Racist Attempts by Greek Authorities to Keep Roma Out of Their Territories
28 May 2004
Racist attitudes on the part of Greek officials towards Roma continue to be crucial to the inability of Roma in Greece to access rights and freedoms, and particularly the right to adequate housing. Most recently, Greek authorities have been speaking out to the media in an attempt to discourage private non-Romani citizens from taking actions which might encourage the movement of Roma into areas they govern. According to the Pyrgos-based daily newpaper Proti of September 11, 2003, Mr Costas Lourbas, mayor of the town of Gastouni in Western Peloponesse, stated:
"[…] the race of the Gypsies is inadaptable and the social problems they create are numerous. Moreover, there is no reason to be optimistic about the prospects of those people integrating into society in the future. Consequently, we should all confront this grave problem and we should understand that the only solution is for people to stop renting their properties to the Gypsies, as this creates problems to the local residents and degrades the area."
In a meeting on December 9, 2003 with the ERRC and its local partner Greek Helsinki Montior (GHM), Mr V. Valassopoulos, the general secretary of the Ministry of Interior, stated that the Municipality of Aspropyrgos has a "purely racist attitude" vis-ŕ-vis Roma, thereby admitting awareness by the central Greek administration of the anti-Romani feelings held by many local authorities. Other information points to the fact that similar attitudes are held by members of the central Greek administration. Speaking with a journalist of the Greek national newspaper Eleftherotypia on February 6, 2003, Mr Michalis Hadjigiannis, the former mayor of Lechaina, a municipality in Western Peloponesse, reportedly stated:
"We were about to start work on the new settlement when I received a call from the head of the Environment and Town Planning directorate of the Western Greece Region, Ms K. Karagianni. She informed me that the settlement could not be made in the designated plot of land as it was next to the national highway and with the Olympics in mind, it would not be good for foreign visitors to be able to see the Gypsies. I then contacted the Ministry of the Interior and was told that we could suitably landscape the area so that a small hill could be erected between the national highway and the settlement and that trees could be planted upon it, so that the Gypsies would not be seen from the highway when the road would be used during the Olympics. I initially thought they were joking but shortly I found out that unfortunately they were talking in earnest. It is unbelievable […]. This is how all the efforts we made to house these people came to an end."
Though the interview was not published, the interview was made available to the ERRC/GHM. Racial discrimination and incitement to racial hatred violate the International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), which Greece ratified on July 18, 1970. Article 4 of the ICERD states: "States Parties condemn all propaganda and all organizations which are based on ideas or theories of superiority of one race or group of persons of one colour or ethnic origin, or which attempt to justify or promote racial hatred and discrimination in any form, and […] (c) Shall not permit public authorities or public institutions, national or local, to promote or incite racial discrimination." For more information on the situation of Roma in Greece, see the ERRC's Internet website at: http://www.errc.org/publications/indices/greece.shtml. (ERRC, GHM)