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Freedom in the World 2011 - Greece

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 5 July 2011
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2011 - Greece, 5 July 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e12dd98c.html [accessed 23 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Capital: Athens
Population: 11,277,000

Political Rights Score: 1 *
Civil Liberties Score: 2 *
Status: Free

Overview

In an effort to address a debt crisis that began in 2009, the government announced a second round of austerity measures in 2010, inciting a series of strikes and protests that engulfed the country at several points during the year. In July, a radio journalist and blogger was shot dead, marking the first murder of a journalist in Greece in 20 years.

The core of modern Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1830. The ensuing century brought additional territorial gains at the Ottomans' expense, as well as domestic political struggles between royalists and republicans. Communist and royalist partisans mounted a strong resistance to Nazi German occupation during World War II, but 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 1974 referendum rejected the restoration of the monarchy, and a new constitution in 1975 declared Greece a parliamentary republic.

The Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) governed the country from 1981 to 2004, except for a brief period from 1990 to 1993, when the conservative New Democracy party held power. New Democracy returned to power in the 2004 elections and won another term in 2007.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis called national elections halfway through his four-year mandate in October 2009, partly due to a number of corruption scandals that had rocked his coalition. PASOK led the voting with 160 seats, followed by New Democracy with just 91 seats. The Communist Party of Greece (KKE)took 21 seats, the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) – a nationalist and xenophobic party – won 15, and the Coalition of the Radical Left(SYRIZA) took 13. George Papandreou of PASOK was elected as the new prime minister.

At the end of 2009, Greece faced a serious fiscal and economic crisis, with public debt amounting to over $400 billion. In January 2010, the government presented a plan to cut the budget deficit from 12.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2009 to 2.8 percent in 2012. In the subsequent months it initiated a number of other austerity measures, including a freeze on public-sector pay, an increase in the retirement age, and a hike of the value-added tax (VAT) from 19 to 23 percent. These steps were met with a series of national strikes and protests. Those who viewed the austerity measures as an attack on the working class staged protests in May, leading to the deaths of three people in a firebomb attack on a bank. Journalists reported being subjected to excessive force by police while covering the protests.

Also in May, a €110 billion ($145 billion) rescue plan, including financing from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and 15 eurozone countries, was issued to help prevent a Greek debt default. Greece's budget deficit stood at about 9.4 percent of GDP by the end of 2010, still about three times the official eurozone limit.

Despite the fallout from its fiscal policies, PASOK won 13 gubernatorial elections, including the race in the capital, during regional balloting in November. Protests resumed in December after the government passed another austerity budget for the following year.

Greece continued to struggle with an influx of illegal immigrants during 2010. In October, the EU's rapid intervention border team was deployed for the first time since its creation in 2007 to guard Greece's frontiers. The European Commission dispatched the unit after deciding that the flow of immigrants – many of whom claimed to be from Afghanistan – from Turkey into Greece had reached alarming numbers. According to the Greek government, over 100,000 illegal border crossings took place during the year.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

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 country has generally fair electoral laws, equal campaigning opportunities, and a system of compulsory voting that is weakly enforced. Some representatives of the Romany community complain that certain municipalities have failed to register Roma who did not fulfill basic residency requirements. A law passed in early 2010 allows legal immigrants to vote in municipal elections. A small percentage took advantage of this right during the elections in November.

Corruption remains a problem, particularly within the police forces. A parliamentary panel ruled in October 2010 that five former New Democracy ministers should stand trial on charges of fraud and breach of duty related to the Vatopedi land-swap scandal, which involved exchanging state-owned land for property of much poorer quality owned by the Vatopedi monastery. Greece was ranked 78 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, the worst ranking of any country in Western Europe.

The constitution includes provisions for freedom of speech and the press, and citizens have access to a broad array of privately owned print and broadcast outlets. 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. Requirements under a 2007 media law place disproportionate burdens on smaller, minority-owned radio stations, such as the use of Greek as the main transmission language, maintaining a certain amount of money in reserve, and hiring a specific number of full-time staff. In the first murder of a journalist in 20 years, radio journalist and blogger Sokratis Giolias was shot dead by several men dressed in security uniforms outside of his Athens apartment in July 2010. The killing was believed to be linked to a left-wing militant group, though the motive remained unclear, and no one had been arrested for the crime by year's end. Journalists were subjected to physical violence and in some cases forced to delete images taken while covering the austerity protests during the year. Internet access is generally not restricted.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution, though the Orthodox Church receives government subsidies and is considered the "prevailing" denomination of the country. Members of some minority religions face social discrimination and legal barriers, such as permit requirements to open houses of worship and restrictions on inheriting property. Proselytizing is prohibited, and consequently, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are routinely arrested and have reported abuse by police officers. Anti-Semitism also remains a problem. Athens is still awaiting the construction of the city's first licensed mosque, and in November 2010 the far-right Chrysi Avgi party threatened to block the project. Academic freedom is not restricted.

Freedoms of assembly and association are guaranteed by the constitution and generally protected by the government, though there are some limits on groups representing ethnic minorities. Nongovernmental organizations generally operate without interference from the authorities, and some domestic human rights groups receive government funding and assistance. Workers have the right to join and form unions.

The judiciary is independent, and the constitution provides for public trials. Human rights groups have raised concerns about the ill-treatment of asylum seekers by law enforcement officials, and prisons suffer from overcrowding.

Acts of violence by left- and right-wing extremist groups remain a problem. In November 2010, a number of letter bombs were sent to foreign embassies in Athens, among other targets, causing the government to temporarily halt the receipt of foreign mail. Police arrested two men associated with a local terrorist organization, the Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire, in connection with the letter bombs.

Despite government efforts to combat it, racial intolerance is pervasive in society and is often expressed by public figures. A rally held in January 2010 in support of a draft law that would grant Greek citizenship to second-generation immigrants was met with violence by far-right groups. The government does not officially recognize the existence of any non-Muslim ethnic minority groups, particularly Slavophones. Macedonian is not recognized as a language, and using the terms Turkos or Tourkikos ("Turk" and "Turkish," respectively) in the title of an association is illegal and may lead to the dissolution of the group. The Romany community continues to face considerable discrimination and a general denial of justice. Following a visit in February 2010, however, the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights reported that Greece was moving in a positive direction with respect to its treatment of the Romany population.

Immigrants are disproportionately affected by institutional problems in the judicial system. Bureaucratic delays force many into a semilegal status whereby they are not able to renew their documents, putting them in jeopardy of deportation. A July 2010 Amnesty International report noted that asylum seekers are often treated as criminals and face inhuman conditions in detention centers. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) made similar complaints in its 2010 annual report, citing squalid and overcrowded conditions in detention facilities.

Greece lacks specific legislation to address domestic violence, and women continue to face discrimination in the workplace. Women currently hold only 17 percent of the seats in Parliament. While trafficking in women and children for prostitution remains a problem, the U.S. State Department's 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report noted that the country has made efforts to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.

* Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

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