Criticized by some as susceptible to abuse, the move targets ultranationalist party with jailed leader
Published by the Wall Street Journal on February 9, 2023
Golden Dawn supporters at a rally a few years ago. A Greek court later ruled that the party was a criminal organization. PHOTO: KOSTAS TSIRONIS/REUTERS
Greece banned an extreme-right political party and its jailed leader from running in elections later this year, a move some lawmakers warned could be susceptible to future abuse.
The Greek Parliament late on Wednesday passed an amendment that will outlaw parties whose leaders have been convicted of a serious crime and are deemed to be a threat to democracy. The amendment, published on Thursday, doesn’t mention specific parties, but government officials have said it targets the Greek National Party and its leader Ilias Kasidiaris.
Mr. Kasidiaris, who has a swastika tattoo, is a former top official of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party and is serving a 13-year prison term for belonging to the group, which a Greek court ruled in 2020 to be a criminal organization. Golden Dawn briefly became Greece’s third-largest political party a decade ago, when the country was in the depths of a severe economic crisis, with unemployment reaching 27%.
The amendment, which passed with the votes of the ruling center-right New Democracy party and the opposition center-left Pasok party, comes just months before a national election in which recent opinion polls indicate the Greek National Party might have broken the three-percent threshold needed to enter parliament. Greece must hold its election by July.
“Our constitution mandates the smooth functioning of democracy, and it is precisely this democratic functioning that the regulation attempts to enhance by preventing gangs from masquerading as political actors,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a speech before the vote.
The amendment bans not only political parties whose official lead candidates have been convicted of a serious crime, but also parties whose de facto figureheads might be directing policy despite not running for election. A law passed in 2021 already bars people with criminal convictions from leading political parties in elections.
Syriza, Greece’s main left-leaning opposition party, abstained in the parliamentary vote and criticized the amendment, saying that it was too broad and could be abused to ban other political movements in the future. Some smaller parties voted against it on the same grounds.
“We won’t be accomplices, first, in the heroization of Kasidiaris and the other Nazis that the prohibition devised by your government will achieve,” said Kleon Grigoriadis, a lawmaker with the left-wing DiEM25 party led by former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis. “You can’t cripple democracy to supposedly save it from those who are trying to cripple it.”
Greek authorities launched a large-scale investigation into Golden Dawn after a series of violent incidents in late 2013, including the killing of an antifascist rapper. The party remained a force in parliament. But support for Golden Dawn later ebbed as the Greek economy began to recover and the trial that concluded in 2020 revealed hundreds of photographs and videos that showed the leadership’s attachment to Nazi ideology.
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