Updated At: 11:13 Wednesday 27 February 2013
A total of 85 New Democracy MPs signed and tabled a motion to amend existing legislation, which allows all Greek citizens, including immigrants who have become Greeks through the process of naturalisation, to enrol in military academies
Who should be allowed to serve in the country's armed forces? (Eurokinissi)
More than two-thirds of all New Democracy MPs want to make the country’s armed forces and police off-limits to anyone who is not of the "Greek race", which is based on birth and blood relations - not naturalisation.
A total of 85 deputies signed and tabled the motion to amend existing legislation, which allows all Greek citizens, including immigrants who have become Greeks through the process of naturalisation, to enrol in military and police academies.
As explicitly stated in the proposed amendment (see below), the MPs fear naturalised citizens could be a threat to national security. They argue the amendment they are proposing is necessary due to “the peculiarities of the issues concerning our national security compared to other European countries [and] the acute problem of illegal immigration that our country is facing, in combination with the law concerning citizenship
News of the proposed amendment stirred a fury of mixed reactions from politicians and high-ranking officials in the armed forces. In support, the chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff, General Michalis Kostarakos, tweeted in Greek that “The time has come to regulate the issue of the race of students enrolling in military schools. The should be required to be of Greek race.”
Extreme rightwing Golden Dawn, which claims the Greek people are a distinct race and bound together by a common culture and the Greek Orthodox Church, was also quick to show its support to the initiative undertaken by the 85 MPs. Golden Dawn issued a statement in support of the proposed amendment, stressing that it was their MPs who had raised the issue in parliament several months ago.
“The ban of recruitment of foreigners in the military academies is a big victory for Golden Dawn,” the party said in a statement released on Tuesday. “The honourable uniform of the Greek armed officer will not be handed to the Albanians, the Asians and the Africans and the country’s armed forces will not come under the control of foreign spies.”
Golden Dawn also noted that one of its MPs, Polyvios Zisimopoulos, was first to raise the issue in parliament. Zisimopoulos tabled a question on June 18 and again on February 21, asking the government for the exact number of naturalised Greeks who are enrolled in the military academies and who serve in the armed forces. On February 21, he asked whether the government is thinking about changing the rules.
Pasok and the Democratic Left (the two smaller parties in the New Democracy-led coalition government) oppose the amendment. Fotis Kouvelis, leader of the Democratic Left, described the motion tabled by the 85 New Democracy MPs as "medieval obscurantism".
Changing the rules will probably require a change in the country’s constitution. Article 4 paragraph 6 explicitly states that “every Greek capable of bearing arms is obliged to contribute to the defence of the fatherland as provided by law”. The term “every Greek” includes immigrants who have been naturalised.
To some observers, the current political climate could be a perfect excuse for anti-immigrant activists seeking to curb immigration and overhaul the country’s laws on citizenship. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, borrowing heavily from the far-right rhetoric, plans to drastically change a law passed in 2010 that was aimed at making it easier for the Greece-born children of immigrants to obtain Greek citizenship. He is encouraged by the Council of State’s recent ruling that the 2010 law is unconstitutional.
When the 2010 law was passed by the former Pasok government, then prime minister George Papandreou had promised to grant citizenship to as many as 250,000 children of immigrants who were either born in Greece or educated here.
Immigrants make up roughly 10% of the country’s population (just over 11m).