Freedom in the World
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After being in power almost continuously for 23 years, the Pan Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) lost to the conservative New Democracy party in parliamentary elections in March 2004. Despite fears over security, no major terrorist attacks occurred during the Olympic Games in Athens in August. The games - the most expensive in 100 years, thanks largely to security arrangements - left the country in massive debt.
Modern Greece began in 1830, when the country gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire. The ensuring century brought continued struggle between royalists and republican forces. During World War II, Greece fell to Germany in 1941 after a failed invasion by Italy the year before. From 1942 to 1944 local Communist and royalist forces put up a strong resistance against the Nazis, which were eventually defeated with the help of British forces in 1944. National solidarity broke down in the early postwar period, when royalists won national elections and eventually defeated the Communists in a civil war. In 1967 a group of army officers staged a military coup, suspending elections and arresting hundreds of political activists. A referendum in 1974 rejected the restoration of the monarchy, and a new constitution in 1975 declared Greece a parliamentary republic.
PASOK won more than half of the seats in the 2000 parliamentary elections, while the more conservative New Democracy party came in a close second. Other parties winning seats include the Communist Party of Greece and Synaspismos (SYN), a coalition of smaller left parties. Of those eligible to vote, 89 percent turned out at the polls.
During parliamentary elections in March 2004, the New Democracy party received 45 percent of the vote, winning 165 of the 300 seats in the unicameral parliament. New Democracy beat PASOK, which won 117 seats, and the Communist Party of Greece, which won 12 seats. A coalition of leftist and environmentalist movements (the former SYN) won 6 seats. PASOK had governed the country since 1981, except for a brief period from 1990 to 1993, when New Democracy was in power.
A three-year-old nationalist and xenophobic party, the far-right People's Orthodox Rally (LAOS), won 4.1 percent of the vote during European Parliament elections in June. LAOS, which had failed to pass a 3 percent threshold to win seats during the national parliamentary elections in March, is led by a populist journalist, Yiorgos Karatzaferis, who has been accused by various human rights groups of holding racist and anti-Semitic views. Support for LAOS represents the largest increase in support for the far-right in the country in twenty years.
The first task of the new prime minister, Costas Karamanlis, was to revive a number of stalled construction projects for the Olympic Games that took place in Athens in August. In November, the government announced that the costs of the games, not including major projects like the new airport, roads and railways, had run up to $11.5 billion, close to double the original estimate. More than $1 billion was spent on security alone in anticipation of a possible major terrorist attack, which did not occur. NATO assisted by securing the coastlines and air space and by providing special assistance for possible chemical, biological, or nuclear attacks.
The December 2003 trial of 15 members of the urban guerrilla group, November 17, ended with convictions on a number of crimes, including homicide. The group, which had committed a series of murders, bombings, and robberies since its formation in 1975, had begun to unravel after the arrest of one of its members in June 2002.
Greek-Turkish relations improved during the year. The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, made a landmark visit to Greece, the first of its kind in 16 years. During the visit, Greece's Prime Minister Karamanlis publicly stated that his government would support Turkey's bid to join the European Union (EU). The Greek government also pledged economic aid to Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus after they voted overwhelmingly in favor of unifying the Turkish and Greek sides of the island.
Greeks are free to change their government democratically. All 300 members of the unicameral parliament are elected according to a system of proportional representation. The president is elected by parliament to a five-year term. The country generally has fair electoral laws, equal campaigning opportunities, and a system of compulsory voting that is weakly enforced. Some representatives of the Roma (Gypsy) community complain that certain municipalities failed to register Romanies who did not fulfill basic residency requirements.
Corruption continues to be a problem in Greece. Despite disciplinary measures by the Bureau of Internal Affairs of the Ministry of Public Order, corruption continued to be a problem within the police forces. Greece was ranked 49 out of 146 countries surveyed in the 2004 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, the lowest among all European Union members.
The constitution includes provisions for freedom of speech and the press. There are, however, some limits to speech that incites fear, violence, and disharmony among the population, as well as publications that offend religious beliefs, that are obscene, or that advocate the violent overthrow of the political system. Despite these limitations, there are many independent newspapers and magazines, including those that are critical of the government.
