Cyprus: what is Elam, the far-right nationalist party seeking success after the demise of Golden Dawn?

A new shadow looms over Cypriot politics. Not much is known about the country’s far right, but Elam’s recent gains in the May 2021 general election put the party on the map for good. Elam originally started in 2008 as a sub-division of the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn but ended up splitting off and changing its name to National People’s Front (ELAM), apparently for legal reasons.

Although the Cypriot context is different, the two parties have used the same political recipe. Like Golden Dawn, Elam’s identity is extremist and populist. The party’s leadership has focused on ethnocentrism to advance the narrative that migrants deprive Greek Cypriots of basic access to jobs and resources.

Elam favours welfare chauvinism: it has clearly stated benefits should be restricted to Greek Cypriots only. Elam opposes Islam, multiculturalism and migration. It also stands against the Turkish presence on Cyprus. During the height of Europe’s refugee crisis a few years ago, the party took an extreme stance.

After top Golden Dawn politicians were arrested in 2013, Elam and its leadership protested outside the Greek embassy in Cyprus against what they called “unfair and unconstitutional” proceedings. However, Golden Dawn’s leaders were recently convicted and imprisoned and the party has been completely outlawed from Greek politics, resulting in an abrupt end to the partnership between the two sister parties. Elam’s leader Christos Antoniou said the party is taking its own path and cannot be held responsible for the actions of other parties in different countries.

Greece, Turkey and Cyprus

There is a close relationship between economic and political crises and the emergence of extreme-right groups. And in Cyprus, the exceptionally long running political crisis has deepened in the past decade as a result of disagreements over the handling of the economy. The financial crisis that followed the crash of 2008 and migration flows in the past decade might have favoured Elam’s rise, too. Its first run in the general election of 2011 was unsuccessful, but it went on to win two seats in the Cypriot parliament in 2016. Most recently, Elam secured 6.8% of the Cypriot vote in the elections of May 2021.

Elam has also come much closer than Golden Dawn to forming a government. After the May 2021 general election, Nicos Anastasiades, president of Cyprus, proposed a coalition government with the Democratic Rally party and asked Elam to participate. Antoniou has rejected the offer. It’s unclear why a far-right party was being considered as a viable party of government by the president but the fact that he did approach Elam to play an active role suggests that the Cypriot parliament now recognises Elam as a considerable force in politics.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Elam has pushed a highly xenophobic agenda. When Anastasiades announced his decision to fully shut down the Green Line (also known as the United Nations Buffer Zone) to block refugees from entering Cyprus, Elam supported the motion. The party asked for even tougher measures against migration.

Elam has also been scaremongering for months that Turkish expansionism is being accelerated during the pandemic. The long-running negotiations between Cyprus and Turkey for the reunification of the island have been bumpy and although UN resolutions have called on the two sides to form a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, Turkish officials have rejected the UN process. Therefore, Antoniou has called on Anastasiades and the Cypriot parliament to call off any talks and negotiations, and take a more aggressive stance against the Turkish government.

Rewriting history

Elam has made sure in recent years to distance itself from Golden Dawn. You won’t find any old photos of its members posing next to members of the now-illegal Greek party or Nazi-saluting at shared events. And the approach has certainly worked. The successes in the 2021 election have been translated into four seats in the parliament.

It’s evident that Elam is in the process of becoming a lighter, less aggressive version of Golden Dawn. Antoniou seems to be emulating the approach taken by far-right politicians Matteo Salvini in Italy and Marine Le Pen in France – focusing on migration and anti-corruption to broaden support.

The party has started working cooperatively in the parliament too, voting recently in support of the government’s budget proposals and providing key support in the vote for a speaker, helping the government avoid a fresh vote if its candidate did not get through.

This is a difficult line for Elam to tread. Parties of its kind thrive on anti-elitist rhetoric. Less anti-elitism and friendlier communication with rival political parties makes Elam a systemic entity in Cypriot politics. But Elam has clearly learned from Golden Dawn’s mistakes and is aiming to become a more mature version of its former sister party. Its recent disassociation from Golden Dawn could be the first step towards shaping a new political future. Far right politics may have suffered a blow in Greece, but its on a different trajectory in Cyprus.

Georgios Samaras does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.