“The day before yesterday some individuals vandalised various locations in Athens,” Prime Minsiter Kyriakos Mitsotakis said while addressing parliament on Thursday. “They also vandalised the monument for our fellow citizens that lost their lives in Marfin [Bank]. In fact, they removed from the simple plaque the coat of arms of the Hellenic Republic. Words are unnecessary, not because some insist on hating the organised state but because they hate their own fellow citizens and the memory of those killed. In other words they hate society itself and provocatively disregard the rules that govern its organisation. Let us not mince words. This practice of blind violence, indiscriminate animosity and uncontrolled destruction is called fascism. Yet such phenomena are manifested every so often in the name of the democratic right to demonstrate,” he said, speaking during the debate on the public gatherings and protests bill.
“This bill comes to protect the citizens’ freedom of public expression, to protect it from both state authoritarianism and from the threat that this right will be usurped by those who oppose normalcy,” the prime minister said.
Mitsotakis emphasised that the right to public assembly was fully protected and recognised by the constitution for a century and a half, with the bill acting as a “clarification and realistic implementation” of this right “so as to more precisely define” the term outdoor public gathering and establish rules for its unobstructed manifestation “but in such a way that it does not obstruct the movement and work of citizens and the life of an entire city.” These, he added, were just as sacred as the freedom to assemble.
“Our democracy recognises equal citizens…our constitution does not have a hierarchy for the rights it establishes. It looks to their exercise by all without the validity of one impinging on the other. The framework for public assemblies must finally change,” he said, noting that democracy does not recognised “privileged groups” that establish a constitutional right at the expense of the majority.
“Modern democratic Greece needs modern democratic rules, justice and reason, which guarantee the right of citizens to assemble but at the same time provide the equal right to free movement in public spaces,” the prime minister said, noting that the freedom of one party to protest was equal to the freedom of another to reach a hospital, their work, their home or to choose to take their child on an outing.
“In a democracy, one right does not supersede the rest,” he said.
“The new law obviously does not concern the established large rallies and marches. But it does introduce a framework for how the dozens of small protests will be planned and carried out,” Mitsotakis said, noting that the dispersion of a rally will be the last measure and decided only when criminal acts were carried out or someone’s life and safety were at risk.
“Even in this case, the forces of law and order must exhaust all margins for the voluntary departure of protestors,” he said.
He also noted that there was no right without responsibility and that the organizer of the rally will be the main representative of the protestors and the person with which the state will mainly converse.