In June, police entered the premises of a private radio station, Makedonikos Ichos ("Macedonian Sound") in Naoussa, seized transmitting equipment and arrested the owner. Although the official explanation for the seizures and arrest was that the station lacked a proper operation license, there was concern that the station was signaled out because it broadcasts in the Slavo-Macedonian language.
The Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ is considered the "prevailing" religion of the country in the constitution, which, however, also guarantees the right of all citizens to practice the religion of their choice. Despite this, members of some minority religions face social discrimination as well as legal barriers. For example, some religious groups have encountered legal restrictions to inheriting property as a religious entity. Although all religions, including the Orthodox Church, have to pay taxes, the government subsidizes the Orthodox Church. In addition, "known" religious groups are required to obtain permits from the Ministry of Education and Religion in order to open houses of worship. The law prohibits proselytizing, and consequently, Mormons and members of the Jehovah's Witnesses are routinely arrested and have reported abuse by police officers for their religious beliefs. The government does not restrict academic freedom.
Although the constitution allows for freedom of association, ethnic and religious minority groups face a number of barriers. The government does not officially recognize the existence of any non-Muslim minority groups, particularly Slavophones. In addition, the government does not recognize Macedonian as a language, as officials fear the secessionist aspirations of this group. Using the term Turkos or Tourkikos ("Turk" and "Turkish," respectively) in the title of an association is illegal and may lead to persecution. The right to freedom of assembly is guaranteed by the constitution and generally protected by the government.
The constitution and laws provide workers with the right to join and form unions. Twenty-six percent of all non agricultural salaried workers are union members.
The judiciary is independent, and the constitution provides for public trials. However, a number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have raised concerns about the ill treatment of detainees by law enforcement officials, especially concerning immigrants and members of religious minorities. Concerns have also been raised about the overcrowding of prisons.
Although military service is compulsory, conscientious objectors (for religious and ideological reasons) can participate in an alternative national service - to work in state hospitals or municipal services for 36 months in lieu of military service. However, the law has been criticized, in part, for imposing a punitive length of time: alternative service is double the 18 months required for military service. In February, a naval court ruled that it did not have the jurisdiction to try the case of a conscientious objector, Lazaros Petromelidis, who had been convicted in 2003 of insubordination for not fulfilling his civilian service. In addition to Petromelidis, a number of other conscientious objectors have been convicted of insubordination for refusing to perform military or national service.
During the year, the country made progress towards improving its human rights record by announcing plans for legislative action to mandate the equal treatment between persons irrespective of race or ethnicity and to banish discrimination based on race, religion, sex, disability or nationality in the workplace. If eventually passed, such laws will bring Greece in line with European Union standards of human rights. In addition, efforts have been made to provide police officers with sensitivity training with respect to human rights and the prohibition of racial discrimination. However, racial intolerance is still pervasive in society and is often expressed by people in the media, in politics, and in the Orthodox Church. In addition, noncitizens face bureaucratic difficulties when renewing their residency permits. The immigration process is slow and, as a result, makes the position of immigrants unstable, as they never know whether, pending a renewal, they might face expulsion before they obtain a new permit.
The Roma community continues to face considerable discrimination. In preparation for the 2004 Olympic Games, more than a hundred Roma were evicted in 2002 from a construction site in Athens near the Olympic stadium. Amnesty International has reported that the government has yet to honor its agreement to effectively provide these individuals with rent subsidies to live in alternative accommodations.
Women lack specific legislation to deal with domestic violence and, in addition, face sex-based discrimination in the workplace. Progress, however, has been made for women in politics. During the 2004 elections, women gained 14 percent of the seats in parliament, almost double the 8.7 percent they held after previous elections.
Trafficking in women and children for prostitution remains a problem, despite efforts by the government over the past few years to address the issue. Some law enforcement officials, who are on the payroll of organized crime gangs, aid traffickers. A number of NGOs are working in the country to combat trafficking and have received financial and other assistance from the government. A presidential decree in the summer of 2003 established the creation of shelters for trafficking victims.