A political row over how to tackle a rise in racist attacks intensified on Thursday after the two junior partners in the coalition, PASOK and Democratic Left (DIMAR), submitted to Parliament an anti-racism bill that conservative New Democracy had rejected, while ND presented its own proposal.
Confusing matters, another two bills are to be brought to the House – by the main leftist opposition SYRIZA on Monday and by the right-wing Independent Greeks in the coming days.
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 on Thursday, describing them as “improvements” to the existing legal framework rather than a new bill to compete with that of PASOK and DIMAR.
The latter is based on the original bill 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. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras emphasized this on Thursday 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.