ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Parties in Greece’s coalition government disagreed Monday over proposed anti-racism legislation designed to fight a surge in anti-immigrant violence amid the nation’s severe economic crisis.
Conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his two center-left minority partners failed to strike a deal while meeting about the bill, which is designed to criminalize incitement to commit racial violence and any denying of Nazi crimes committed during World War II.
“There was no political agreement,” said Evangelos Venizelos, head of the Socialist Pasok party. He said that if the government fails to back the law, Pasok will try to pass separate draft legislation of its own with the support of opposition parties.
The bill has already been submitted to parliament by left-wing Justice Minister Antonis Roupakiotis for a first reading.
The squabble is unlikely to cause a severe rift in the 11-month-old coalition government, but it is another indication of underlying tensions among the former bitter foes. The three parties only agreed to cooperate in order to pass reforms demanded by Greece’s international creditors, without which the debt-crippled country would have faced a disastrous default and an exit from the 17-nation eurozone.
The three parties only agreed to cooperate in order to pass reforms demanded by Greece’s international creditors
Hours before Monday’s meeting, deputy Interior Minister Haralambos Athanasiou said the government’s commitment to combat racism didn’t require new legislation, but amendments to existing laws.
A parliamentary committee that examines draft legislation described provisions in the bill as “vague” and at odds with Greece’s Constitution.
International human rights groups have expressed strong support for the proposed reforms, alarmed at a surge in racially-motivated attacks against immigrants and rise of the far-right Golden Dawn party, which won 18 seats in the 300-member parliament in a general election last year.
Speaking to reporters after the party leaders’ talks, Venizelos obliquely referred to Golden Dawn to press the case for adopting the bill.
“We have an international obligation … to have all-encompassing legislation against pro-Nazi and violent racist behavior,” he said. “Because Greece has a political grouping that is unabashedly Nazi and organizes acts that essentially breach the rule of law.”
‘We have an international obligation … to have all-encompassing legislation against pro-Nazi and violent racist behavior’
A newly created Racist Violence Recording Network, supported by 30 aid and human rights groups, reported 87 serious incidents of racist violence in Greece in the first nine months of last year, including a bomb attack on refugee homes near central Athens and dozens of street attacks that led to serious injury.
Golden Dawn, which rejects the neo-Nazi label, says it has played no part in the racist attacks — although its supporters have been arrested in several instances.
“Protecting freedom of speech and association is essential, but this should never be an excuse for inaction against racist and xenophobic crimes,” Judith Sunderland, a senior Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch, told The Associated Press. “Steps to strengthen Greece’s criminal justice response to hate crimes, as well as hate speech that incites imminent violence, are urgently needed.”
“These measures should not be held hostage to political infighting.”
Golden Dawn staged a weekend rally near Athens to protest the draft law. Party leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos said the legislation is part of an effort to outlaw Golden Dawn.
He told supporters: “They want to stop Greeks expressing themselves … They are planning a law, the anti-racism law. Let them do it. We can exist outside the law. I tell them this directly and publicly.”
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press