In the frame of its mandate to combat racism and eliminate racial discrimination prohibited by law[1] the Equality Body investigated two complaints against the same politician, a right wing candidate for the municipal elections, The complaints concerned the central slogan used in the electoral campaign of the particular candidate, running for the position of a municipal councilor for Nicosia (also called Lefkosia), the capital city. The slogan, a play of words in Greek, was along the following lines: “Primary[2] or Secondary? Lefkosia or Lefk-ASIA?” The implied message of the slogan challenges voters to decide whether they want a capital city that is rated first or whether they want their city to become second rate and ‘full of Asians’, thus equating ‘decadence’ with the presence of migrants from Asia. Following the submission of the complaints, the Equality Body asked the particular candidate to defend his position. In response, he referred to a press article which he authored, in which he expounded his position that Nicosia has been rendered a second-rate city because its central nucleus has become the refuge of migrants who have displaced the indigenous inhabitants. His article concludes that his convictions will not be altered by any attempt of distortion on behalf of those who claim to be defending the rights of foreigners and are indifferent to improving the image of Nicosia.

The Equality Body found that (Decision Ref. ΑΚR 118/2011 & ΑΚR 129/2011, dated 25 April 2012): , although the said candidate was honest, in that he did not intend to convey racist messages, his campaigning slogan in combination with his views in the said press article amount to a sweeping generalization which depreciates the culture and habits of an entire group of people, leading to their stigmatization and risking their being targeted. The report focuses on the debate regarding ‘free speech v. prohibition of racist speech’, clarifying that it respects the right of expression of opinions even if they are offensive because it is necessary, for the sake of pluralism, that opposing views mingle and contradict each other. The report notes that in a democracy the most effective confrontation of any form of speech is counter-speech and criticizes the effort to eliminate racist speech through criminal provisions restricting free expression, describing them as “easy” measures that do not reflect value-based democratic questions and as “not solving the problem”. Nevertheless, the report adds, racist speech expressed in the public sphere is testing the limits of our democratic culture, regardless of whether it is voluntary or involuntary or naive, because this can create or feed negative attitudes, incite violence and lead to a generalized social and institutional hostility against minority groups and to the institutionalization of unjust or disproportionate policies, practices or measures, obstructing the efforts of the minoritised to overturn prejudices and marginalization. The report pointed out that political persons and journalists have an increased responsibility as regards the content, nature and impact of their rhetoric and thus have a higher duty not only to avoid reproducing racist stereotypes and prejudices but to promote the acceptance of diversity.

The report refers to the Charter of European political parties for a non-racist society, drawn up after consultation with most of the political parties in the European Union and under the auspices of the EU Consultative Commission on Racism and Xenophobia, pointing out that this has been signed by nearly all European political formations. It makes no reference as to whether the particular candidate’s political party has signed the Charter and if so what measures could be taken against him under the Charter. The report referred to the example of Ireland and UK who, following an initiative from their respective national equality bodies, introduced in the political sphere a voluntary commitment from persons contesting elections at any level that they will represent the interests of all voters without discrimination and will ensure that their electoral campaigns will not include any racist or intolerant messages.

The report was communicated to the President of the House of Representatives; no other action or measure was taken or recommended to be taken. The wide legal framework criminalizing racist speech which was quoted at the beginning of the report was not utilized in order to recommend the prosecution of the electoral candidate in question.

Comment: The decision not to pursue or even recommend any specific measures to be taken against the particular politician sets a backdrop of impunity and defeats all efforts to introduce an ethical standard in the public sphere that delegitimizes racist speech. The particular politician has already clarified he will not be swayed or persuaded by the ‘defenders of foreigners’. Besides, in order for the process of delegitimisation to be triggered off, some kind of invocation of legal measures has to be made, even if this does not actually result in his prosecution but merely in the introduction of the debate on legality, impunity and legitimacy in the public sphere. The Equality Body’s argument about counter-speech being the best tool to confront racist speechmay need further elaboration to become more convincing. There is an abundance of studies and surveys showing that migrants are marginalised and excluded, have no access to the media and no political or civic participation. This renders it impossible for them to participate in the liberal ‘democratic game’ which this report appears to be endorsing.


[1]  In this context, the report referred to the ECHR decision in the case of Gündüz v. Turkey, 4/12/2003; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (article 20.2); the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (article 4); Council Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law; the Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on Racist speech (R. 97/20); and others.

[2] The equivalent Greek word (πρωτεύουσα) applies both to an entity that holds the first position and to the Capital city.