Anti-feminist, anti-LGBTIQ+ and anti-gender mobilizations are increasingly shaping the political scene in several countries by demonizing the concept of gender and gender+ claims as a threat to the prosperity of national communities and their members, while institutional changes during the pandemic crisis put gender-vulnerable groups at extra risk. Beyond the rollback in gender equality, admitted also by the EU, such mobilizations have also a socially productive character, as David Paternotte notes, by legitimizing new forms of authoritarianism and social inequality. The case of Greece shows that such mobilizations are also rooted in older political conflicts, and that they are worth considering of as part of broader struggles for ideological, political and social hegemony.
The battlefield of gender politics
In recent years a new field of contestation has been formed around gender politics in Greece. On the one hand feminist and LGBTIQ+ movements, often supported by the left-wing, have been demanding more rights and equality. On the other hand, rights long taken for granted, such as that of abortion, are surprisingly being challenged, while the political strike-back of the right-wing, expressed with the victory of Nea Dimokratia (New Democracy) party in 2019 elections, has disenchanted the dominant optimism that there is only progress in the road of gender politics. The truth is that conservative gender-related discourses and reactions, coming mainly from the orthodox church and the right-wing, have never disappeared from the country. At the same time, equality between women and men remains very low compared to the EU average rate, while the country scores particularly high in homophobic and transphobic public opinion.
However, under pressure from social movements in the country and from the EU, especially during the period of SYRIZA-ANEL government and despite reasonable critique of the left party of SYRIZA for lack of political boldness, a series of laws and measures promoting women's and LGBTIQ+ rights, were enacted: civil union for same-sex couples (2015), legal recognition of gender identity (2017), thematic week “Gender Identities” in secondary education (2017), right of child fostering by same-sex couples (2018), ratification of the Istanbul Convention (2018), quota of 40% for women candidates in elections (2019). The above regulations became possible, not without encountering reaction, but in spite of it, while a new wave of conservative reaction arose, which remains to be seen to what extent and in what form it will evolve into a lasting movement.
But who are the actors of this conservative reaction?
The orthodox church
The orthodox church has long been an impediment to progressive gender politics in Greece, under the influence of orthodox circles and associations with a long history of conservative and far-right ideas, having cooperated with the junta in the past, and strongly opposing the liberal wing of ecumenical theologists within the church. Such conservative powers have lately mobilized anew, taking over the formal voice of the church and trying to cancel latest gender legislation and to propagate their conservative concerns to the public. Thus, in 2016 orthodox circles appealed – unsuccessfully – to the Council of State against civil union for same-sex couples arguing that it is against the constitution and common morality. In 2017, orthodox unions held an “interdisciplinary” conference on gender identity in Athens, dismissing social gender, gender identity and homosexuality from a medical, psychiatric, legal and theological point of view, while the Holy Synod and Mount Athos officially requested the withdrawal of the bill on gender identity. Several bishops also opposed the “teaching of gender identities” at schools and in early 2017 a regional church called on parents' associations to mobilize parents to exempt their children from this educational activity. Finally, in 2018 a new pro-life “movement” appeared in Greece, called “Let Me Live” and initiated by orthodox associations and unions of parents of many children – declared aim is to promote respect for human life by defending the rights of the unborn child and to prevent abortions through proper information. The movement organizes events against abortion in collaboration with local Christian associations in various cities, often linking the national demographic interest for more “Greek” children with the need to reduce abortions, while in 2019 the Holy Synod satisfied its request and established a “Day of the Unborn Child” on the first Sunday after Christmas. In January 2020, posters of “Let me Live” against abortion were hung in Athens subway, provoking great disapproval and finally their removal the next day.
The rising far-right
Right-wing organizations have always been openly opposed to feminism and the concept of gender as well as to homosexuality and gender identity, counter-suggesting the protection of heterosexual family and motherhood against the low birth rate that supposedly threatens the existence of the nation. Moreover, they often unite with the church in street mobilizations and in argumentation. In 2018 and 2019 far-right groups organized marginal marches of Straight Pride against LGBTIQ+ Pride, and also a demonstration against the bill on gender identity the day it was voted in 2017. The neo-Nazi party of Golden Dawn, seated in national parliament back then, submitted an objection of unconstitutionality, supporting the official argument of the church that the gender identity bill collides with constitutional protection of traditional family, marriage and morals. In general, while in parliament, Golden Dawn voted against all bills promoting gender equality and rights. On the other hand, the party of ANEL (Independent Greeks), despite its conservative and nationalist views, supported relevant bills while co-governing with SYRIZA - but not the right of same-sex couples to child-fostering in 2019, when it had left the government and satisfying the conservative members and voters would prove more fruitful.
