This week on the #rbnews international show, we asked lawyer Crystali Bourcha from the Movement for the Liberties and Democratic Rights of our Times (Greek acronym KEDDE) and journalist Mariniki Alevizopoulou from Unfollow Magazine to comment on the items that we included in our news bulletin of the week, which all seem to point towards the failure of democracy in Greece.You can listen to the podcast and read the news bulletin after the jump.The interviews were taken by phone. We apologize for the poor quality of the sound, especially in the case of our interview with Crystali Bourcha. For some unexplainable reason, the recording device was particularly intent to add parasites to her speech.
News bulletin 29 June – 05 July 2013
1. Kostas Sakkas
Kostas Sakkas enters today his 33rd day of hunger strike after two years, seven months and three days of “temporary” detention without trial following his arrest in Athens on 04 December 2010. Sakkas is accused of illegal possession of firearms and participation in the terrorist organization “Conspiracy of the Nuclei of Fire.” The extension of his temporary detention from 18 months to two-and-a-half years and lately to a total of three years has been widely condemned in Greece as abusive and illegal, as his trial has not yet taken place.
Sakkas’s medical examination on his 31st day of hunger strike concludes that, having lost 13kg or more than 15% of his original body weight, he is already beyond the maximum weight loss limit considered to be safe and that he is at risk of irreversible damage to key bodily functions, while continuing his hunger strike “will lead to certain death”.
A petition for Sakkas’s release was launched on Thursday 04 July by the Movement for Liberties and Democratic Rights of Our Times and collected hundreds of signatures in the first 24 hours. Meanwhile, deputy chief prosecutor Ioannis Moraitakis, the same prosecutor whose recommendations led to the latest six-month extension of Sakkas’s imprisonment, proposed to the Council of Magistrates of Appeals that Sakkas’s request for release should be rejected. The Council is expected to issue its decision in the coming days.
A protest took place on Friday evening in front of the Nikaia General Hospital, where Sakkas is currently hospitalized, to demand his release. Another protest is planned on Monday in front of the court of appeals in Athens.
2. ERT shutdown, continued
Greece’s public broadcaster ERT remains officially off the air for the 25th day running after the government’s abrupt decision to shut it down in the evening of Tuesday 11 June. The government has further ignored two rulings by the Council of State, which ordered that broadcasting should resume immediately. Several government officials tried again this week to spin the story after the national and international outcry against the shutdown, arguing for example that the government suspended broadcasts only after ERT employees decided to continue with pirate transmissions, thus seeking to blame the black screens on staff.
ERT staff are continuing their broadcasts through an internet livestream which is then re-transmitted by satellite with the support of the European Broadcasting Union, and ERT channels remain available to most Greeks on analogue frequencies. The government is however still taking occasional measures to seek to shut them down. On 04 July, the outgoing chairman of the Athens Daily Newspaper Editors’ Union denounced the fact that riot policemen together with hired private-sector technicians broke into the ERT transmitter centre in the Gerania hills west of Athens and damaged equipments there to throw the signal off the air, leaving south-east Attica and the northern Peloponnese without broadcasts. ERT staff and opposition MPs who were able to visit the Ymittos transmission centre also denounced damages caused to equipment there by the police.
The matter of the ERT shutdown was discussed this week in the European Parliament, where it drew severe criticism from most political sides, but the representatives of the Lithuanian presidency and the European Commission to the European parliament abstained from commenting, insisting that it was an internal matter for Greece. However, reports about the on-going negotiations between the Greek government and the EU-ECB-IMF troika of lenders seem to belie this assertion and indicate that the resumption of broadcasts is impeded by the fact that troika representatives do not agree to the government re-hiring 2000 ERT staff for an interim public broadcasting agency.
