Freedom in the World
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Greece's parliament elected a new president, Karolos Papoulias of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), in March 2005. Greek unions called for a 24-hour general strike in June in protest of the conservative government's economic reforms. The Greek parliament overwhelmingly approved the first European Union (EU) constitution in April at a special session. Greece tentatively considered a new name for the Republic of Macedonia proposed by a special UN envoy.
Modern Greece began in 1830, when the country gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire. The ensuing 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.
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 defeated the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), which won 117 seats, and the Communist Party of Greece, which captured 12 seats. A coalition of leftist and environmentalist movements (the former Synaspismos, or SYN) won six 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 Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), won 4.1 percent of the vote during European Parliament elections in June 2004. LAOS, which had failed to pass a 3 percent threshold to win seats during the March national parliamentary elections, is led by a populist journalist, Yeoryios 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 20 years.
In September 2005, a pan-European, neo-Nazi gathering, sponsored by the Greek far-right group Golden Dawn, took place in an undisclosed location in Greece despite a government ban. Golden Dawn members frequently paint anti-Semitic graffiti on bridges and other structures across the country.
The Greek parliament overwhelmingly approved the EU's first constitution in April at a special session. The vote was backed by 268 votes in the 300-member parliament.
Greece tentatively considered a new name for the Republic of Macedonia-Re-public of Makedonia-Skopje-proposed by a special UN envoy. Greece has waged a long campaign to deny its northern neighbor's use of the "Macedonia" name, which is also that of a northern Greek province.
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 parliament elected a new president, Karolos Papoulias of PASOK, in March 2005; he was the sole candidate. The president must be elected by a two-thirds majority or, on the third ballot, by a three-fifths majority. The Greek president has no legislative power but can declare war and grant pardons. The prime minister, the most powerful person in Greek politics, is chosen by the president and is usually the leader of the party with a majority in parliament; the current prime minister is Konstandinos Karamanlis of the New Democracy (ND).
There are currently five political parties represented in parliament: the conservative governing party, ND; the main opposition, PASOK; the Communist Party of Greece (KKE); the Coalition of Left and Progressive Forces (Synaspismos); and the Democratic Socialist Movement (Dikki).
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, although efforts have been made by the government to rectify this situation. Greece was ranked 47 out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index, the lowest among all EU members. However, Prime Minister Karamanlis has been running a campaign to clean up corruption, including an investigation into bribe-taking judges. Moreover, according to the U.S. State Department, in 2004, the Bureau of Internal Affairs of the Ministry of Public Order-which oversees the country's police forces-undertook several anticorruption measures, including the dismissal and suspension of officers involved in corrupt activities such as taking bribes and forging documents.
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. Under a new media law in the country, media companies-television stations, radio stations, newspapers and magazines-are required to have registered shares held by individuals. The law, which also limits foreign ownership of Greek media, has been cited by the EU for possible incompatibility with the provisions of the European Community Treaty dealing with the free movement of capital and freedom of establishment. Internet access is not restricted. In April, the Austrian author Gerhard Haderer was acquitted of charges of blasphemy that were lodged against him in January by a Greek court for his depiction of Jesus Christ as a "hippie" in his book, The Life of Jesus. The government does not restrict academic freedom.
While the constitution guarantees the right of all citizens to practice the religion of their choice, the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ is considered the "prevailing" religion of the country. Members of some minority religions face social discrimination and 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. Anti-Semitism remains a problem in the country. Athens has no official, state-recognized mosque. Muslims in the city must meet and pray in dozens of unofficial prayer rooms, some in garages and private homes. Although the parliament passed a bill in 2003 allowing the construction of the city's first Islamic cultural center, building has not yet begun.
The constitution allows for freedom of association, although there are limits on the freedom of groups representing ethnic minorities. International and national nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally operated in the country without government interference. In some cases domestic human rights groups received government funding and assistance. 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 nonagricultural salaried workers are union members. In June 2005, Greek unions called for a 24-hour general strike to protest the conservative government's economic reforms, which include a pension overhaul and the introduction of short-term civil service contracts. This strike follows another widespread strike across the country in March 2005 that was called by trade unions to protest rising unemployment and inflation, as well as pension and social security issues. The country's deficit is almost twice the amount allowed by the stability pact for countries in the euro zone.
The judiciary is independent, and the constitution provides for public trials. However, a number of NGOs have raised concerns about the ill-treatment of detainees, especially immigrants and members of religious minorities, by law enforcement officials. 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 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 March, the UN Human Rights Committee criticized Greece's conscientious objector policy for its length of service and its punitive character.
Despite government efforts, racial intolerance is still pervasive in society and is often expressed by people in the media, in politics, and in the Orthodox Church. 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. Police officers have recently been provided with sensitivity training with respect to human rights and the prohibition of racial discrimination.
Immigrants are disproportionately affected by institutional problems in the judicial system. Bureaucratic delays in the legalization process for immigrants forces many into a semi-legal status when they are not able to effectively renew their immigration papers, putting them in jeopardy of deportation. In addition, because the translation service in the Greek court system is underfinanced, many defendants who do not speak Greek are not properly advised of their rights. Greece has been criticized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and human rights organizations for its treatment of thousands of asylum seekers, many of whom cross into the country from Turkey. The BBC reported that many migrants who manage to enter the country illegally are locked up in unhygienic, overcrowded detention centers, without any prior screening to determine whether their claims are legitimate.
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 had 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. The country was placed on the U.S. State Department's Tier 2 Watch List for a second consecutive year for failing to make significant efforts to combat trafficking; Greece is the only Western European country with this rating. Some law enforcement officials, 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, which has made efforts in the area of prevention by launching a national victim's hotline in 2005 and co-sponsoring training on the implementation of the trafficking law.