ATHENS – Greek legislators – not unanimously – voted to approve a measure to prohibit members of a new far-right extreme party that’s being run out of a prison cell by a convicted neo-Nazi from being elected to Parliament in spring elections.
The move came after surveys showed the National Party operated by former Golden Dawn party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, who’s serving a 13-year sentence, would pass the 3 percent threshold needed to win seats.
His party wasn’t named explicitly, said The New York Times in a report on the move, but government officials identified him and the extremist group but the move to bar it got only 178 votes in the 300-member Parliament.
Complaining the language was too vague the major opposition SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance that wants to return to power after being ousted in July, 2019 snap elections abstained and smaller rival parties voted against it.
The bill built on a 2021 law that prevented convicted criminals from running as party leaders in elections, extending the ban to a party’s nominal head as well as its “true leadership,” worried that Kasidiaris could control his legislators.
The bill also stipulates that parties should serve “the free functioning of the democratic Constitution,” a change that some critics said could leave the door open for abuse, preventing a consensus.
Kasidiaris, who wants refugees out of the country and supports Russia, has gained in popularity and is known for his defiance and extremist rhetoric and – until recently barred – from using a cell phone to operate from prison.
The measure was backed by lawmakers in the ruling New Democracy as well as the rising center-left PASOK-KINAL Movement for Change center left that SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras is urging to him his party.
Kasidiaris and other leaders of Golden Dawn and dozens of members were found guilty in October 2020 of running a criminal organization that attacked leftist critics and migrants – and one member of killing anti-fascist hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas in 2013, leading to its end.
The same survey that showed Kasidiaris’ new party at 3.4 percent found 70 percent of respondents believed it shouldn’t be allowed to be represented in Parliament as he has become more incendiary in comments.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the measure’s aim was “not to ban ideas but to safeguard the democratic constitutional order,” pointing to other European Union countries with similar laws.
THE PRICE OF DEMOCRACY
“We have a duty to protect democracy from its enemies,” he told Parliament, the report said, but some opposition parties said the language in the bill wasn’t specific enough, SYRIZA arguing it could be open to “misinterpretations.”
SYRIZA proposed restricting the ban to parties with Nazi or racist ideologies and the KKE Communists said it included “dangerous generalizations and preconditions for the participation of parties in elections.”
Nikos Alivizatos, an expert in constitutional law who was attacked by Golden Dawn members and supporters in 2010, said the provision could lead to “innocent” parties being blocked.
He told The Times that it would have been better to target violent groups and to simply ban convicted criminals from running as legislators, not just as party leaders, no explanation why previous governments hadn’t done that or if Kasidiaris would have gained a Parliament seat while in jail.
“It’s dangerous to move beyond the criterion of the direct use of violence, because then it becomes an almost philosophical issue, and there is room for varying interpretations,” Alivizatos said. “The price of every democracy is to tolerate someone who might be a Fascist,” he said – just not be allowed to be in office.
Tsipras, who’s trying to close a near 6 percent gap in surveys ahead of spring elections has been jumping on every issue he can to attack Mitsotakis and the New Democracy Conservatives in a bid to return to power after being ousted in July, 2019 snap polls, seeing him routed.
He told Parliament ahead of the vote that Mitsotakis’ goal was to eliminate an electoral rival and that, “He’s not concerned about blocking Nazis, fascist groups or about cracking down on far-right and nationalist populism. He’s concerned about getting the votes of the far right and nationalists.”
Kasidiaris portrayed his party as true patriots and recorded phone messages for his YouTube channel on topics opposing Greece’s support for Ukraine over Russia’s invasion and wanting all migrants to be deported.
He now tweeted that the legislation targeting him was unconstitutional and violated the European Convention of Human Rights and the principle of free elections in which he indicated violent criminals should be allowed to run and enter Parliament.
Mitsotakis though shot back that, “No one wants to see parliamentary representation again become a vehicle for violence against citizens, leading to brutal murders, injuries and abhorrent pogroms. No one wants to relive the thuggery οf the past.”