RAXEN - Human rights issues and debates during the 2009 EU Parliament election campaignGREECE - country report
April 16, 2009 - Pavlou M.
TagsPublic discourse and media, Hate speech, Xenophobia & intolerance, Extreme far-right
. In Greece the issues of racism, xenophobia, related acts of intolerance and other relevant human rights issues had never been in the focus of the debates during election campaigns. Despite the volume of migration inflows in Greece, the issue has never even been raised by the political leaders during the debates of the past national elections (1993, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2007). The only exception was the 2007 leaders’ debate, when only the far-right political party leader introduced the issue of migration with xenophobic terms.
. This changed with the 2009 EU election. In a spectacular shift of public discussion, the issue of irregular migration gained major attention by national and local media during the election campaign. Nonetheless, the public debate did not focus on human rights issues of migrants and refugees. Instead, it developed around negative stance towards migrants and intolerance of their presence in Greece.
. The main actors contributing to this shift were the media representatives and the far-right political party of LA.O.S. In some cases media publications in major quality newspapers (especially Kathimerini and To Vima) or freesheets were blatantly intolerant and xenophobic using traditional wording of racist inspiration. It is significant that the free tabloid ‘City Press’ published very often numerous articles on the degradation of the city of Athens and on migration debate in general, devoting regularly publication space despite the very small number of its pages containing news and actuality. These actors managed to turn the media attention to migration while fomenting related intolerance. As some put it the far-right wing political party achieved an ‘ideological-political hegemony’ over the election debate as made clear from the post-election period and developments. LAOS gained high percentages in the elections 2009 and there is widespread public acceptance of its xenophobic arguments and rhetoric. A far-right extra parliamentary political group, Chryssi Avgi (‘Golden Dawn’) doubled its popular vote at the euro-elections. As such, public debates of intolerance and xenophobia had a significant impact on the outcome of the election, by benefiting the far-right political party which promoted such discourse.
. The issues brought forward mostly by LAOS and media, had a major impact on the outcome of the election. This however became clear just after the election since the post-election period was marked by the continuous predominance of xenophobic debates on migrants and ghettos in the media and the central political and public sphere. In a very short period of time, the government undertook a number of strict and controversial legislative initiatives and administrative measures regarding, or allegedly violating human rights of migrants and refugees, under the pressure of the LAOS electoral success due to its blatantly xenophobic and anti-migrant discourse. LAOS achieved high percentages in the downgraded areas of Athens, where the so-called migrant ghettos were created (Aghios Panteleimonas Aharnon).
. Similarly, the political parties (mostly the left coalition SYRIZA) which most supported migrants during the pre-election period suffered from decreasing percentages and electoral power.
. The starting point of all relevant public debates which became more or less central during the election campaign was the increased inflow of undocumented migrants mostly from Middle-East countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan). In 2008, the number of incoming migrants through the sea borders of Greece amounted to 146.000 persons.Opinion polls and surveys implemented during this period have shown that Greek citizens are afraid of crime, and in their overwhelming majority they attribute the alleged rise of criminality to the increased presence of migrants in Greece. This is consistent with the findings of this report, which show the contemporary creation of a media-driven ‘crime-wave’ at the expenses of migrants. Additionally, for the first time, a serious Islamophobic incident has been recorded in Greece. The tearing apart of the Koran by a police officer during a control after stopping a Muslim migrant was followed by Muslims’ protests in Athens and by public discourse about cultural conflict and incompatibility of Islam and Muslim migrants with the Greek culture. The related intolerance and xenophobia fed into the discussion about the presumably overburdening high numbers of Muslim migrants, and provided an additional argument in favour of the reactions and of the presumed consequent need to remove them violently from the Athens areas they reside in.
. Finally, it is noteworthy that the political context of spring 2009 which introduced the pre-election period was marked by heavy economic and political crisis, low popularity of the government and negative polls against its general policies. In the same period, a legislative proposal for a citizenship code presented by the Hellenic League for Human Rights was introducing jus soli for children of migrants born in Greece, and received a rather positive welcome by political and social actors and stakeholders. A citizenship legislation reform would transform a significant number of migrants to full rights’ citizens and voters, bringing a major change in the Greek political arena.
. In the post-election period instead the main political debate remained focused on the issue of migration dealt as a major ‘problem’ and on the presumed need to expel large numbers of irregular migrants. The operations of police arrests and mass evacuation of migrants from the centre of Athens are considered in the public debates as measures to improve the image of the capital and of the islands, and therefore to support the suffering tourism industry. July 2009 found the legislative framework of Greece amended in more strict terms concerning asylum and migration. Controversial new provisions abolish second instance examination of asylum applications, while they allow 18 month administrative detention and expulsion of migrants if penal action is started against them, even for petty misdemeanours. No initiative is undertaken or announced regarding citizenship code reform.
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