COMMENT

The battle against progress

By Angelos Stangos

The rabid reactions to the anti-racism bill are neither random nor unheard-of. They are in the same vein as reactions against the construction of a mosque in Athens and common-law marriage, and before that against the removal of religion from identity cards and long before that to women’s right to vote.

These are but some examples. There are probably other virulent reactions to other issues that I’ve forgotten just now. Yet the reactions always come from the same place, from people attempting to link conservatism to the far right and fascism, usually led by certain priests or the clergy in general – of the same Church that is supposed to preach tolerance and love, and rejection of hatred and all of its manifestations.

These reactions are basically against fundamental human rights and have nothing to do with political opinions held within the democratic framework. You don’t need to claim to be a democrat or a leftist to reject anti-Semitism and violence toward homosexuals, to accept the right of people of different religions to have a place of worship, to recognize religion as confidential personal information and to champion everyone’s right to vote. And neither should “conservative” citizens be by default associated with the opposite.

As far as common-law marriage in particular is concerned – and it has prompted reactions in other parts of the world as well – it is simply an issue of social order as it is intended to simplify inheritances and wills, among other such matters.

Most of the issues that evoke such a rabid reaction in Greece are business as usual in other parts of the West, to which Greeks want to belong so much. In the United States, for example, where politics leans further to the right than in Europe and where references to God and religion have become a standard part of the political rhetoric – as so many presidential addresses attest – the issues raised above are part of normal everyday life and do not even make it onto the public debate agenda.

Here in Greece, the anti-racism bill was opposed by 38 New Democracy deputies, among others. They argued that the bill should also prohibit the rejection of the genocide of Christians in Asia Minor between 1908 and 1922. We can only guess as to their real motives given that Parliament voted in 1994 to recognize the genocide of the Black Sea Greeks and to set a date of commemoration. That said, it is hard to believe that they were not in some part influenced by the stance of far-right or clerical elements.

What the reaction against this bill has revealed is that there continue to exist strong pockets that are desperately fighting to keep the country from moving forward by using obscure arguments to appeal to the general public.

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