Antonis Samaras, the head of the conservative Nea Dimokratia (ND), Greece’s main opposition party, sticks to his principles, regardless of the cost. ‘From my standpoint, I’ve been on the fringe of political life for 11 years now. I’m not going to change my opinions,’ Samaras likes to say.
All of Europe has been calling on him for weeks now to seek consensus as soon as possible so that Greek politicians can implement a tough austerity programme and lead it out of its current financial crisis.
But Samaras is not budging: Yes, the state must be streamlined, but the measures being considered are the wrong ones since they would choke off the economy. “The medicine is worse than the disease,” he says repeatedly as he withholds his party’s support for the austerity measure.
Stubbornness has been a constant in his political career. When he was foreign minister in the early 1990s, he engaged in a seeming neverending fight with Greece’s northern neighbour about the use of Macedonia as a country name. The former Yugoslavian republic should pick a name that did not include the word ‘Macedonia,’ since that name is historically Greek, not Slavic and since there is a province in northern Greece by that name already.
When he noticed that the ruling ND party’s leadership was backing away from his stance, he brought about the collapse of the government in 1993 and started a new party with other legislators.
Named Political Spring, the nationalistic party failed and Samaras was branded a political renegade and seemed destined for political irrelevance. But Samaras got another chance when the conservative party suffered a stiff defeat in 2009. The ND had already, in 2007, forgiven him his rebellion, taking him back and making him culture minister. After the 2009 loss, he was elected party chief, in November of that year.
Until now, Samaras has lived a somewhat charmed life. Born May 23, 1951 in Athens, he was a Greek junior tennis champion. His family, well off, sent him to the United States to study. He briefly attended the same boarding school as the current Socialist prime minister, Giorgos Papandreou. He moved back to Greece in 1977 and was immediately elected to parliament at age 26. Samaras is married with two children.