GREEK HELSINKI MONITOR (GHM)
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Racist discourse in Greece’s mainstream politics and media
Co-manager of Greek Helsinki Monitor’s «Racist Crimes Watch» project
22 October 2018
In 2015-2016, three intergovernmental expert bodies dealing inter alia with racism, recommended to Greece:
In its 2015 report on Greece, the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) stated that its “delegation was informed by various interlocutors that the widespread problem of hate speech had increased substantially since 2009, in particular in the context of the rise of Golden Dawn. These views were confirmed by a review of media, internet blogs and political discourse. Hate speech is mainly directed against migrants, Muslims and Roma, but also against Jews and LGBT persons…
Antisemitic stereotypes are not limited to far-right political parties, but have permeated large parts of society as well as some parts of the Greek Orthodox Church.”
ECRI insisted on two Minister of Public Order Nikos Dendias racist statements. First, in August 2012, he “stated that because of irregular migration “…the country perishes. Ever since the Dorians’ invasion 4,000 years ago, never before has the country been subjected to an invasion of these dimensions…this is a bomb on the foundations of the society and the state”… The term “bomb” was also used publicly in July 2012 by the same minister when referring to the centre of Athens, where many irregular migrants and asylum seekers often rent and live in overcrowded apartments characterised by substandard living conditions, often deprived of access to public social welfare services. It is noteworthy that two days later Golden Dawn referred to the minister’s statement as a “vindication of (its own) positions”. ECRI added that “There are other examples of dangerous comments, including that made in January 2014 by Sofia Voultepsi, member of Parliament for conservative/centre-right Nea Dimokratia. During a live television broadcast she called refugees “unarmed invaders, weapons in the hands of the Turks”. As a matter of fact, she was referring to the Farmakonisi shipwreck, which had resulted in the drowning of nine children and three women during a controversial Greek Coastguard operation to intercept irregular migrants.”
Moreover, ECRI added that “Roma are not only victims of day-to-day insults by members of the general public, but also subject to negative stereotyping in political discourse. In October 2013, during a police raid on the Roma settlement in Farsala, a blond girl was taken from the couple who had raised her, because of the perceived lack of physical resemblance with them. Police suspected that the girl had been abducted – which turned out to be untrue – and the Minister of Public Order and Citizen Protection [Nikos Dendias], addressing police officers on this case, congratulated them for “dissolving ghettos of lawlessness where abduction of children occurred”.
ECRI also mentioned that it “has been informed by LGBT groups that homo- and transphobic hate speech, verbal harassment and inappropriate comments are common amongst the general public, resulting in LGBT persons feeling constantly discriminated against and excluded in day-to-day life” and cited statements by Golden Dawn members but also Bishops.
Finally, ECRI reported that “The anti-terrorism discourse in the media also often targets immigrants and refugees, as well as the Muslim community in general. Islamophobia has dramatically increased since the far-right press began to link Islam to terrorism.”
ECRI’s conclusion was that “The … acceptance of hate speech creates a general climate in Greek society that facilitates the increasing willingness to commit or tolerate acts of violence against [vulnerable] groups. Such statements encourage further popular hate speech…Hate speech is widespread in the media and on the Internet; it goes largely unchecked and unpunished.” ECRI recommended that Law 927/1979 is always applied to cases of hate speech in the media.
In its 2015 report on Greece, the UN Human Rights Committee (HRCttee) provided a condensed yet succinct reference to this issue, calling too for the prosecution of the perpetrators of hate speech and of other hate crimes:
Racism and xenophobia
- While acknowledging efforts made by the State party to combat hate crimes, the Committee is concerned that the new Law 4285/2014 and the provisions introduced in the Penal Code may hinder investigations and prosecutions of racist hate crimes involving public insults and defamation against groups. The Committee is also concerned about continued reports of racist attacks and hate speech against migrants, refugees and Roma. The Committee notes with concern that cases of racism are underreported allegedly due to lack of trust in the authorities and the absence of an effective complaints mechanism. The Committee regrets that sanctions imposed are insufficient to discourage and prevent discrimination.
