Bearing in mind that gaining access to political power remains the focus of all political parties, they not only attempt to acquire political power within government but, more importantly, actively work toward its acquisition and maintenance. In this effort, political parties try to establish a distinct identity in their effort to attract the support of the electorate.
In marketing, the way a brand performs is like a system of identification. For Darren Lilleker, brands in politics are primarily communicated through the name, which can be symbolic, or the logo, which can represent what the party stands for. In addition, messages and behavior can signify what the brand represents. Taking this argument further, one can say that a brand is a complex combination that manages to represent a variety of ideas and attributes to what the nature of the party and what it stands for or, else, its identity.
How the Radical Right Co-Opted Religion
Over the last four decades, radical-right parties in Europe have experienced a rise in their electoral support and managed to turn those who have voted for the party once (new voters) into loyal voters (creating a new voter profile). Various research on the topic has pointed out that this success is the result of abandoning traditional fascist ideology and the adaptation of a more versatile profile combining rhetorical radicalism and figurative policies, together with the adoption of a variety of communication techniques in order to make the parties more appealing to the electorate.
What the parties on the radical right have achieved through this period is to mobilize their identity and establish themselves on the political scene. But to what extent is it possible to glean a party’s identity from its self-identification material? Let’s employ the case study of Greece’s Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party.
LAOS was the first claimant of the “people’s voice” in the Greek political system, establishing it as the first successful representative of the radical-right family in Greece. The party, whose name is a pun on the Greek word “people,” was formed in 2000 as a splinter group from the main conservative New Democracy (ND) party by the journalist and a former ND MP, Georgios Karatzaferis. Its electoral debut took place on October 13, 2002. In 2004, the party managed to elect Karatzaferis to the European Parliament and, in 2007 and 2009, passed the threshold for election to the national parliament, becoming part of the coalition government under Lucas Papademos in 2011.
But the party hasn’t managed to regain its supporters since, as a large part of the electorate that used to vote for LAOS defected to the right-wing Golden Dawn and the Independent Greeks (ANEL). LAOS’ achievement in the Greek political arena can be explained by its ability to effectively communicate the party identity in its quest to gain electoral support.
In the case of LAOS, the brand is more than simply a logo: It is the political messages, the name, the personalities. According to Article 4 of its 2004 manifesto, “This Party is entitled LA.OS.” The emblem of the party consists of four white arrows in a symbolic sign, which is a green wild olive branch. The arrows and the wild olive branch are embedded in an azure square, while the whole complex is surrounded by a red circle. This has a strong link to Greek mythology.
In Greek mythology, the inventor of sport and the founder of the Olympic Games was Idaios Hercules (also known as Idaios Heracles), who planted the first wild olive, brought from his native Crete, at Olympia. He had four brothers, Paionaio, Epimidi, Iasio and Ida. One day, the older brother competed at Olympia, and Hercules crowned the winner with an olive branch from a tree he himself had planted there. Since then, it was the custom to crown winners of the Olympic Games with wreaths of wild olive branches. The winners were considered respected persons, who were graced by the favor of the gods. It was also believed that all divine forces were passed on to the victors through the wreath. The red woolen ribbons that adorned the front or the arms of athletes carried the same symbolism. The olive wreath was the highest award for any athlete and every citizen.
What was considered a symbol of physical and mental excellence for centuries has acquired a new role. In modern use, the symbol has become associated with extremist right-wing organizations with the adaptation of the arrow cross (nyilaskereszt) symbol, which was used in Hungary in the 1930s as the symbol of the leading Hungarian fascist Arrow Cross Party (Nyilaskeresztes Párt), as well as in the standards of the Nazi Party in Germany. The symbol consists of two green double-ended arrows in a cross configuration on a white circular background, much like the Nazi swastika. The arrow cross symbol remains outlawed in Hungary.
The symbol, which appears to be 90% identical to the emblem LAOS, with the only difference being the lack of laurels and the use of different colors, has been used by neo-Nazi organizations in England like the League of St. George. Other racist organizations based in America, like the Nationalist Movement, which believes in the supremacy of the white race against blacks and Jews. The symbol has also been used by the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in Greece. In its case, the expanding cross is used as the initial symbol on the cover photograph of the first issue of the party’s magazine along with the swastika of the Thule secret society.
In All Directions
The underlying meaning of the arrow cross is to express expansion in all directions. Thus, it is a symbol denoting expansion. In this, it is synonymous with all the Christian crosses used to represent evangelization, the effort to spread the doctrines of the Christian faith in all directions. The sign is also used in cartography. On some maps, it signifies monuments or towers. When asked, Adonis Georgiadis, at the time a leading member of LAOS and a member of parliament, referring to the party logo, formally admitted on his website that the banner of the party has been used in the past and is still being used by right-wing and neo-Nazi organizations and parties across the world.
Nevertheless, in an effort to convince the public that the party has no ideological relationship with them, despite their selection and use of the emblems, he argued: “We put on the arrows to show that the Greek spirit extends to all parts of the horizon, that is, universal. Numerous organizations worldwide have used Greek symbols, but this does not mean anything.” Georgiadis pointed out that Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich used the swastika, one of the “most ancient symbols of humanity and Hellenism,” and admitted that right-wing extremists around the world have shown preference for this type of cross. “So what?” was his response.
It is evident that a political party’s identity can a combination of information that one can trace back to the self-identification material, in this case the logo itself. Patriotic, nationalist, Christian, orthodox, Greek-oriented, populist — all these characteristics can be detected in the LAOS logo, one of the main brands of a political party that signifies it.
The rising support of radical-right parties across Western Europe in recent years creates an intensive need for additional research, especially on issues of identification, due to their complexity, as well as issues contributing to the discussion of their success. Looking at the sophistication of the elements of self-identification can provide new insights into and understanding of the core identity of these parties.
*[An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that LAOS passed the threshold for election to the national parliament in 2007 and 2012. This post was updated on July 3, 2020, at 13:40 GMT.]
*[The Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right is a partner institution of Fair Observer.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.