In recent years, as a brutal economic crisis took hold, Greece has seen a surge in hate crimes. Since 2012, more than 400 racially-motivated attacks have been recorded. Police officers discovered to be collaborating with the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party have been removed from their posts. Homophobic attacks are also on the increase, with some particularly brutal incidents recorded in Athens.

Given this epidemic of hate crime, it is perhaps surprising that it has taken three years for an anti-discrimination bill to pass through parliament. The bill, which MPs are set to pass following a debate last week, seeks to reinforce legislation drawn up in the 1970s. It will toughen criminal sanctions against people who incite hatred, discrimination and violence. It will also penalise deniers of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. However, Human Rights Watch and other groups have warned that it does not include measures to encourage the reporting of violent hate crimes, or to ensure appropriate action by the police and judiciary. Nor does it prohibit homophobic hate crimes. Recommending changes to the bill, HRW warned:

“Greece has failed countless victims of racist and xenophobic attacks by neither investigating nor prosecuting the attackers. If the justice minister and parliament are really serious about improving the country’s response to racism and xenophobia, they should remove the obstacles to justice for these attacks.”

The bill took so long to pass through parliament largely because of widespread opposition from the political right and the Orthodox Church. Right-wing forces in the country are certainly powerful; amid the political turmoil, economic disaster, and high unemployment of the last few years, Golden Dawn has become the third-biggest political force in the country. This is despite the fact that much of the group’s leadership is being detained in pre-trial custody on charges of running a violent street operation. The party has been blamed for the drastic rise in racist assaults, and left-wing politicians allege that conservatives in parliament were reluctant to support the anti-discrimination bill for fear of alienating the far-right.

This rising conservatism has also triggered a surge in blasphemy charges. Greece has wide-ranging blasphemy laws (for more on this, see the New Humanist’s series on blasphemy laws worldwide). Reactionary Orthodox groups and members of Golden Dawn have used these laws to bring cases against satirist Philip Loizos, and actors in a controversial play.

The difficulty of passing comprehensive anti-discrimination laws is part of the same picture as the exercising of existing blasphemy laws; a society in which the forces of intolerance are increasingly difficult to fight against.