Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his conservative New Democracy party dropped their opposition to a new anti-racism bill that outlaws Holocaust denial.
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The about-face on Thursday apparently was in response to widespread condemnation over the party’s stance from the European Union, as well as Greek and international Jewish groups that had urged Athens to take stronger steps against the ultranationalist, neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party.
New Democracy had refused to back the bill sponsored by two smaller parties in the ruling coalition, saying that existing legislation was sufficient to deal with racist attacks that have been spawned by Golden Dawn.
The proposal would add stricter jail time and fines for inciting and carrying out racist attacks and, for the first time, makes “approving or belittling the seriousness of Nazi crimes, the Jewish Holocaust, and other genocides” a crime under Greek law.
Politicians or political parties with members convicted under the law would not be eligible for state funding, according to the bill. However, state bodies and the Greek Orthodox Church would be exempt.
The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece has called on “all democratic forces in the country to overcome their differences and pass legislation that will display zero tolerance to racist violence, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.”
New Democracy tabled its own version of the bill, which attempts to strengthen existing laws. The party says its bill “unites democratic society and does not contain constitutional problems.”
Golden Dawn emerged on the political scene last year, winning 7 percent of the vote, or 18 seats, in the 300-member Greek Parliament. Recent polls have indicated the party, which runs on a fierce anti-immigrant platform, now has about 10 percent of the Greek population’s support.
Given that the legislation does not provide parliamentary immunity, members of Golden Dawn could be imprisoned or otherwise punished if found in violation of the new law.