Athena Tacet | Print Coordinator
Human Rights in Greece: 2012 Review
The word “Europe” takes its roots back to the Ancient Greece. Yet, fewer and fewer are the Greeks who still feel today a strong attachment to the continent they once gave birth to.
For almost three years now, the country’s debt crisis has been at the forefront of the news worldwide. As Greece’s economic stability has slowly been losing balance, so too has the core of its democratic foundations in light of the recent increasing human rights violations.
1) Political Rights
Greece’s political rights rating declined from 1 to 2 since 2010, Freedom House reports. In early 2010, the Greek government initiated a number of austerity measures to cut the budget deficit, including a hike of the value-added tax from 19 to 23 percent. That same year, the Greek debt was reported to be as high as 145 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Another austerity package was passed in 2011, which led to massive protests across the country, as well as the resignation of Prime Minister Georgios A. Papandreou and the appointment of Lucas Papademos, former head of the Bank of Greece and unelected technocrat.
2) Undocumented Immigrants and Asylum Seekers
Due to Greece’s geostrategic position as one of the “gates” to the European Union, no wonder many asylum-seekers have seen the country as a haven for a better life. Thus, more than 100,000 undocumented immigrants were reported to have entered Greece, Freedom House reveals. One year earlier, an increase in the flow of Afghani immigrants from Turkey into Greece led to the deployment for the first time of European Union Rapid Border Intervention Teams to guard Greece’s border.
According to the article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every refugee has the right to apply for asylum. Under this article, Greece is obliged to abide by the principle of non-refoulement which states that no one should be reported to a country where they face the risk of persecution. However, investigations show that not only has Greece failed to respect international laws, but the country may actually not be worthy the Nobel Peace Prize winning European Union, as Amnesty International’s latest report on mistreatments towards refugees reveals. In some cases, refugees are immediately rejected at the border, as it has been the case for many Syrians who fled the war and tried to enter Greece through Turkey.
For those who manage to stay in Greece, their application for legal registration at the Attika Aliens Police Directorate in Athens may take months. More generally, Amnesty International notes that the cases of xenophobic violence perpetrated against migrants and asylum-seekers have dramatically increased throughout 2012. In most cases, police do not react and attackers are not arrested.
3) Freedom of Expression and Politics
The Lagarde List
Last November 2012, Greek police arrested Kostas Vaxevanis, editor of weekly magazine Hot Doc., for publishing a list of more than 2,000 names of well-off Greeks suspected to have placed money in Swiss bank accounts. The so-called Lagarde List was given to Greece by French authorities in 2010 with names to be investigated for eventual tax evasion, an increasingly heated topic of controversy in Europe. In light of the incident, the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) members have denounced the Greek authorities’ attempts to increase control over the media and prevent the latter from criticizing the governments. More generally, the network called on European Union to defend freedom of expression in Greece.
The same month last year, another case raised controversy over the state of freedom of expression in the country. The Athens public prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into whether the performance of American playwright Terrence McNally’s play Corpus Christi violated Greece’s 1951 blasphemy law, a move which was highly condemned by Human Rights Watch. The organization suggested the abolishment of the law, according to which “One who publicly and maliciously and by any means blasphemes God shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than two years.” (art. 198, Greek Penal Code). The play depicting Jesus Christ and his apostles as gay received complaints from several people including far-right Golden Dawn Party and Greek Orthodox Bishop Seraphim of Piraeus. The Orthodox Religion remains at the core of the Greek identity. It is prominent in church-state relations as the Constitution continues to grant the Greek Orthodox Church financial and legal privileges.
According to Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index which ranks Greece 94 out of 173 countries surveyed, the country has the worst ranking of any European Union members. The index doesn’t measure corruption itself but rather the extent to which people believe that corruption exists. Therefore, according to the results, Greeks’ trust in their government’s political transparency has dramatically decreased.
Overall, the economic crisis has changed the face of Greece and Greeks’ relationship with the state. Unfortunately, the Athens they love is not the one which is wronging them now, the one that saw the birth of democracy, the one that they feel so nostalgic about.