Freedom in the World
Greece received a downward trend arrow due to a significant upsurge in right-wing violence, led by the Golden Dawn party, against immigrant groups, their supporters, and the political left, as well as a lack of effective police protection from this violence.
Greece’s debt crisis continued to worsen in 2012 despite the adoption of austerity measures in order to secure bailout funds from the European Union and International Monetary Fund. The fiscal cuts were followed by significant social unrest throughout the year. A second round of parliamentary elections held in June led to victory for New Democracy, which formed a coalition government with two other parties. Meanwhile, the right-wing extremist party Golden Dawn, which captured seats in Parliament for the first time in 2012, embarked on a campaign of terror aimed at immigrants, the political left, and gay men and lesbians.
Modern Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1830. The ensuing century brought territorial gains, as well as domestic political struggles between royalists and republicans. Communist and royalist partisans mounted a strong resistance to Axis occupation during World War II, but national solidarity broke down in the postwar period, leading to a civil war that the royalists won. In 1967, a group of army officers staged a military coup. They were ousted in 1974, and conservative politician Konstantinos Karamanlis returned Greece to democracy. Karmanlis’s New Democracy party won the ensuing elections and ruled until 1981.
The Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) governed the country for most of 1981 to 2004. New Democracy returned to power in 2004 and won another term in 2007. Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, nephew of Konstantinos, called national elections halfway through his four-year mandate in October 2009, partly due to corruption scandals. PASOK captured 160 seats, and New Democracy took 91; PASOK’s George Papandreou became prime minister.
A growing economic and debt crisis emerged in late 2009. In May 2010, a €110 billion ($135 billion) rescue plan, including financing from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Union (EU), was issued to help prevent a Greek debt default. In return for this funding, the government was required to implement a number of austerity and modernization measures to make Greece’s economy more competitive. These steps were met with a series of national strikes and protests, and Greece’s debt levels continued to grow as the economy contracted and tax revenues shrank.
Additional austerity packages were passed in July 2011 as a condition for the release of bailout funds, resulting in further protests and strikes across the country. After a failed attempt to hold a referendum on the bailout package, and facing pressure from the EU, the European Central Bank, and the IMF—all overseeing the bailout—Papandreou stepped down on November 11. Lucas Papademos, the former head of the Bank of Greece, was appointed to lead a new coalition government. In February 2012, his government passed additional austerity measures, thereby securing a second, €130 billion ($170 billion) bailout that included a voluntary 53.5 percent write-off on privately held Greek debt that reduced the deficit by €107 billion ($140 billion).
Papademos resigned in April, having shepherded through a series of politically unpalatable austerity measures, and May elections resulted in a hung Parliament. Following a second round of elections in June, New Democracy, which received 29.7 percent of the vote and 129 seats, was able to form a coalition government with PASOK, which captured 12.3 percent and 33 seats, and the Democratic Left, which took 6.3 percent and 17 seats. Antonis Samaras of New Democracy was named the new prime minister. This coalition passed yet another round of austerity measures in October in order to assure the release of funds from the EU and IMF. The continued push for austerity has led to growing poverty and homelessness, with unemployment reaching 25 percent and youth unemployment exceeding 58 percent. The political environment was explosive, with large-scale protests occurring in February, following additional austerity measures; in April, following the public suicide of a retiree; and in October, during the visit of German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.
The right-wing extremist party Golden Dawn entered Parliament for the first time, capturing 6.9 percent of the vote and 19 seats in June. Emboldened by increasing levels of public support, the party embarked on a campaign of violence aimed at immigrants, the political left, and members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community. Those targeted by Golden Dawn supporters have reportedly experienced inadequate police protection, and there is even some evidence of police complicity in the violence.
Greece is an electoral democracy. All 300 members of the unicameral Parliament are elected by proportional representation for four-year terms. The largely ceremonial president is elected by a supermajority of Parliament for a five-year term. The prime minister is chosen by the president and is usually the leader of the majority party in Parliament. The installation of an unelected technocrat, Lucas Papademos, as prime minister in 2011 was condemned by many in the media as undemocratic.
The country has generally fair electoral laws, equal campaigning opportunities, and a system of compulsory voting that is weakly enforced. Since 2010, documented immigrants are allowed to vote in municipal elections.
Corruption remains a problem in Greece. In April 2012, former PASOK minister of defense Akis Tsochatzopoulos was imprisoned pending trial on charges of laundering millions of euros in bribes from European armaments manufacturers. Greek officials have avoided clamping down on tax evasion, as demonstrated by the controversy surrounding the October 2012 publication, by journalist Kostas Vaxevanis, of a list of Greek citizens who transferred funds to the Swiss bank HSBC. The list—supposedly lostafter being given to Finance Minister Giorgos Papakonstantinou in 2010—was critical of Greece’s political class for not pursuing tax evaders. Greece was ranked 94 out of 176 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index, the worst ranking of any country in Western Europe.
The constitution includes provisions for freedoms of speech and the press. Citizens enjoy access to a broad array of privately owned print and broadcast outlets, and internet access is unrestricted. There are, however, some limits on speech that incites fear, violence, and public disharmony, as well as on publications that offend religious beliefs, are obscene, or advocate the violent overthrow of the political system. Also, political interests occasionally attempt to squelch free speech. A number of journalists have been physically assaulted by police while covering anti-austerity protests over the past two years. Additionally, Vaxevanis, in retaliation for publishing the list of tax evaders, was charged with violating Greece’s data privacy laws, although he was acquitted in early November 2012.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution, though the Orthodox Church receives government subsidies and is considered the “prevailing” faith of the country. Members of some minority religions face discrimination and legal barriers, such as permit requirements to open houses of worship and restrictions on inheriting property. The constitution prohibits proselytizing, but this law is almost never enforced. Opposition to the construction of an official mosque in Athens remains substantial; Muslim inhabitants are forced to worship in improvised mosques.
Freedoms of assembly and association are guaranteed by the constitution, and the government generally protects these rights in practice, though there are some limits on groups representing ethnic minorities. Nongovernmental organizations generally operate without interference from the authorities. Workers have the right to join and form unions. Anti-austerity protests have recurred during the past three years, including large-scale demonstrations throughout 2012. The vast majority of participants are peaceful, but the protests often turn violent as anarchist elements and the police confront each other.
The judiciary is independent, and the constitution provides for public trials. Prisons suffer from overcrowding, as do immigrant detention centers. Immigrants are disproportionately affected by institutional problems in the judicial system. Bureaucratic delays force many into a semi-legal status whereby they cannot renew their documents, putting them in jeopardy of deportation. A 2010 Amnesty International report noted that asylum seekers are often treated as criminals and face inhumane conditions in detention centers.
Acts of political violence constitute a resurgent problem, in particular those by the right-wing extremist group Golden Dawn. During the first nine months of 2012, 87 acts of anti-immigrant violence were recorded in Athens and Patra, two of the epicenters of Golden Dawn activity. There is significant evidence of police complicity, with multiple reports of officers refusing to intervene. Golden Dawn also targets leftists and members of the LGBT community. The country’s Romany community continues to face considerable governmental and societal discrimination.
A 2006 law designed to address domestic violence has been criticized for not giving the state the power to protect the rights of women. Women continue to face discrimination in the workplace and hold only 21 percent of the seats in Parliament, a 4 percent increase over the 2009 election, but lower than Greece’s eurozone counterparts. The country serves as a transit and destination country for the trafficking of men, women, and children for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor.