After withdrawing its support from an anti-racism bill aimed at the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party – only to watch its coalition partners put it forth to Parliament anyway, at the same time the major opposition party SYRIZA was proposing another version – the ruling New Democracy Conservatives are proffering a third version.
All that comes in the face of criticism and derision from international activists and NGO’s, including the World Jewish Congress, decrying a lack of coordination in Greece over measures that would increase penalties for racist and anti-Semitic attacks.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ government was frozen over how to proceed after he backed away from the original proposal he had at first supported. That left miffed PASOK Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left (DIMAR) chief Fotis Kouvelis to angrily say they would bring it to Parliament without him. They are his coalition partners and have usually relented to all his demands.
And now the Independent Greeks, a minor party, said they would offer a fourth version, increasing the likelihood that nothing will pass and that Golden Dawn will not be affected, to the dismay of supporters of the bill in Greece and around the world who are watching the confusion.
Facing fresh international pressure to crack down on racist assaults – from the European Commission and the New York-based Human Rights Watch – ND presented its own reforms to Parliament describing them as “improvements” to the existing legal framework rather than a new bill to compete with that of PASOK and DIMAR. SYRIZA leader said Samaras is afraid of confronting Golden Dawn, which is growing in popularity and going after the right-wing base of ND.
The original bill was drafted by Justice Minister Antonis Roupakiotis, who is aligned with DIMAR, and foresees stricter penalties for incitement to racist crimes. A spike in such crimes has been broadly linked to the ultra-right Golden Dawn.
ND’s proposal – a set of five provisions – essentially differs from the PASOK-DIMAR bill as it exempts the Church and the armed forces from prosecution and it does not ban the operation of parties whose members display racist behavior. Its key focus is on criminalizing Nazi crimes and their denial.
Critics have accused ND of bending to pressure from the Church and armed forces over fears that Roupakiotis’s bill would limit freedom of speech.
ND has insisted that it wants to marginalize Golden Dawn but not make it appear persecuted. Samaras emphasized this in a letter to poet Nanos Valaoritis, who had written to the premier pressing the coalition to cooperate on curbing racism. “Our aim is to target what is strengthening the neo-Nazis and to marginalize them completely, not to turn them into victims and give them a boost,” Samaras wrote.