'Ban of far right Greek party may not be helpful'

Deputy Greek Minister of Justice tells 'Post' examples of such bans in other countries has had the opposite effect.

May 29, 2013 23:27
3 minute read.
Golden Dawn supporters in Athens [file photo]

Golden Dawn supporters in Athens 370 (R). (photo credit: Yorgos Karahalis / Reuters)

Banning the far-right Golden Dawn Party could potentially be counterproductive, Greek Deputy Minister of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights Konstantinos Karagounis told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

Interviewed in Jerusalem before his speech at the opening of the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, Karagounis said that he has “doubts” about the World Jewish Congress’s recent call for a ban on neo-Nazi parties.

While Greece must face the rising fortunes of Golden Dawn in a “determined way,” he said, there are examples of such bans in other countries which “generated the exact opposite result.”

Golden Dawn holds 18 out of 300 seats in the Greek parliament.

The party has employed uniformed bands to intimidate migrants, and party leaders have praised Adolf Hitler and national socialism.

Asked about the rise of such sentiments in his country, Karagounis, who represents the New Democracy party, replied that the “significant rise of this ultra-rightist party for the last two years” can be attributed to several factors, not least of which are the economic crisis and anger over illegal immigration.

Despite the legitimization of anti-Semitism and the spread of xenophobia in the public discourse in Greece, Karagounis said that such problems can be mitigated “by solving the socioeconomic challenges that Greece is facing right now.”

“These racist incidents and voices are mainly due to the increase of the migration towards Greece,” he said, lamenting that there are “some political powers” who are using populism to take “advantage of this discontent.” Karagounis mentioned that there are “some expressions of anti- Semitism on behalf of Golden Dawn” and that the Greek government is exploring its options to “face these anti- Semitic voices with the criminalization of Holocaust denial.”

A bill aimed squarely at the Golden Dawn Party, which would have banned public funding to parties whose leaders engage in Holocaust denial, use the Nazi salute or engage in racially motivated violence, was scuttled earlier this week in a meeting of the heads of the partners in the ruling coalition.

The bill, which was drafted by the Justice Minister Antonis Roupakiotis of the Democratic Left party, was opposed by Karagounis’s New Democracy faction, which expressed the opinion that existing laws were sufficient to stem the tide of extremism.

The bill would have imposed jail sentences of up to six years for incitement.

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder expressed his disappointment in the coalition, saying it is “very worrying that the mainstream parties in Athens are apparently unable to find a compromise on this important matter.”

The leader of the Democratic Left, Fotis Kouvelis, also expressed regret over the failure of the government to pass the measure, telling the Athens- Macedonian News Agency that an “anti-racism regulation is a must, and no political tug of war is acceptable on such an issue.”

Asked about the failure to pass the bill, Karagounis told the Post that the “racist bill has nothing to do with anti-Semitism.”

Anti-Semitism, he explained, is “something else,” a “special category of racism” that “takes special ways to be faced.”

When asked about a call to kill bankers by Golden Dawn MP Ilias Panagiotaros, who said that Greeks should “kill those who are responsible for their problems,” the deputy justice minister replied that “existing legislation provides for these cases.” Despite referring to a 2012 law that he said ensures that “punishment will be harsher if violent incidents are motivated by racism,” Karagounis did not say if the government is considering legal action against Panagiotaros.

Karagounis cited the participation of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras in commemoration ceremonies for the deportation of Greek Jews to Auschwitz and efforts to educate students about racism, saying that there is a “constant effort to promote tolerance and to teach the new generation.”

“The vast majority of Greek people condemn” the rise of the far Right, he said.

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