ATHENS (Apr. 8)
The Greek Parliament has overwhelmingly rejected a proposal by the government that would have made the listing of religion on national identity cards optional instead of obligatory.
The amendment, long sought by Jewish groups as well as Greece’s Catholic minority, was denounced by the country’s all-powerful Orthodox Church and defeated in a rowdy Parliament session Tuesday.
For the first time in many years, the Socialists and Communists voted alongside conservative deputies of the ruling New Democracy Party, backing down from the proposal made by Greek Interior Minister Yiannis Kefalogiannis.
Last month, Kefalogiannis told a visiting delegation from the World Jewish Congress that Greece would be dropping its insistence on having religion listed on I.D. cards.
No other country in the European Community issues national identity cards with a listing of religious affiliation.
Nissim Mais, president of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, said he was surprised and disappointed at the Parliament vote.
“The Greek Parliament will be responsible for Greece’s image abroad,” he added.
In New York, Jewish leaders involved in discussions with the Greek government regarding the issue said they were disappointed with the vote.
“This comes as a deep disappointment,” said David Harris, executive vice president of the American Jewish Committee.
“The question then will be what happens next. Clearly the government had wanted to move Greece toward the position of the other E.C. governments. We knew that there were strong forces of opposition to this, especially rooted in the Greek Orthodox Church,” Harris said.
Elan Steinberg, executive director of the WJC, said his organization would pursue the matter further with Greek and E.C. officials, as well as European diplomats.
The Greek Jewish community, meanwhile, is considering challenging the regulations in Greece’s High Court of Justice or in the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Kefalogiannis also expressed his dismay at the vote, saying, “Tonight we made a mistake whose consequences we will see in the future.”
Parliament members opposed to the change stressed that Orthodoxy was an integral of the Greek nation’s identity and that the country must not bow to external pressures.
Roughly 95 percent of the country’s citizens belong to the Greek Orthodox Church.
The few deputies in Parliament who supported the government’s proposal said the current policy was unconstitutional, but they were heckled amidst screaming and shouting.