 Games, while also implicating the global and regional actors that were involved in the short-sighted financing of the facilities. The legacy of Athens 2004 was often included within these discourses in order to further consolidate SYRIZA’s status as a formerly “fringe” and emergent “mainstream” political option, specifically within the context of the 2014 and 2015 elections in which the party’ gained power and the prime ministry. Tsipras acknowledged this shift in the party mission and vision during the run-up to these elections in a 2013 interview:

SYRIZA is what it is: a radical, left-wing party that feels the pulse of the times, knows what’s at stake and is after a wide consensus and unity for political change in Greece. This is something that departs from the narrow limits of the radical left.

(Baboulias & Trilling, 2013)

For Golden Dawn, the party’s political messages and actions reflect a type of “fringe” populism: “a less concentrated form of populism entailing that blame is spread out, and directed against a wider range of actors including the party of government, the party of opposition, external elites, specific interest groups and the collaboration between them” (Vasilopoulou et al., 2014, p. 400). Drawing on this framework, Golden Dawn worked to construct discourses of blame that clearly identified targets of criticism and displays of symbolic and physical violence, as demonstrated by the party’s close association with Galazia Stratia and the Greek national football team. These discourses expressed a platform of nationalism and anti-immigration that provided backdrop for the violent events against immigrants following national team matches in 1999 and 2004. The association between Golden Dawn and Galazia Stratia also reflected the party’s attempts to express a “fringe” type of populism through football as a means of recruiting new party members. As Koronaiou et al. (2015) explained, sport was part of a wider strategy through which the party attempted to influence Greek youth:

[Golden Dawn] put great emphasis on its relationship to young people, carefully planning and organising the diffusion of its political ideology and identity in social milieus where young people are found ... football fan clubs, gyms, secondary schools, music-based youth cultures as well as the Internet and social media

(Psaras, 2012, p. 240)

This incorporation of popular culture and sport was evident through the party’s elected officials as well, as three of the MPs that represented the party were also leading figures in major football fan clubs.

Further, Tipaldou and Uba (2018) argue that the party’s use of social and digital media developed a “playbook” for other far-right parties and politicians, as Gold Dawn produced “its own alternative media channels ... to distribute its own alternative information.” This strategy included support via social media from Greek athletes, including those competing at the international level. Triple jumper Paraskevi “Voula” Papachristou was expelled from the Greek Olympic team shortly before the London 2012 Games after she tweeted: “With so many Africans in Greece, at least the mosquitoes of West Nile will eat homemade food!” -media reports also focused on her prior social media support for Golden Dawn (Harish, 2012).

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