Ukip leader claims he received deluge of support after giving Antonis Samaras a dressing down in European parliament
Ukip leader Nigel Farage at last year's party conference. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
As unlikely as it might once have seemed, the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, is being hailed as a hero in Greece after an extraordinary outburst against the Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, in the European parliament last week.
In a departure from the contempt usually reserved for foreigners criticising their country, Greeks from across the political spectrum have welcomed the Briton's savage dressing down of Samaras – just as he was savouring the glory of crisis-plagued Athens assuming the rotating EU presidency.
"You come here, Mr Samaras, and tell us that you represent the 'sovereign will of the Greek people'. Well, I am sorry but you are not in charge of Greece, and I suggest you rename and rebrand your party," railed Farage last week as Samaras, slumped in his seat, looked on haplessly. "It is called New Democracy; I suggest you call it No Democracy because Greece is now under foreign control. You can't make any decisions, you have been bailed out and you have surrendered democracy, the thing your country invented in the first place."
Clearly warming to his theme in an arena where, by his own admission, he likes to "tell it straight", Farage ran through the litany of woes hobbling the debt-stricken nation four years into its worst financial crisis in living memory.
Reminding Samaras of the heavy price Greece had paid to be rescued from insolvency by creditors at the EU and IMF, he said: "I must congratulate you for getting the Greek presidency off to such a cracking start. Your overnight successful negotiation … will have them dancing in the streets of Athens.
"No matter that your country, very poorly advised by Goldman Sachs, joined a currency that it was never suited to. No matter that 30% of its people are unemployed, that 60% of youth are unemployed, that a neo-Nazi party is on the march, that there was a terrorist attack on the German embassy." Shots were fired at the German ambassador's Athens home last month.
Denouncing the "dreamers" in the European parliament and what he described as the big business and big bureaucrats running Europe, Farage said that the European elections in May – which, awkwardly, coincide with the Greek presidency – will be a battleground "to bring back national democracy". Farage, who claims to have been inundated with thank-you emails, letters and tweets from Greece, says he has also been deluged with requests for interviews from the Greek media. "Some, of course, are questioning how I dare say such mean things to their prime minister," he wrote in the Express. "But the majority seem to be coming to me for an alternative voice to the political establishment in Greece which is either tied to the euro or dangerously extreme."
The journalist and prominent commentator Giorgos Alexakis said: "He dared to say, openly, what few foreigners ever say, that Greece has been 'saved' but at huge cost to its democratic framework."
Alexakis reeled off the myriad austerity measures that have been driven, often to widespread consternation from MPs, through the Greek parliament. "And because we haven't seen the end of this crisis, and things very possibly will get worse, Farage's intervention has been very well received."
In the face of mounting anger over spending cuts, Athens's two-party coalition is clinging to power with a majority of three. Hostility towards Europe – once a rarity – is also growing.
As in other austerity-whipped member states, Greece's anti-European parties, like Ukip, are expected to do well in the European elections. The neo-fascist Golden Dawn party, if allowed to contest the election – an inquiry into its alleged criminal activities is under way – is tipped to enter the 751-seat Strasbourg-based parliament. So, too, is the main opposition radical left Syriza party, which shares none of the nationalists' views.
On Saturday even Syriza had a kind word for Ukip. "Of course, we have nothing whatsoever in common with them," Panos Skourletis, Syriza's spokesman, said. "But sometimes your opponents do tell the truth, you know. More and more people are beginning to see that Greece was sacrificed to save the EU, and that what has happened was wrong."