- The State party should review its legislation with a view to ensuring that all advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred is prohibited by law, and that all cases of racially motivated violence are systematically investigated, that the perpetrators are prosecuted and punished, and that appropriate compensation is awarded to the victims. The State party should take effective measures to improve the reporting of hate crimes. Furthermore, the State party should strengthen its efforts to eradicate stereotypes and discrimination against migrants, refugees and Roma, inter alia, by conducting public awareness campaigns to promote tolerance and respect for diversity.
In its 2016 report on Greece, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) gave an extensive review of the existing anti-racism legislation, arguing that its 2014 amendment that removed the old criminalization of hate speech provision makes it incompatible with the UN Anti-Racism Convention. It also called for the prosecution of all perpetrators of hate speech, including politicians and media:
Anti-racism legal framework
- While noting with appreciation the positive aspects incorporated in the new anti-racism law No. 4285/2014, the Committee remains concerned that the new law is not fully compliant with the requirements of article 4 of the Convention, particularly as it does not criminalise the dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority and does not provide for a procedure to declare illegal, and prohibit, racist organizations. The Committee is also concerned at the persistence of the Golden Dawn political party in the State party, to which the delegation referred in its opening statement as the most prominent racist organization, inspired directly by neo-Nazi ideas (art. 4).
- Recalling its general recommendations No. 7 (1985) and No. 15 (1993) relating to the implementation of article 4 of the Convention, the Committee recommends the State party to bring its anti-racism legal framework in full compliance with the requirements of article 4 of the Convention, and ensure its strict application. The State party should among others, declare illegal, and prohibit, organizations which promote and incite racial discrimination, such as the Golden Dawn political party, as previously recommended by the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, as well as by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.
Racist hate speech and hate crimes
- The Committee is concerned about the increase in hate speech since 2009 coinciding with the rise of the Golden Dawn party, essentially targeting migrants, Roma, Jews and Muslims, including through the media, on the internet and social media platforms. The Committee is also concerned at the increase of racist and xenophobic attacks, particularly against asylum seekers and refugees, which is exacerbated by the economic crisis in the State party. Furthermore, the Committee is concerned at the low reporting rate of such crimes, despite some awareness raising measures taken to that end (arts. 2 and 4).
- The Committee urges the State party to effectively prevent, combat and punish racist hate speech and hate crimes. Recalling its general recommendations No. 35 (2013) on combating racist hate speech, and No. 31 (2005) on the prevention of racial discrimination in the administration and functioning of the criminal justice system, the Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Take appropriate measures to prosecute individuals, including politicians, for the acts prescribed by article 4, and provide information in its next report about police investigations, criminal proceedings, and sentences, including those related to the Golden Dawn political party and its members. The Committee wishes to underline that the fundamental right of freedom of expression should not undermine the principles of dignity, tolerance, equality and non-discrimination as the exercise of the right to freedom of expression carries with it special responsibilities, among which is the obligation not to disseminate ideas on racial superiority or hatred;
(b) Strengthen the training on identifying, registering, preventing and combating hate crimes, hate speech and bias motivation, targeting the judiciary, police, prosecutors, and the labour inspectorate, and improve coordination between these institutions;
(c) Ensure that the media do not stigmatize, stereotype or negatively target non-citizens and ethnic minorities, and to this end, ensure the implementation and reinforcement of the mandate of the National Radio and Television Council which supervises and regulates the media with a view to prohibiting the broadcast of racist, xenophobic or intolerant statements, and that appropriate sanctions are handed down in such events;
(d) Undertake intensive country wide campaigns in collaboration with national human rights institutions and civil society actors aimed at promoting tolerance and denouncing racist attitudes, and sensitize the public on the legal prohibition of racial discrimination and on the available channels to lodge complaints, and facilitate victims’ access to justice including by strengthening legal aid system;
(e) Adopt concrete measures, in consultation with affected groups, to increase reporting of racist hate crimes by ensuring that the reporting mechanism is transparent and accessible, and finding ways for victims to have more trust in the police and the justice system;
(f) Improve data collection system for statistics on complaints of hate crimes, and provide detailed information in its next periodic report on such complaints and their results, including those collected by the Observatory for the Prevention of School Violence and Bullying, as well as disaggregated data on residence permits for humanitarian reasons granted to third-country nationals who are victims or witnesses of racist crimes;
(g) Expedite the adoption of the draft Anti-Racism Action Plan and provide it with resources, measurable indicators, and a time line framework, necessary for its effective implementation.
Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) was particularly pleased with the reports by ECRI, HRCttee and CERD as it was probably the only NGO that raised the issue of extensive unpunished hate speech in Greece, as well as the inappropriate amendment of the anti-racism law that removed the criminalization of hate speech (the old Article 2 of Law 927/79).
Following the first two reports (by ECRI and UN HRCttee), GHM launched in late 2015 the Racist Crimes Watch where racist crimes (profiling, speech, desecrations and vandalisms, discrimination and violence) are recorded and then referred to the Athens Prosecutor for Racist Crimes, who has to date opened some 300 criminal investigations, several of which have been referred to the prosecutors in other cities where the reported alleged crimes had occurred. We will list here some cases that do not involve extreme right media or politicians, nor bishops and other clergy.
New Democracy’s Vice-President Adonis Georgiadis reproduced on 22 March 2016 fake news that in Northern Greece some Muslims had removed the icon of Holy Mary and stopped ringing the bells so as not to upset Muslims calling for no tolerance to them. He never retracted even after the local Bishop and Mayor denied that such things had happened.
Aspropyrgos [Greater Athens] Mayor Nikos Meletiou published on 26 March 2016 one of his regular anti-Roma statements (calling them “gypos”) and bragged that he had stopped services offered to them. He was referred to trial for racist insult –without nay prosecution witnesses!- and was acquitted on 29 June 2018.
Deputy Regional Governor for Chios Island Stamatis Karmantzis, on 13 April 2016 said that “the only good Turk is the dead Turk.”
Grevena [Northern Greece] City Council decided on 23 May 2016 to refuse the creation of a reception facility for refugees.
Minister of Education Professor Theodosis Pelegrinis alleged in Parliament on 16 June 2016 what is known to be fake news, that is that Roma parents remove their children from schools once they receive the allowance for attendance, whereas it is known that the allowance is given at the end of the school year and only if there is satisfactory attendance.
Rhodes Island Mayor Foris Hadjidiakos on 22 July 2016 said that Roma have become the “curse of the island.”
Oraiokastro Mayor Asterios Gavotsis on 2 September 2016 refused access of refugee children to public schools. He was subsequently convicted to a suspended eight-month sentence on 26 March 2018. A second trial against him, a deputy Mayor and a Parents Association leader is scheduled for 10 January 2019.
Minister of Education Professor Theodosis Pelegrinis said in Parliament on 15 September 2016 that “with patience and perseverance, Jews secured the appropriation of the Holocaust so that they can claim their vindication” that was denounced as anti-Semitic by the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece.
Journalist Dimos Verykios on Alpha TV said on 12 January 2017 that “the Jewish lobby is powerful, very powerful in America and not only! Everywhere behind the great deals you will find a Jew as well! Or a Free Mason!” that was also denounced as anti-Semitic by the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece. The first Prosecutor for Racist Crimes found it admissible and opened a court file, but her successor ruled that this was the journalist’s opinion and it was factually correct; hence she archived the complaint.
During Easter 2017, GHM recorded and submitted to the Prosecutor for Racist Crimes 69 cases around Greece where one of the worse anti-Semitic traditions, condemned both by the official Church of Greece and the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, the “burning of Judas” usually in front of churches and with the participation of local authorities, was celebrated. A year earlier, the official state Athens News Agency and the official state National Tourist Organization had promoted the “burning of Judas” as a positive tradition.
We will conclude with the most meaningful mainstreaming of Islamophobia. In the European Islamophobia Report (2015) it is written:
After the November attack in Paris a well-known author [Soti Triantafyllou] who has spoken against Islam and the multicultural model before, wrote a brief article in the newspaper Athens Voice attacking Islam. In this article she argued that Islam is not a religion like every other, that its nature is warlike and envious and that it is a political programme and an ideology of barbarisation. Furthermore, she argued that moderate Muslims are very rare if any and she added that she agrees with a saying of Marco Polo, that a fanatic Muslim is the one who cuts your head, while a moderate one holds your head for it to be cut. In her view, Islam is monolithic and has remained the same since the Middle Ages and the West should react against this threat. She expressed similar views in her interview in a mainstream newspaper, Kathimerini, about two weeks later, supporting the argument that violence is an endogenous problem of Islam and that it is Muslims’ fault that they were unable to be incorporated in Western societies.
