IN AN ugly recent exchange in Greece’s parliament, Ilias Kassidiaris, spokesman for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, denied that the Holocaust had happened. Vassilis Economou, from the Democratic Left party, said that in Germany the penalty for denying the Holocaust was five years’ jail. Democratic Left and the PanHellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok), the two smaller coalition parties, want a new law against hate speech and racism. A draft bill from Antonis Roupakiotis, the justice minister from Democratic Left, aims squarely at Golden Dawn, proposing to ban an association if one of its members is found guilty of a hate crime, including Holocaust denial.
Since entering parliament a year ago with 18 deputies, Golden Dawn has been a steady third in opinion polls, with about 11% of the vote, behind only the New Democracy party of Antonis Samaras, the prime minister, and the far-left opposition Syriza party. Its anti-immigrant rhetoric, swastika-like party emblem and torch-lit parades led by young men in black T-shirts horrify many Greeks. Golden Dawn supporters are blamed for an upsurge in racist violence. One was arrested in April for shooting at a group of immigrant strawberry-pickers demanding back pay.
Greece’s latest political convulsions may now put off any new law. Delay is unhelpful. Whatever form an anti-racism law takes, it will not now reach parliament until after the summer. Meanwhile Golden Dawn has come up with a bill to ban “racism against Greeks”. Mr Roupakiotis is not amused.Yet banning Golden Dawn could be counterproductive, insist critics of Mr Roupakiotis’s bill. They say it would simply regroup and run under another name. Human Rights Watch, a campaign group, says the proposal “is hard to reconcile with the right to freedom of association”. New Democracy says the existing anti-racism law needs tweaking, not rewriting. It suggests two amendments: outlawing neo-Nazi groups and making Holocaust denial a crime. A stronger anti-racism law might, it fears, merely win Golden Dawn a sympathy vote from other right-wingers.