Racism and Discrimination in Greece today

Cover cut, Report "Racism and Discrimination in Greece today"
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Cover cut, Report "Racism and Discrimination in Greece today"

In its forty years history, the Hellenic Republic should not really claim any laurels in protecting human rights. This can be confirmed by a long record of judgements by the European Court for Human Rights against the country and a list of such judgements that the State refrains from not implementing. In addition, it has not been often the case, certain official views of the country on bilateral issues to be stigmatized by domestic and international political agents as extremely attached to a traditional ethnocentric, if not nationalistic, self-perception.

Nevertheless, despite all these, until recently Greece would not be pictured as a country where social life is pervaded by bigotry and racism. Until one year ago; Greek governments were in a position to reject strongly any possibility of racism in the country, attributing all to the so heavily used argument of “individual cases”. On 21 March 2012, in his speech on the International Day against Racism, the Greek PM emphasised that “today only a few isolated voices attempt to revive racism and anti-Semitism. They may be only a few. Perhaps they are even lesser in number compared to what happens in other Western societies. But the mere existence of these very few is insulting… Because “racism is alien to the Greek DNA; Rather, because Greeks do not want it; their tradition does not allow it; Because there are strong antibodies in our DNA, in our genes, fighting against this ‘virus’ ”. (sic)[i].

Since September 2012, however, this picture has changed dramatically – at least at first sight. The murder of Pavlos Fyssas, an anti-fascist musician, a Greek citizen – this should not to slip our attention at any point – by members of Golden Dawn, has triggered an unprecedented mobilization of crime oppression apparatus at the demand of the Minister of Justice and a relevant judgement by the Supreme Court, to combat organized criminal actions by members of the aforesaid political party, who, according to the indictment, have been acting as members of criminal organisation pursuant to article 187 of the Penal Code, on a premeditated plan and following orders from the party leadership. This mobilization has given rise from the start to serious suspicion that although it has been justified and constituted an imperative, it had not been generated by the real fact of the criminal activity manifested by parts of the domestic extreme right against migrants and Greek nationals and motivated, as stated, by bigotry. On the contrary, it seemed to serve the need to cut down, through a wave of broadcasts showing the accused in chains and in prison, the political leaders of Golden Dawn being among them, the increasing election influence of this party over the traditional audience of one of the basic partners of the current cohabitation in government. Nevertheless, a lot of the offences with which GD officials and members are now charged, especially against migrants, have taken place and brought to the fore even one and a half year before penal justice was set into action, and until then neither the Police nor the Prosecution had reacted in any way.

Since then almost all the members of the parliamentary group of GD have been arrested and charges have been pressed against them, they have been temporarily imprisoned or under very strict restrictive conditions, along with dozens of officials and members of the core party organisation, either as perpetrators of assaults against life and physical integrity or as members of a criminal organisation. At the same time, a significant number of police officers has been dismissed from service or is under disciplinary investigation due to their relations or participation in this political formation, assisting its members’ criminal activities from within the Police.

Because of this "outbreak" of the state crime oppression apparatus on organized racist groups, the number of incidents of racist motivation, especially on vulnerable groups such as migrants and Romani people, was drastically, a relieving fact in itself, although they did not stop. On the contrary, such incidents usually reappear on the occasion of the party’s festivities, especially in relation to the progress of the court proceedings. However, although during the last year the government has opted to repress the activities of GD through penal law, this determination has failed to bring the expected results in one area: the attraction the political body feels for racist and openly Nazi ideologies promoted by this party in its policy statements. Despite all contrary expectations, in the recent elections for the European Parliament and the regional and local authorities, not only GD did not loose any ground compared to the high vote percentage in the two elections in 2012, but it also managed to rank third in the European Parliament elections, increasing its voters by 100.000 compared to the 2012 parliamentary elections, while it achieved two digit percentages in many cities and rural areas, and, above all, acquired the 16% of voters in the City of Athens.

These developments prove even to the most hard to convince that the phenomenon of racism is not just a criminal manifestation to be fought solely with criminal law; above all, it constitutes a worldview of a very specific ideological content. Such views and beliefs produce attitudes that we stigmatize and punish as criminal ones. This, in democracy which respects itself, defines the way in which racism can be fought because, in essence, it is associated with the basic freedoms of all, even of the intolerants, discourse and political participation.

On the other hand, it is clear that racism can inspire numerous daily actions constructing our social life. Although its symbolism is shocking and its results are physical and psychological pain, racist violence is only one of the manifestations of racism. Its most frequent and socially more painful manifestations are found in the everyday humiliations and abasements in which a society may reserve for its members on the sole ground that they belong to a specific social group, either a community of good, such as a religion or an ethnic minority, or a community of fortune (e.g. due to a physical disability). These humble and pervasive forms of racism are codified as discrimination, as a less favourable treatment due to ethnic origin or race, religious or other beliefs, gender identity, etc.

