Anti-Racism Legislation in Greece; Just Do It

The World

Panda vs. RacismIn the beginning of the week it appeared that the Greek coalition government would be divided over a legislative proposal that plans to impose tougher measures against persons or groups that incite racist remarks.  Today at the end of the week 5 out of 7 parties have already proposed or will propose a version of anti-racism legislation.  This is a perfect example of the surreal nature of Greek politics but also raises questions as to whether this is a good idea.  

The smaller members of the coalition PASOK and DIMAR in favour of the bill moved forward with the proposal while the main partner ND refused to back it and geared up to fight it within parliament. 

Meanwhile, SYRIZA the main opposition party initially argued at the committee level that this could be a threat to freedom of speech.  But the party moved forward this week arguing via Mr. Tsipras that a broader counter-austerity measures policy is needed rather than just another anti-racism law.  SYRIZA has also moved forward with its own legislative proposal.

As a result, ND under political pressure to show a stance against racism and its extreme right wing, participated in a service in the memory of Holocaust victims.  It has also moved forward with its own legislative proposal that plans to impose tough measures for those that denounce the Holocaust and promote anti-Semitic action.

Feeling left outside, Independent Greeks (IG) also promise to bring their own legislative proposal.  The Communist Party (KKE) will make statements the following week (yes the word "imperialists" will come up a-lot).  Please note; this is not a joke this is actually happening.

Over the past month(s), GD and members of the Church of Greece (still a part of the Greek State) have upped considerably racist incites.  Two days ago the Greek television regulator refused to show on tv the gay pride parade that will take place in Athens.  In addition, both the US State Department and international NGOs have released reports noting an increase of anti-Semitism; violent incidents against racial minorities and women.  Finally, the rules of procedure of Greek Institutions themselves seem unable to deal with racist events within them. 

Within this context anti-racism legislation will be a useful fix to stop a growing wave of racism and counter-human rights discourse that cannot be contained by the current institutional settings. 

The reason is that institutions in Greece have not grown to act as a safety valve against sudden moves to the extremes or system wide imbalances.  On the contrary, Institutions in Greece act as an umbrella for politically spearheaded interests.  Institutions in Greece have been captured from clientele networks that have advanced across ranks over the past 20 years. There are additional problems. 

First, the current situation in Greece has placed central focus onto the economy. Right or wrong this has gives little time to develop policies that would counter-act in depth issues of racism. 

In addition, currently the Greek State does not have the resources to deal with the rise of racism.  Austerity measures have cut budgets thin, staff training, cultural events, education in school cannot be planned/ designed or implemented.  Even if there were in depth actions to be taken there's little or no cash.  Not to mention it would take a long time to observe results.

Second, part of the Greek State, the Church of Greece is high ranking Bishops have move forward and officially made (dramatic to say the least) racist statements.  While the Church is not officially in agreement it has not moved into condemning these statements. 

 Political move? Hell Yes!

Many argue that the entire discussion on the anti-racist legislation is politically fuelled.  Bearing in mind the events of this week one would have to be blind not to see the political pattern here.  Technically Greece currently has laws in place that if implemented could reduce the open-proud display of racism.  However implementation is a constant issue in Greece. 

To this extent these legislative proposals are also highly political and plan to send a message.  But this message is one of going against racist incites, this is by default a political action.  If such a law was passed it could be helpful in setting the frame of the political debate back into more relevant issues; not only within society but also in parliament.  Moreoverm it would act as a tool that would directly empower counter-racism movements and individuals creating a counter-wave; that seems to be taking place already.

But this is a double edged sword.  For a start fail of action to take place would perhaps further provide racists in particular GD with more political legitimacy within in its own cohort.  Second, the Greek legal system and bureaucracy are notoriously slow therefore if cases are not dealt timely or enforced then this will be a pointless exercise.  Finally, the rise of preference of GD has been to an extent a shift of votes from ND.  This means that supporting openly this piece of legislation could further shift its right wing (flirting openly with the extreme) component towards GD. 

However, further non-reaction will not necessarily keep them close and can have a similar effect to the one observed within the UK with Conservatives vs. UKIP.  A much more responsible increase on social policy measures that would raise the lower social groups that are starving could see a change of opinion.

This is important to bear in mind within the broader political context, European Parliament elections are in less than a year from now.  The next 8 months will shape the political positions of all parties.  Failure to suppress the underlying micro-meso level conditions that allow both racism and other extremes to maintain popularity could be detrimental and have shameful results.

 Just Do It

It is incorrect to assume that racism will simply disappear from the introduction of the new legislation.  But it both gives a serious political message and empowers actors on the grounds.  Its correct implementation will be important but what remains much more important is that the Greek Parliament regardless of Political Party show a common front against racism.  In away this week we have observed just this, and that is a positive perspective often not seen in the past. 

Cracks across the front but also within parties such as ND act as stepping stones that place the racist/ fascist agenda a click higher.  It is not enough for Greek State Institutions to not be racist.  They need to be openly and loudly anti-racist.  Within the current institutional framework a piece of anti-racism legislation has the chance to level the playing field on the ground.  Now which one to pick?


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