Bringing back the guillotine

“That’s how they treat them in prison – this is what the Bulgarian will go through before he even walks through the door.” I normally stay away from trashy news sites, and I really did try to avoid the gory details about the murder of 4-year-old Ani Borisova.

But in vain. As I checked my inbox, the news of the day featured a report on worldwide prison codes regarding those who have committed filicide. A day earlier, Alternate Citizens’ Protection Minister Yiannis Panousis had said the same thing – that the 27-year-old man accused of murdering, mutilating and cooking his daughter would likely die soon – albeit using more scientific language, as it were. In other words, the minister predicted that inmates would exact their own form of justice, thereby doing away with the rule of law that he is meant to uphold.

There’s something shocking in all this rhetoric: It is the debate – whether officially or not (through accepting the prisons’ code of honor) – on the death penalty. Another news site conducted a survey asking readers, “Should the death penalty apply in extreme cases?” – meaning pedophilia or filicide. About 80 percent of respondents gave a positive answer. The survey, of course, came on the back of a sensationalist backlash from local media which appeared to disregard the presumption of innocence before the Bulgarian man had been put on trial. The suspect’s origin was emphasized again and again, most likely to suggest that a Greek would have never committed such a horrendous act.

Meanwhile on Thursday, the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee discussed the potential effects of an EU member-state’s decision to restore the death penalty following comments by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who said that capital punishment should be “kept on the agenda” in his country. Every time a gruesome crime shocks public opinion in Hungary – most recently the stabbing of a young tobacco shop assistant – Orban makes sure he stirs the debate with an eye on the far-right voters of the neo-Nazi Jobbik, sister party of Greece’s Golden Dawn. Whenever the ruling party is in trouble and the far right is reported to be growing in strength, Hungarian analysts say, Orban plays the capital punishment card. The strategy, however, tends to backfire. By flirting with the far-right agenda, without actually adopting it, the prime minister is basically playing into the hands of Jobbik.

A couple of years ago, Golden Dawn MP Eleni Zaroulia submitted a question in Parliament asking for the return of the death penalty for child molesters. It is clear who benefits from statements that legitimate arbitrary forms of law, opinion polls about bringing back the death penalty for “extreme cases,” or the vulgar coverage of the crime. The outcome will most likely be painfully uncomfortable.

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