Nevertheless, racist violence and discrimination share the same structure: they do injustice in their own particular way of their victims, but not as a coincidence, due to personal prejudice or own interest. They do so because they disparage or totally deny any value to those representing a specific collective identity. So openly rejecting the total value of human beings, the respect onto which the regulatory foundation of democracies lie, constitutes the particularly repulsive element of racism, in moral and political terms. Racist violence is just one peak of complex collective conducts, pre-existing and exonerating manifestations of violence, verbal at first and then physical against anyone who is different and hence inferior. Such an exoneration climate that incubates racist conduct is par excellence the climate of permanent and general insecurity of rights for many groups of people who appear to be living permanently in Greece lately. It should be noted that during the authoring of this report, the news for new racist violence incidents all over the country, from Kallithea, Attica to Skala, Laconia in Peloponissos, with all the attributes described herein, prove that despite all announcements by State officials, racist violence is alive and well.[ii]

Respecting rights in Greece is seriously contested. Increasing discrimination and racism is part of the crisis in Greece and constitutes a threat to the democracy in the country. Racist violence has increased dramatically; minorities and other vulnerable groups face social exclusion and discrimination in multiple forms. The situation has been aggravated in the whirlwind of the economic crisis, shaping a scary xenophobic and anti-immigrant climate, as the elected members of Parliament of the far-right political party wage a war against migrants. Greece remains the main point of entry to the European Union for thousands of third country citizens, refugees and migrants, who enter the country in mixed migration flows. A large number of Roma people live also in Greece. Multiple discrimination actions are also addressed to the disabled, to others because of their sexual orientation and gender, to the LGTB communities but to other groups too, mainly in relation to employment and occupation. Moreover, women constitute the social group which faces the larger number and most painful forms of discrimination; women carry also other elements of otherness: they may be third country citizens, lesbians or disabled. Concerns have been voiced by international and national human rights organisations while the State response remains inadequate. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, visited Athens in January 2013[iii], and referred to the threat of racism against

Greek Democracy, asking at the same time for the prosecution of the perpetrators of racist attacks, police officers who breach their duties, as well as GD members who carry out hate attacks. Cultivating xenophobia, enmity and demonstrating strength over the weak, first of all to migrants –in a word: bigotry– steps solidly on the sentiment of fear which is augmented under the crisis conditions, misery and insecurity; it offers easy way-outs, certainties and guidance. Assaults, namely but not exclusively against migrants, police sweep operations, such as the one code-named “Xenios Zeus”, complaints by international organisations for vulnerable groups rights infringements, Death Squads and prohibition to enter a theatre venue, all these are part of everyday reality in Greece. Racism and discrimination have turned into daily discussions, in newspapers and social media. Tolerance, even support to far-right political parties that abide and disseminate actively racist views and policies is increasing, as shown in the case of Golden Dawn.[iv]

How did we come this far? Was not there a legislation that was able to protect the rights of the weak? Should we blame the economic crisis for this? Or, perhaps, is indeed the Greek society tolerant to racism? Where does this start: At school, at home or out in the society? Do discrimination and racism stem from the crisis or is it an aspect of the established social life which was revealed now in the dire straits we have found ourselves? Is there anything to be done to change this trend?

What follows below is an attempt to find answers to these questions. To this purpose, we will first outline the legislation tools available for the Greek State to fight racism and discrimination. Then, we will attempt to map the actual situation of human rights protection from racist offences, namely on the basis of material and reports that have been publicised during the last two years. In this investigation, we will shed light on two critical areas, apart from the attitude of Police and Justice Authorities, that of public communication and, mostly, education. So, it will be made possible to assess the ability of the Greek State to shape an effective strategy against the spread of racist and discriminatory phenomena. This report concludes with a set of ideas and proposals on the directions in which it is needed for institutional mechanisms and the civil society to be mobilized in order to fight the current racist threat.

(Introduction chapter of the report "Racism and Discrimination in Greece today")


[i] Address by Mr Antonis Samaras, Prime Minister of Greece, at the Memorial for the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Nazi deportation of Thessaloniki’s Jews to Auschwitz, in Thessaloniki (17 March 2013), www.primeminister.gov.gr/2013/03/17/10133

[ii] a) A fierce racist attack in Kallithea, ThePressProject.gr, 9/7/2014 (http://bit.ly/1rUUY8G),

b) Manolada II : Instead of getting paid, migrants in Scala, Lakonia, are getting arrested , tvxs.gr, 9/7/ 2014 (http://bit.ly/YtIo3y).

[iii] Commissioner for Human Rights: Serious racist incidents by Golden Dawn and the police, iefimerida.gr, 15/4/2013 (http://bit.ly/1lNrsPt).

[iv] The final conclusion of the investigating judges on Golden Dawn, wherein they ask to waive the immunity of all members of Parliament of this Nazi organisation, (http://bit.ly/1qHn5Ex).