Freedom in the World
You are here
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
The ruling party, the Pan Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), suffered major political setbacks in 2001 resulting from the failure to meet economic objectives and pledges for reform. However, Prime Minister Costas Simitis' approval rating improved drastically after the September 11th attacks in the United States. The factious PASOK party set aside its anti-U.S. sentiments and united behind the prime minister. Following his re-election as head of PASOK in October and, in an effort to push ahead with economic reforms and with preparations for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Prime Minister Simitis overhauled his cabinet, increasing its membership to 49, making it the largest cabinet ever under PASOK rule.
The socialists were narrowly reelected in the parliamentary elections in April 2000. The PASOK has ruled Greece since 1981, except for 1990 to 1993, when the conservative New Democracy Party (ND) held power.
In June, the government passed an antiterrorist law on the anniversary of the assassination of British defense attache, Brigadier Stephen Saunders, by the November 17 urban guerilla group. The law is designed to give police broader powers for surveillance and investigation. It also provides the first protection programs for witnesses and judges and limits the use of juries in terrorism-related trials. Thousands protested the new law, stating that the new antiterrorist law infringes upon individual rights. As a NATO member, Greece offered the full use of its military facilities and airspace to the international coalition against terrorism after the terrorist attacks in the United States in September.
Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1830. The ensuing century brought continued struggle between royalist and republican forces. Occupation by the Axis powers in 1941 was followed by a civil war between non-Communist and Communist forces that lasted until 1949. A military junta came to power as the result of a coup in 1967 and ruled until 1973, when naval officers failed to oust the junta and restore the monarchy. The failed 1973 coup led, however, to the formal deposition of the monarch and the proclamation of a republic. The current constitution, adopted in 1975, provides for a parliamentary system with a largely ceremonial president.
Greece continued to improve its relations with Turkey. Prime Minister Simitis announced in April that Greece would cut military spending by postponing the purchase of new air force planes, estimated to cost $4.5 billion, and instead will overhaul the pension and welfare systems. Greece and Turkey simultaneously signed the Ottawa Convention in 2001, an agreement that requires signatories to destroy their land mines and prohibits their use and production. The European Court of Human Rights condemned the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 as a violation of human rights.
Greece adopted the euro as of January 1, 2001, at a rate of 340.75 drachmas per euro, after huge efforts to meet the criteria. The majority of the population supported membership to the European Monetary Unit (EMU). Greece continues to be under pressure from the European Union (EU) to accelerate structural reform and reduce public debt.
Greeks can change their government democratically. The Greek parliament has 300 members, elected for four-year terms by a system of proportional representation. Voting is compulsory for citizens between the ages of 18 and 70. The president is elected for a five-year term by parliament.
Although the constitution guarantees freedom of expression, the government often infringes upon that right. In March, the government closed 66 radio stations in Athens, citing their interference with frequencies used by the new airport that had opened. Government officials denied they were trying to stifle freedom of expression. An Aromanian (Vlach) activist was convicted of "disseminating false information" in a leaflet on minority languages in January. Greece does not recognize the presence of national minorities and does not recognize minority languages. Greece is a member of the EU and NATO, and in 1997 signed and ratified the Convention for Protection of National Minorities.
The judiciary is independent. The constitution provides for public trials, and trial court sessions are usually open to the public.
Greece has a long history of jailing conscientious objectors to military service. In 1997, however, the government passed a new law to allow objectors to perform alternative, civilian service. The measure requires objectors to serve twice as long as military conscripts and was therefore criticized by Amnesty International as "punitive."
The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) reported that Roma (Gypsies) living in camps, face extremely harsh living conditions. Systematic abuse against Roma by law enforcement continues, and forced evictions of Roma from these settlements, without alternative housing provided, have frequently been reported. The United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) expressed concern about the excessive use of force by law enforcement against ethnic and national minorities and foreigners.
Ninety-eight percent of the population belongs nominally to the state-sponsored Greek Orthodox Church. Orthodox bishops have the privilege of granting or denying permission to other faiths to build houses of worship in their jurisdictions. Many Greek Orthodox Christians protested Pope John Paul's visit in May, the first visit by a Roman pontiff to Greece since the Schism in 1054. In an attempt at reconciliation between the two churches, the pope began his visit by asking forgiveness for sins committed by Catholics against Orthodox Christians since 1054.
Greeks enjoy freedom of association, and all workers except military personnel and the police have the right to form and join unions, which are usually linked to political parties. A government's proposal in late April, to revamp the social security system by raising the retirement age and doing away with a number of special categories of pensions, resulted in a general strike called by the Greek General Confederation of Labor (GSEE), Greece's largest labor group, that paralyzed Athens. The government did freeze the pension reforms after Greece was crippled by the strikes. Another major strike in May paralyzed public transport, businesses, and civil services. In April journalists as well went on strike to demand better working conditions.
The U.S. State Department issued the Trafficking in Persons Report in 2001, which stated that Greece had failed to end the problem of human trafficking. The report described Greece as a transit and destination point and said that Greece had not acknowledged publicly that trafficking is a problem.
There are no restrictions on women's participation in government, yet they are underrepresented in Greece's politics, holding only 26 of the 300 seats in the unicameral parliament.