Another well-known columnist in the same newspaper, Kathimerini, Takis Theodoropoulos, argued that despite the fact that Islam should not be completely identified with terrorism it is clear that it is closely related with terrorism, arguing that the answer to the question of why young Muslims are becoming violent is not an issue of inequalities but of the religion of Islam and of the imams and their preaching. He additionally argued that not all cultures and civilisations are able to evolve and surpass these fundamentalist trends that exist in every religion, implying that Islam belongs to this category. He wondered where these peaceful Muslims everyone mentions are and why they are not reacting.
In the European Islamophobia Report (2017) it is written:
With regard to the justice system there were no particular events or developments that could be considered as Islamophobic. What could be mentioned, though, is that during 2017 the trial of a well-known author [Soti Triantafyllou] who wrote an Islamophobic text after the attacks of November 2015 in Paris16 was to take place on July 21, but it was postponed for 2018. She is going to be on trial for violating the anti-racist law (n.4285/2014) and certain articles of the penal code and more particularly for pubic incitement of violence and hatred. It should be noted that the author was supported by other authors and journalists arguing either that her prosecution was in violation of her right of freedom of speech or that she said nothing wrong because Islam is indeed a problem and is not a moderate religion…
Similar articles, however, were published in moderate right-wing newspapers like Kathimerini where one can find articles by Takis Theodoropoulos who in the last years regularly writes about the so-called clash of civilizations, the violent character of Islam or the invention of Islamophobia.23 What needs to be underlined is that in most of these cases and despite the validity or the novelty of the information a kind of moral panic is constructed through attractive headlines and photos on front pages trying to disseminate a fear about Islam and Muslims…
In this section two additional players in the field are mentioned. The first is a neo-liberal former minister of the conservative party Nea Dimocratia, Andreas Andrianopoulos, who teaches at the American College of Greece (Deree) and is the director of the Institute of Diplomacy and International Developments at the same college. Through speeches, articles, books, his website and mainly his Twitter account, he continuously (re-)produces Islamophobic messages talking about “Islamic beasts” after terrorist attacks, about the threat of the thousands of immigrants coming to Greece, and, on the whole, implying that there is a cultural chasm between Islam and the West and that those who are friendly and open to Muslims will pay the price in the future.
Soti Triantafyllou was acquitted on 2 May 2018 with the prosecutor who recommended the acquittal arguing that “these views expressed by the defendant express the views that were in everyone’s mind after the attack on Bataclan. If you were listening to me and my friends during these days, we were saying exactly that.” There were no witnesses for the prosecution, but only two very well-known (supposedly anti-racism) activists as defense witnesses who, as was reported in the media and never denied, testified that the defendant’s text was not Islamophobic but “a cry in the name of anti-racist violence.”
Soti Triantafyllou was thus acquitted because her racist Islamophobic views are mainstream and shared by the majority of people, politicians, journalists and, most importantly, prosecutors and judges.
Aspropyrgos Mayor Nikos Meletiou was acquitted a few months later because his racist anti-Roma views are mainstream and shared by the majority of people, politicians, journalists and, most importantly, prosecutors and judges.
Journalist Dimos Verykios was not even referred to trial earlier that year because his racist anti-Semitic views are mainstream and shared by the majority of people, politicians, journalists and, most importantly, prosecutors and judges.
Notorious neo-Nazi author and politician Kostas Plevris had been acquitted by a majority of Supreme Court judges on 15 April 2010 of charges of anti-Semitism because the majority held that he is a scholar and historian [sic] who did not offend with his book “Jews: the Whole Truth” the Jews but merely the “Jews-Zionists” who are not an ethnic group protected by the anti-racism law. Once again, Plevris’ racist anti-Semitic views were mainstream and shared by the majority of people, politicians, journalists and, most importantly, prosecutors and judges all the way to the Supreme Court.