The Greek version of #metoo and the “legislate away” approach

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

The #metoo wave came belatedly to Greek shores, but it came with a formidable force. It started with rape and sexual-assault accusations in the sports world – of all fields in sailing, with 2004 Olympics golden medalist Sophia Bekatorou taking the lead; it spread to sexual-abuse complaints throughout sport, then the art world; the wave crashed to the political shore with the case of acclaimed theatre actor, director and head of the National Theatre of Greece Dimitris Lignadis – with paedophilic accusations against him ending in prosecution and remand in custody.

As any scholar with experience in things Greek would expect, the matter soon got tainted by politics. Indeed the Greek version of #metoo, having raged for weeks in social media – a turn to be expected – ended in heated confrontation, even wrangling at the very centre of politics. A special session in Parliament, called by Prime Minster Mitsotakis, was devoted to vitriolic debate with s***- hitting-the-fan aspects.

One can easily surmise that such unpleasantness will stay with us for quite some time, supplanting more traditional areas of political conflict. Indeed, with QAnon aspects already emerging, the viciousness of such matters and their impact on political life cannot be fully assessed at this time (Images of QAnon from the storming of Capitol Hill of January 6 are fresh in everybody’s mind).

There is, though, one further typically Greek reflex that came to the surface along with growing #metoo concerns: the urge to “legislate away” such issues of public preoccupation. Whenever hue and cry arises over the consequences of a heat wave that causes lethal wildfires or of heavy snowfall causing grave power outages that claim lives, new legislation comes to the Greek Parliament so as to create regulatory routines or power structures. If a stock market scam or a tax-evasion scheme catches the eye, then new wise legislation is introduced.

So, this time around, there is talk of raising the age of consent for sexual acts, or for modifying the statute of limitations for sexual offenses involving minors. More intrusively for what used to be known as the presumption of innocence, or due process for criminal denunciations, the creation of a digital portal has been proposed to receive grievances of #metoo character; the lion heads waiting for informers in medieval Venice come to the mind. Also, a digital depository will be available, to list the names of all those who are in professional contact with children – all the way from teachers to trainers and the suchlike so as to make it possible to prevent the proximity of shady characters.

Even if one puts aside considerations of personal data protection, one is left with a major question – quite relevant under Greek reality: how far has the thicket of legal rules helped the country – and its citizens – to fight illegal, deviant or socially unwanted behavior? Legislating may help in keeping appearances, but rule implementation is quite another thing. While lifting the veil of silence over sexual crimes constitutes the real challenge: legislation does little to face this aspect, social attitudes are of paramount importance.