Surge in racist attacks tied to elected Greek extremist party Golden Dawn
Although Greece's government has said it will not ban the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights said there is enough evidence of the party's support for violence to outlaw the group.
Nils Muiznieks said Greece must take tougher measures to combat a surge in racist violence that critics blame on extremists. While he didn't recommend that Greece should ban Golden Dawn from public office, Muiznieks added the government would be "fully within its rights under international human rights law" to do so.
"If you ban Golden Dawn," he said, "you would still have the problem of racist violence in Greece, which is the broader issue."
Golden Dawn holds 18 seats in parliament and its approval has been as high as 13 percent in public surveys.
The Council of Europe -- a separate entity from the EU -- runs the European Court of Human Rights, which enforces the rights code signed by the council's 47 member states.
Muiznieks visited Greece earlier this year and recently released a report describing Golden Dawn as a "neo-Nazi and violent political party" that should be isolated under legally binding international human rights conventions signed by Greece.
The coalition government, led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, has rejected the idea of banning a legally elected party.
Antonis Klapsis, head of research for the Konstandinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy in Athens, said the government's hands-off approach is the right way to deal with Golden Dawn.
"Trying to outlaw Golden Dawn now will not help in any way tackling the problem of right-wing extremism," he told SETimes. "It would make Golden Dawn look like a victim and give more points to the party's support. The root of the problem is the one that should dealt with, not the symptoms."
Between October 2011 and December 2012, UNHCR and the National Commission for Human Rights logged more than 200 racist attacks in Greece, including many directed at immigrants, a regular target of Golden Dawn's rhetoric.
Golden Dawn did not respond to a request to answer Muiznieks' charges, but posted a link to the report on its website describing the Council of Europe as a "Zionist institution." It added: "The brazen commissioner did not see and did not hear anything about the murders, rapes and robberies of our people by the barbarian hordes of Asia and Africa."
The government has moved swiftly to make arrests in cases of violence against immigrants, including the murder of a Pakistani man riding to work on a bicycle just before Muiznieks' visit. Three foremen and the owner of a strawberry farm were arrested in the shooting and wounding of 29 immigrant strawberry farm workers, mostly from Bangladesh, after they demanded six months back pay.
Alex Sakellariou, a sociologist at the University of Panteion who specializes in studying extremist groups, said the government should go after Golden Dawn.
"Compared to the tactic of staying silent, it's better to try to reveal their ideology in full and challenge them," he told SETimes. "If we leave them alone to reproduce history through revisionist tactics they will have the opportunity to influence people, especially the younger ones, which will be disastrous."
Golden Dawn, which received only 0.29 percent of the vote in 2009's elections, has gained popularity via its opposition to government austerity measures.
"They shouldn't be in Parliament. They are Nazis and it bothers me that I know people who like them," Saimir Limka, 20, an Albanian living in Greece told SETimes.
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SE Times, "Despite Warning on Violence, Greece won't Ban Golden Dawn"