Negotiations between the new deputy minister for the public broadcaster Pantelis Kapsis and ERT staff do not appear to be making any progress, as ERT staff refuse to cooperate as long as broadcasts are suspended. On Thursday evening, the government submitted its proposed bill on a new public broadcasting agency to parliament. Interestingly, the proposed bill is signed by 7 ministers but not by Mr. Kapsis and seems to firm up rather than lessen government control over the public broadcaster, specifying, among other things, that its supervisory committee will be appointed by the cabinet. The bill further proposes that the new agency be funded by the central government with a starting capital of €5 million, as opposed to ERT’s turnover of €240 million. Lastly, the bill does not explain how the government will address the loss of revenue from ERT, which is estimated by employees at €300 million. In a media interview on 02 June, Mr. Kapsis denied the specific amount but acknowledged that the ERT shutdown resulted in an additional financial burden for the State.
3. Racist incidents
The Racist Violence Recording Network, a group of NGOs and human rights agencies established in late 2011 at the initiative of the National Commission for Human Rights and hosted by the UNHCR in Greece, issued a set of recommendations for incoming Minister of Justice Charalambos Athanasiou on 27 June. The two key axes of their recommendations are to provide adequate protection to victims of or witnesses to acts of racist violence and to ensure that racist motives are investigated during criminal proceedings. It is dubious whether Mr. Athanasiou will take such recommendations into consideration at all given past statements on the situation of the legal framework on the issue as well as his rather xenophobic stance towards immigrants.
Several cases of assault by members of Golden Dawn were reported this week, not only against people of colour but also against political opponents. For example, news website left.gr reported that on Friday 28/06, approximately 10 members of Golden Dawn assaulted two known antifascists in Corinth. The attackers were not identified by the police despite the presence of many witnesses on the site.
The issue of impunity of perpetrators of racist attacks, but also of direct involvement of law enforcement officials in such assaults, remains an issue which the new government does not seem willing to tackle. The latest case of racist violence by police identified by the Movement Against Racism and the Fascist Threat has to do with the Athens International Airport detention centre, where immigrants who are due to be deported are being held. The Movement was able to visit the detention block together with leaders from the Pakistani community and reported chilling testimonies from detainees, who say that policemen insult them, demand that they perform oral sex on them, beat them and even use electric devices on their genitals. The government issued no comment on this report.
Lastly, a high-profile case of blatantly racist discourse also failed to elicit a response from the government this week. Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos compared Giannis Antetokounmpo, a Greek-Nigerian basketball player and Milwaukee Bucks no. 15 draft pick, to a chimpanzee, saying: “in the zoo if you give a chimpanzee a banana and a flag he’ll be ‘Greek’ too”. Prime Minister Samaras, who had met earlier in the week with Antetokounmpo and his family to congratulate them, has issued no rebuke to Michaloliakos’s statement, nor has any other government official. The sharpest rebuke came from the Panhellenic Union of Professional Basketball Players: “By insulting Giannis, you are insulting all Greek basketball players. As hard as you try, you will not push sports into the jungle you are seeking to create.”
4. Public health order 39A
One of the first acts of Minister of Health Adonis Georgiadis after he took office last week was to reinstate public health order 39A, which had been abolished by his predecessor, Democratic Left Deputy Minister F. Skopouli, just one month ago.
Order 39A gives public medical services the authority to force-test people for contagious diseases, with a specific focus on high-risk population groups such as sex workers, injecting drug users and immigrants. It was the brainchild of PASOK Minister of Health Andreas Loverdos in 2012 and was notoriously used to round up and force-test for HIV hundreds of women in the week before the May 2012 general election. Those who tested positive were accused of being prostitutes and of seeking to intentionally spread the virus, and some of them spent months in jail before a court of law found them innocent. Radiobubble’s Zoe Mavroudi is preparing a video documentary on the story of these women, titled “Ruins”, whose trailer you can watch on our main page, radiobubble.gr
The Minister’s decision to reinstate order 39A caused a public outcry in Greece and abroad. 25 Greek NGOs signed a common statement condemning the move, saying: “We cannot allow the implementation of policies that take us back to the Middle Ages (…) When the official position of the Ministry of Health does not take this into account, we must make it clear in practice.” Human Rights Watch also called on the Greek government to “repeal a regulation that has been used to justify forced HIV testing” while, at the International AIDS Society conference in Kuala Lumpur, Medicine Nobel laureate Françoise Barré-Sinoussi expressed her dismay, saying: “It is thus with strong disappointment then that we are receiving the news announced yesterday that the Greek Ministry of Health is reintroducing compulsory HIV testing via detainment for female sex workers. As President of the IAS I strongly condemn this move and urge the Greek Government to re-think its position. HIV infections are already increasing in Greece due to the economic crisis and a
mandatory policy of detainment and testing will only fuel the epidemic there.”
5. New Democracy and the far-right
Two prominent New Democracy officials caused a sensation this week with their statements about Golden Dawn. On Monday morning, MP and former Minister of Public Order Vyron Polydoras said in a radio interview, when asked if New Democracy should collaborate with Golden Dawn: “Of course it should. We got all sensitive about Golden Dawn, who got the votes of 600,000 people. They will get the voted of 1 million people, and we get reminiscent of the Weimar Republic Constitution. Do you even know the Weimar Constitution? Do you know it was the most advanced constitution between the two world wars ? Or in the history of constitutional law? Those who disagree should go and get a decision from the Supreme Court. Ask for the party to be made illegal, like Mr. Venizelos says. Is that even possible? Let’s calm down a bit and look at our issues and at our situation.” After coming under heavy criticism, Polydoras said that his statements had been distorted, and that his true purpose was to highlight the difference between Golden Dawn and the true danger, which in his view is the troika.
A few days later, New Democracy MP and former deputy Minister of Labour Nikos Panagiotopoulos, also in a radio interview, said: “With regard to the Golden Dawn issue, I would like to emphasize the following: Golden Dawn is not a neo-Nazi party. It may be that its leadership espouses this ideology. But to me, its base, the people who orient themselves towards them, do it to protest the situation and not because of their Nazi ideology. I hope New Democracy are hearing this.”
However, analyses conducted by sociologists and political scientists seem to belie this appraisal. In an extensive piece published this week in the Editors’ Newspaper, prominent pollster Yiannis Mavris underlined the role of the so-called centrist political parties in reinforcing Golden Dawn, notably by accepting and integrating the far-right in the mainstream political system when they chose to ask LAOS to join the Papademos coalition government in November 2011, and by legitimizing part of the far-right agenda with the massive sweep operation against immigrants which was launched last summer. Mavris notes that 71% of Golden Dawn voters voted for the party in both elections in 2012, and that only 27% described their vote as a protest vote, while the rest indicated that they agreed with the party, with a special focus on the issue of immigration. Mavris finally concludes that recent polls conducted by his company, Public Issue, find that, of an estimated 11.5% of Greeks who state their intention to vote for Golden Dawn, 3.7% constitute the party’s inner core, while 6.9% identify, more generally, with it.
This is not the first time that New Democracy officials mention the possibility of a collaboration between New Democracy and Golden Dawn. Last spring during the elections campaign, the New Democracy campaign leader in northern Greece, Panagiotis Psomiadis, had listed Golden Dawn among the “sister parties” that New Democracy should collaborate with.
A further worrying sign this week as New Democracy’s reaction to an opinion piece published by SYRIZA official Nasos Theodoridis in the newspaper Avgi. Theodoridis’ piece notes in no uncertain terms that Greek Roma and Jews face considerable hostility from Greek nationalists and lists a number of racist incidents against these two communities in recent and no-so-recent history. The New Democracy press release does not seek in any way to address the issue of racism against Jews or Roma but focuses instead on claiming that SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras lied when he said that Theodoridis had been removed from his position on the SYRIZA committee for human rights, and that Theodoridis’s positions, including some controversial ones which are unrelated to the matter at hand, represent the official SYRIZA line.