The government seeks stricter penalties for hate crimes.
By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 10/06/14
Greece is considering a law that will toughen the sanctions on hate speech and hate crimes. [AFP]
The Greek government has brought back a bill that toughens penalties for racist crimes, including assaults on immigrants, officials said.
Offered and withdrawn last year, the legislation is getting new consideration after the fatal stabbing in September of anti-fascist hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas, for which a member of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party was charged.
The government has since arrested or jailed all 18 of the party's MPs pending a trial on charges of running a criminal gang.
Golden Dawn scored third in the elections for the EU parliament last month, raising concerns about hate crimes.
The bill institutes tougher criminal sanctions for incitement of hatred, discrimination, and violence, for denial of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Golden Dawn has taken an openly anti-Semitic, anti-atheist, anti-gay and anti-Muslim position. The party has denied attacking immigrants. Many of its supporters maintain they are not racist, but filled with despair and anger, disenfranchised by mainstream politics.
The international NGO Human Rights Watch said the proposed legislation does not go far enough because it does not include measures to encourage reporting of violent hate crimes or action by the police and judiciary to counter hate violence.
"The anti-racist bill is an important tool to fight extremism more effectively. Racism, violence and extremism of all kinds cannot be tolerated and the government is determined not to tolerate them," Antonis Klapsis, head of research at the Konstantinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy in Athens, told SETimes.
Some said it is proving hard to clamp down on attitudes as much as actions while Golden Dawn remains the third most popular party.
Its emergence from an obscure, often-parodied party that received 0.29 percent of the vote in 2009 was due largely to anti-austerity measures successive governments imposed on orders from the EU-IMF-ECB Troika.
Many were initially willing to overlook Golden Dawn's extremism to vent their fury against the austerity measures.
"Golden Dawn is here to stay," Alex Sakellariou, a sociologist at Panteion University, told SETimes. "Nothing will stop them, not the anti-racist bill or any other bill."
Golden Dawn will send three representatives to the European Parliament in Greece's contingent of 21 and ratcheted up its showing from the 2012 national elections when it got 6.97 percent of the vote. Except for last year's blip after the killing, it has continued to hold a strong base.
"I shudder to see one in six fellow Athenians voting for a neo-Nazi candidate. We should all shudder," Andreas Papadopoulos, a moderate leftist politician, told Agence France Presse in the aftermath of the EU elections.
Golden Dawn's spokesperson Ilias Kasidiaris finished fourth in the first round ballot for mayor of Athens, winning 35,000 votes (16.12 percent of the vote), while a party colleague won 179,000 votes (11.13 percent) in a regional governor's race.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said he does not want to ban Golden Dawn but dismantle it legally and take away its political appeal, including by toughening penalties for crimes of which it been accused.
Eva Cosse, Greece specialist at Human Rights Watch, said the government has been too slow in responding to racism.
"Greece has failed countless victims of racist and xenophobic attacks by neither investigating nor prosecuting the attackers," Cosse said. "If the justice minister and parliament are really serious about improving the country's response to racism and xenophobia, they should remove the obstacles to justice for these attacks."
What else can Greece do to counter extremism and xenophobia? Share your thoughts in the comments section.