In the far-right, however, there have been two interesting developments. First, the participation and mobilization of more and more women in nationalist activism, but always with an anti-feminist rhetoric. Apart from Golden Dawn, women appear in other far-right organizations and in recent mobilizations against the Prespa Treaty over the name of North Macedonia. Women march on streets with their comrades, take organizational action in events and campaigns, conduct online propaganda and promote an identity for women away from feminist claims, dedicated to reproduction and defense of the nation from external and internal enemies – feminism is depicted as one of those enemies. Second, the social pressure for acceptance of LGBTIQ+ rights and the need to show a less violent and more public-friendly face is leading the far right to a strategy of partial distancing from hate speech against LGBTIQ+ people. Far-rightists – like Failos Kranidiotis of the Nea Dexia (New Right) party, deleted member of the governing right-wing party for homophobic statements, or Lefteris Panousis, an intellectual of the ELASYN party, founded by former high-rank members of Golden Dawn in 2019 –, adopt lately a narrative of relative tolerance towards homosexuality but only as long as it remains a choice in private life. This allows them to continue to oppose, ridicule and attack demands of LGBTIQ+ visibility and equality.
The neoliberal right-wing in government
The government of Nea Dimokratia, with a (neo)liberal prime minister surrounded by far-right leaning party members, continues the far-right shift of the central-right party in recent years, now implementing an increasingly authoritarian and neoliberal agenda. On gender issues, the government oscillates between liberal and conservative tendencies. To the heavy critique of lacking women in his cabinet, the prime minister initially replied that he did not find enough women interested in politics, which later led to the promotion of a more liberal profile by appointing the first woman president of the republic. However, Nea Dimokratia politics after the elections has come to satisfy many of the demands of the conservative right-wing and the church, against the gender and demographic agenda of the previous government. Thus, Nea Dimokratia voted against the explicit reference to equality regardless of gender, sexual orientation and gender identity on constitution, it abolished the topic of gender identities from schools, while it introduced a special benefit of 2,000 euros for each new born child in the country in order to boost birthrate, setting though strict rules for immigrant parents. On the other hand, the government promotes a discourse that strongly links gender rights to the market and economic development, disregarding broader issues of social equality. In this context, the General Secretariat for Gender Equality was transferred to the Ministry of Labor, while LGBTIQ+ rights were only recently praised at the international conference Human Rights in Business in June 2020.
From the old right-wing to the alt-right: the common cause of hegemony
As Nea Dimokratia tries to balance between liberalism and conservatism, gender rights are instrumentalized in the attack against the left-wing and social movements. Thus, it is no coincidence that an MP of Nea Dimokratia recently proposed that it should be the right-wing that legislates same-sex marriage – a demand still unaccepted by most members and voters of the right-wing – for the sake of homosexual patriots and in order to “cancel once and for all […] the fake rightism of the left.” This statement aligns well with a strategy of conquering hegemony against the left-wing and anti-neoliberal movements – a strategy openly promoted by far-right leaning ministers Adonis Georgiadis and Makis Voridis, who is particularly inspired by new right-wing intellectuals.
This struggle for ideological domination of the right-wing is backed up by a new alt-right scene, that has recently appeared in Greece and which has been intervening mainly on online media. Feminist and LGBTIQ+ activism are main targets of its critique, depicted as unreasonable and against common sense, dominating and controlling the public discourse with their loudness and “political correctness.” This scene produces an alternative political narrative on gender politics, often in a trendier way than the traditional far-right, though the core values remain the same: praise of heterosexuality, traditional family, motherhood and child births against the “demographic problem” of Greece.
All in all, anti-feminist, anti-gender and anti-LGBTIQ+ activism is taking new, worrying forms in Greece lately. Gender rights are challenged anew by old and new, established and marginal, right-wing actors. A new discourse, systematically cultivated and propagated, seeks to determine the meaning of gender and who fits into it, while at the same time devalues and targets movements and advocates of gender rights, as “fascist” and “authoritarian”, supposedly threatening the freedom of speech, the freedom of the individual, but also the national unity and prosperity. Such a discourse delegitimizes and demonizes claims and proponents of gender equality and gender rights, while it brings population reproduction and traditional family to the center of the debate, thus shifting gender politics to a new conservative direction.