This September the Greek Parliament voted the anti-racism bill that caused so many discussions and debates during the last year and a half.
After continuous postponements and conflicts among the government coalition and between the government and external agents, like the Orthodox Church, the anti-racism bill is now part of the Greek legal system, including the issue of the genocides of the Christian populations of Asia Minor as well as the issue of sexual orientation.
There are too many aspects to discuss on an issue like racism and its confrontation, but I will limit myself on two of them. First of all, how we reached this anti-racism bill? The main key-words here are: External pressure and compromise.
It is evident to me that the conservative party of New Democracy didn’t want to proceed with the anti-racism bill and this was clear from the very beginning when the then coalition partner, Democratic Left, and the Socialists (PASOK) were asking for it.
We should remember that at that time New Democracy was arguing that the existing legal framework was sufficient enough and a new bill was completely unnecessary. What changed, then? I suppose pressure from external agents (European governments, the E.U., Jewish organizations, etc.).
However, after this turn in New Democracy’s stance the question was what should be included in this bill in order to avoid disagreements and rejection. Here the second key-word is compromise. The government’s main purpose was to confront Golden Dawn through the sanctions for those not recognizing the Holocaust or approving ideologies, like Nationalism-Socialism.
Nevertheless, after serious reactions from the government’s own MPs and the Orthodox Church it was decided to include the genocides of the Christian populations of Asia Minor that are recognized by the Greek Parliament and international organizations.
The second question, after the bill has passed through the parliamentary procedure, is what the government expects from it. Since today almost all the MPs of Golden Dawn are imprisoned waiting for their trial by the end of this year. As a consequence, what is the purpose of this bill, having in mind that it targeted Golden Dawn from the very beginning?
In my view the Greek government’s goal is to stop or actually threaten Golden Dawn’s members, but also the party’s supporters and voters, reminding them that they could be persecuted for expressing racist ideas.
In that sense, another key-issue here is if a bill is able to confront an ideology meaning that if someone forbids racism, does that mean that it will be eliminated from society?
Regarding the confrontation of Golden Dawn members and supporters I would contend that this bill could either achieve nothing or even worse lead to the heroization of Golden Dawn, as it has already started after the imprisonment of the party’s MPs.
If someone reads the party’s announcements in their various websites this heroization is currently underway, arguing that from now on freedom of expression is legally forbidden and attacking the Parliamentarian system for this anti-democratic bill. In that view, I can’t understand what will be the benefit after the implementation of this bill.
However, in my view the most crucial question is of a more general character: Do you eliminate an ideology through legal banning?
History provides us with many examples of dictatorial regimes that banned freedom of thought, freedom of expression and whole ideologies. Did they manage to eliminate them? Maybe for a short period, but at the end they lost the battle and some of these ideologies came back stronger than before.
From a sociological point of view, ideas and ideologies are produced and cultivated in the micro-level and this means that it is not easy to “decide” that they do not exist. If people believe something or follow an ideology no bill will force them stop believing or following that ideology.
Probably will minimize their influence, but for sure it will empower most of them, since they will feel that they are right and their persecutors are wrong.
Arguing the above, I am not implying that we should agree with those rejecting the Holocaust or the history revisionists and avoid criticizing them. What I suppose is that legal banning is not such an effective solution.
It seems that other solutions should be implemented if we truly want to confront racist ideas that are currently rising within the Greek society. Maybe educational projects and cultural initiatives could help into that direction, even though this could be a time-consuming procedure.
It is important to understand that racism is still out there, in society, in people’s minds and everyday practices explicitly or implicitly and a bill is not going to erase them, especially coming from above.
It is also evident that for many people these racist ideas, especially concerning Jews and Muslims or immigrants in general, have been cultivated for a long time and should be addressed otherwise. In sociology there are two fundamental values in order to study societies: Understanding and explanation.
If we lose the ability understand and explain the facts we face, no bill or political decision will lead to the desirable outcome.
(Alexandros Sakellariou is a sociologist and researcher at the Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences of Athens