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Golden Nightmare

Yannis Dimarakis

After being the center of attention for several months late last year, Greece has been mostly out of the international news. Indeed, some commentators have suggested that the economy might be showing signs of turning the corner; not exactly light at the end of the tunnel, but at least the tunnel has now come into view.

Until last week.  A row raging between the three governing coalition parties about new anti-racism legislation has put Greece back in the international spotlight. Newspapers around the world (and of course in Greece itself) focus on the two smaller political parties in the coalition, Pasok and Democratic Left which have tabled draft legislation designed to make life much tougher for members of the Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party. The majority coalition member, New Democracy rejected these drafts, influenced by the voices of those who believe that such a move might accelerate the migration of voters to the extreme right.

There are some less well publicized issues which might throw light on the conflict between the parties, and point up some general negotiating lessons.

Firstly. A high ranking member of the Democratic Left party is currently the Minister of Justice. He felt Greece ought to have new anti-racist legislation (note: Greece already has anti-racist laws, but they are outdated, for example because they don't cover racist activity on the web, social media etc). Instead of consulting with the government coalition parties at a lower level, he decided to bring the bill directly to a meeting between the three party leaders. The conservative New Democracy party objected to parts of the content of the bill. The leader of the Democratic Left would not back down on the points causing contention.

First Conclusion: Never start a negotiation with the most senior people because there is no higher authority to go to if it all goes wrong.

Secondly. New Democracy are about to have their "once every 4 years" large convention in June. As there are plenty of hot issues on the agenda they wanted to avoid the anti-racist bill becoming an additional one. They would probably have been happy to vote for it sometime in July or September. The Minister of Justice did not consider this factor.

Second Conclusion: Timing is always key.  What looks to you as best timing might be poor timing for others.

Thirdly. Public opinion is divided regarding the necessity of this bill. This does not mean that those who are against it support racism, just that it is not a priority, given there is current law on these issues anyway. More urgently, Greece needs to address the following:  a criminal case in this country may take up to 10 years (!!!) to reach a hearing at court. Jails are overpopulated, creating valid questions about human rights for those incarcerated. Judges lack modern technology  to support their work.  So there are so many other areas where the Minister of Justice could make a real difference.

Third Conclusion: Always prioritize and fight the most important battles first.

Fourthly. How did the coalition partners react to the deadlock they had created? The 2 minority parties decided to submit the Bill to Parliament anyway. New Democracy drafted another version. The opposition decided to join the circus and drafted its own version. None of these drafts stands a chance as there is no majority behind any one of them. The only party that did not submit a bill are the Nazis (Golden Dawn). Guess who looks like being the most composed and serious party here!! So the way this was handled has led to a deadlock with all 3 members in the coalition losing face. Further and most sadly, the country's image has taken yet one more hammering.

Fourth Conclusion: Before losing credibility completely when trying to get out of a deadlock, consider taking an adjournment to rethink options. Negotiations more often resemble marathons (the strategically run race) than 100 meter dashes (the simple need for speed).

In the meantime we all hope that the violence against immigrants in Greece subsides, and that those who commit it are more frequently brought to justice under legislation which currently exists but is not implemented.

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