Greece | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 

Greece's civil liberties rating improved from 3 to 2 due to the relaxation of laws relating to the now-defunct November 17 urban guerilla group.


The first round of local elections took place on October 13, 2002. On the basis of those results, the opposition New Democracy party could claim some gains, but the ruling Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) did a better than expected job of fending off losses, particularly in the wake of success on its domestic terrorism front. In June, a year following the introduction of an antiterrorist law, the Greek police arrested a member of the November 17 urban guerilla group, the first arrest since the group was formed in 1975. The arrest led to the group's unraveling and culminated in the capture in September of Dimitris Koufodinas, a top figure in November 17.

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. Building on both countries' signing of the Ottawa Convention in 2001, an agreement that requires signatories to destroy their land mines and prohibits their use and production, the countries elevated their consultation process to the level of "dialogue" in early 2002. The upgrade in diplomatic relations was pursued with the goal of exploring mechanisms for the resolution of the countries' substantive differences. The European Court of Human Rights condemned the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 as a violation of human rights.

The results of the October elections go some way in silencing some of the government's critics in the short term, but the party still has a long way to go if it is to retain power at the next general election, which is scheduled for late 2003. PASOK garnered some political leverage in the arrests of the November 17 group, which assuaged its losses in the elections. November 17 has admitted to more than 20 killings since its inception. The antiterrorism law, which engendered concerns over infringement of individual rights, gave police broader powers for surveillance and investigation.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

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. 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.

The judiciary is independent. The constitution provides for public trials, and trial court sessions are usually open to the public.

Despite the fact that Greece signed and ratified the Convention for Protection of National Minorities in 1997, it recognizes neither the presence of national minorities nor minority languages. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance has 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 UN Committee Against Torture has expressed concern about the excessive use of force by law enforcement against ethnic and national minorities and foreigners.

Amnesty International in September 2002 accused Greece of flouting European humanitarian law by employing police brutality and torture in its treatment of detainees, particularly asylum seekers and minorities. In its report, the human rights group referred to 66 cases of alleged human rights violations in Greece, which takes on the European Union presidency in January 2003. It is now calling on the EU to act decisively to combat abuses within its borders. Greece is also a member of NATO.

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."

Although the constitution guarantees freedom of expression, the government often infringes upon that right. In January 2001 an Aromanian (Vlach) activist was convicted of "disseminating false information" in a leaflet on minority languages. In July 2002 the government enacted Law 3037, which explicitly forbids electronic games from public and private places in an effort to stamp out gambling. People were fined tens of thousands of euros for playing or owning such games; although the law was thrown out two months later, people had already been fined.

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.

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. In June, workers in Greece held a general strike to protest the government's plan to slash pension benefits. The country's two main unions, together representing about 800,000 workers, joined in the action, which shut down much of the country.

The U.S. State Department issued its Trafficking in Persons Report in 2001, which stated that Greece had failed to end the problem of human trafficking.