Blasphemy charges have been filed in Greece against actors, a producer and a director who staged an American play depicting Jesus and his apostles as gay. Earlier this month, the production of the play “Corpus Christi” had been cancelled in Athens after weeks of daily protests by priests from Greece’s Orthodox Church, members of the far-right party, the Golden Dawn, and other right-wing protesters. These demonstrations and the blasphemy charges, filed by Bishop Seraphim of Piraeus, are all more signs of a rise in right-wing sentiment in Greece, also evidenced in reports of violent attacks on immigrants and the government’s implementation of its “Xenios Zeus” policy, a crackdown on illegal immigrants.
The director, Albanian-born Laertis Vasiliou, expressed disbelief that authorities have made such a huge issue about the play. Meanwhile, Greece is struggling in an ongoing economic crisis, five years of recession, unemployment over 25 percent and authorities seeking to privatize a number of state properties, including the ports of the Piraeus and of Thessaloniki. In a reference to the tax evaders and those who have brought the country nearly into bankruptcy, Visilious said:
“What I see is that there are people who have robbed the country blind who are not in jail and the prosecutor turns against art.”
Adding to public outrage about the country’s political class not focusing on corruption is the announcement last week that Kostas Vaxevanis, who own and edits an investigative journal Hot Doc and was acquitted of violating privacy laws for publishing the names of 2,059 wealthy Greeks suspected of evading taxes, will face a retrial on the same charges.
No date for a trial for the director Vasiliou and the others has yet been set. If convicted, they could face sentences of several months. Rights groups and politicians have objected to the charges, with the co-ruling Democratic Left party terming Greece’s blasphemy laws “anachronistic” and saying they must be changed.
While blasphemy charges are “rarely pressed” in Greece, says Reuters, the lawsuit against those involved in the “Corpus Christi” production follows the arrest of a 27-year-old man who created a Facebook page that mocked a deceased Orthodox monk. These incidents indicate a right-wing turn in the country, also apparent when Greek state TV censored a kiss between two men while airing a segment of the British period drama “Downton Abbey” in October.
Is Greece a Racist Country?
A recent opinion poll found that 70 percent of respondents think that Greece is a racist country. A Human Rights Watch report, “Hate on the Streets: Xenophobic Violence in Greece,” published in July, documented an increase of attacks on “dark-skinned migrants” along with police turning a blind eye on assaults and discouraging victims from filing reports.
Grigoris Vallianatos, described by the Greek daily Ekathimerini as an “outspoken” lawyer, journalist and gay activist who is also the president of the Liberal Alliance party, said simply that “Greeks are racist because no one taught them not to be.” Successive Greek governments have simply failed to implement immigration and assimilation policies:
The state still has no immigration policy; it gathers the people in [migrant reception] centers, not knowing what it will do with them afterwards. Yes, there is a problem with immigration, but it must be solved with the cooperation of their communities, the embassies of their countries, by giving refugee status to those who fall into this category and through the use of funds from the International Organization for Migration.
The rise of anti-immigrant sentiment has gotten to a point that, as of last Friday, the United States Embassy in Athens warned of an increasing risk of violent attacks against those “perceived to be foreign migrants”. American citizens of African, Asian, Hispanic or Middle Eastern descent are said to be most at risk.
I was appalled to read this as, in previous years, I have taken groups of students from my college — many of whom are African-American, Asian American, Hispanic and Middle Eastern — to Greece. These trips took place in 2009, 2010 and 2011 before the Golden Dawn won seats in the 2012 Parliamentary elections and we never encountered any problems. It is chilling to think that would not be the case now.
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Photo by Steve Snodgrass