Thursday, October 16, 2014

Greek anti-racist bill: say the right things, or else...

Last week, the coalition government in Greece finally managed, after lengthy debates and bargains, to reach an agreement on a new bill aimed at tackling ‘forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia, through the use of criminal law’.

The development of the so-called anti-racism bill is easy to trace. It first evolved from a ‘framework decision’ made by the European Council in 2008, which called on member states of the European Union to adopt stricter measures against offences committed with racist motives. The adoption of such legislation was embraced by the Greek coalition government’s centre-left allies, Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) and Democratic Left (which was later to leave the coalition), as an opportunity to score some points against the right-wing leaders of the coalition, New Democracy. Finally, the bill can also be seen as a reaction to the calls for something to be done about the increasing levels of violence and hate directed at immigrants and sexual minorities in Greece that has accompanied the rise of neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn. However, despite some good intentions, the ‘anti-racism’ bill should be seen for what it is: a serious assault on freedom of speech that sets a dangerous precedent for criminalising ideas rather than actions.

The bill contains two particularly problematic provisions. Firstly, it criminalises the ‘incitement of violence or hatred’ against individuals or groups of people based on their sex, race, religion and sexual orientation. Following the illiberal example of the UK and, more recently, Australia, this amounts to the criminalisation of hate speech. As the experience of anti-hate speech legislation has shown in the UK and Australia, prosecutions for ‘incitement of violence or hatred’ rarely have anything to do with actual incitement (which, in Greece, is already covered by existing legislation). In the cases that have been prosecuted in the UK and elsewhere, the link between the expression of an idea and actual violence is either missing or quite vaguely defined. As a result, these laws end up clamping down on unpopular ideas, not violent actions.

The second, even more problematic, provision in the bill criminalises ridiculing or ‘maliciously’ denying the Holocaust and the genocides committed by the late Ottoman Empire against Pontic Greeks and Armenians. Advocates of the bill claim that this provision won’t hinder historical and scientific research, as the denial will be prosecuted only when it is ‘malicious’. It is interesting to note that many conservative Greek MPs agreed to vote for the bill only when the offence of denying the genocide of the Greek population at the hands of the Ottomans was added. This shows how unprincipled the bill is; for the sake of serving petty, short-term political concerns, Greece becomes yet another country where ‘crimes of opinion’ are penalised.



Bird of Paradise said...

Beware of Greeks Geeks bearing gifts

Anonymous said...

More suppression of freedom of speech.

Go Away Bird said...

Like the university scum sucking adminastrators who wont let the students hand out copies of the U.S. Constitution Frankly i would like to see these adminastraors involved in a big lawsuit against them for violating FREE SPEECH AND HAVE THEM EATING CROW