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Stalemate Stalls Greek Anti-Racism Bill

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras (C) with DIMAR chief Fotis Kouvelis (L) and PASOK head Evangelos Venizelos
Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras (C) with DIMAR chief Fotis Kouvelis (L) and PASOK head Evangelos Venizelos

Greece’s coalition government, led by Prime Minister and New Democracy Conservative leader Antonis Samaras, has cracked in a dispute over an anti-racism bill aimed at controlling the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party whose members have been accused of attacks on immigrants, which it has denied.
A meeting called by Samaras on May 27 with his administration’s partners, PASOK Socialist chief Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left head Fotis Kouvelis failed to reach any agreement with reports that the premier was backing away on toughening penalties, leading the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) party to accuse him of siding with the extremists. Samaras is anti-immigrant too.
Kouvelis and Venizelos said that they want the bill go to the Parliament instead of having Samaras decide what will be in it and said that it could be debated and amended, a rare act as the government usually decides on legislation and orders its supporters to rubber-stamp it. The three talked for two hours but got nowhere.
“We have an international obligation to have adequate legislation against racist behaviors,” Venizelos told reporters. Kouvelis strongly criticised the Parliament’s legislative committee for coming out against the bill just two hour before the leaders’ meeting started.
The government is in open disagreement over Justice Minister Antonis Roupakiotis’ draft bill, with New Democracy claiming that existing legislation is sufficient to deal with racism, while PASOK and DIMAR want stricter penalties for racist attacks that are on the rise. SYRIZA said Samaras doesn’t want to alienate a base of voters who are sidling up to Golden Dawn’s harsher stances on immigrants.
The bill would outlaw incitement against people because of their race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation, and impose jail sentences of up to six years on offenders, according to reports.
MPs would not be excluded and parties that receive public funding would see it suspended if their leaders publicly denied the Holocaust, took part in racist attacks or used Nazi salutes or symbols in Parliament, all hallmarks of Golden Dawn.
Deputy Interior Minister Haralambos Athanasiou said the government’s commitment to combat racism doesn’t require new legislation but amendments to existing laws with critics accusing Samaras of going soft on Golden Dawn and racism, despite a recommendation from the European Union’s human rights chief that there is enough evidence of violent tendencies by the neo-Nazis to ban them.
The Parliament’s legislative committee described several provisions in the proposed anti-racism law as “vague” and being “outside the scope of our constitutional framework.” The committee also concluded that Greece’s anti-racism legislation, which dates back to 1979, is sufficient to deal with racism.
Venizelos, who held talks with Roupakiotis earlier, is expected to request that the bill be immediately submitted to Parliament for approval and voted for by all three parties in the coalition and Kouvelis is reportedly open to amendments to Roupakiotis’ draft bill but firmly supports the introduction of new legislation.
International human rights groups have expressed strong support for the proposed reform, alarmed at a surge in racially-motivated attacks against immigrants and the rise of Golden Dawn, which during the weekend staged a weekend rally near Athens to protest the draft law. Party leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos said the legislation was part of an effort to outlaw his party.
He told supporters: “They want to stop Greeks expressing themselves … They are planning a law, the anti-racism law. Let them do it. We can exist outside the law. I tell them this directly and publicly.”

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