An anti-racism bill opposed by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and aimed at curbing the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party will go to Parliament for consideration despite his objections, PASOK and Democratic Left (DIMAR,) the junior parties in Greece’s conservative-led coalition government, said.
The bill was being prepared by the Ministry of Justice. PASOK Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos and DIMAR chief Fotis Kouvelis said they warned harsher penalties for racist attacks, particularly those on immigrants, some of which have been blamed on Golden Dawn but which it denies.
“It will be a triumph for Golden Dawn if the anti-racism bill does not go to a vote and democracy will appear passive and in retreat,” Venizelos said.
Despite the reactions of PASOK and DIMAR, sources in both parties said the rift would not undermine the coalition’s cohesion. In the words of DIMAR spokesman Dimitris Hatzisocratis, “the government’s glass has cracked; it must not break.”
The announcement came a day after a meeting among the three coalition leaders failed to yield a result, mainly due to objections from New Democracy.
In an interview with Vima FM, ND deputy Yiannis Michelakis said that his party will not vote for the bill adding that any such legislation was likely to bolster Greece’s far right Golden Dawn party. “We must tackle extreme ideas and extremities. But do you really think these can best be curbed with laws and courts? Or with stronger ideas?” Michelakis said.
New Democracy has only 125 votes in the 300-member Parliament and needs the 28 seats of PASOK and 14 from DIMAR to be able to contriol the body. If Samaras’ partners walk on him, the bill will pass despite his opposition.
With the bill, that would toughen penalties for assaults, ban the Hitler salute and criminalize denial of the Holocaust stuck in limbo after Samaras withdrew his support – to the chagrin of his coalition partners – the European Commission for Home Affairs said she expects action on it.
Cecilia Malmstrom said Samaras should submit the to proposal to Parliament despite the coalition’s failure to agree on its content. “During my visit to Athens last week, we discussed the bill,” she said at a discussion about the far right in Europe organized by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Berlin.
“From what I understood, the government aims to submit the bill soon. There have been delays for various reasons but it will be submitted to Parliament very soon. That is what they promised my and I hope it is proved correct.” Samaras hasn’t moved to give it to lawmakers yet, however, although the New Democracy Conservative leader’s partners, the PASOK Socialists and tiny Democratic Left (DIMAR) are insisting that he do so.
The measure is aimed as well at the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, but Samaras supports its anti-immigrant stance, although the extremists have also been accused of beating foreigners, which it denies despite eyewitness accounts.
She said the the government is taking some steps to counter the rise of the far right but said they are “not enough” although in recent cases of assaults police have swiftly made arrests.