THERE was a lot of criticism in social media of a speech made by a public school teacher at a church in Nicosia district on the occasion of Ochi Day last Sunday. This was a fascistic outburst, extolling extreme nationalism, claiming Greek racial superiority and inciting racial hatred and homophobia. It was no coincidence that the right-wing extremists of Elam publicly defended the teacher, after criticism was levelled against her; she was also backed by some Disy politicians, in the name of free speech.
Is freedom of expression a defence for hate speech? This is an excerpt of the teacher’s October 28 speech that was delivered in church. “The enemy is within the walls and is already deploying his hallucinogens. It is the same one that looks dismissively at the Greek flag. It is the same person that you see at the crossing points having fun with tambourines, whistles and drums to prove to you that he is not a nationalist and loves peace. He is the same person that tomorrow will demand that your Greek Orthodox schools abolish morning prayers, religious instruction, national anniversaries and parades because they upset the child of the Muslim, the Hindu and every non-believer… it is the same person that organises ‘pride parades’ and asks you to applaud perversion.”
Some would not expect to hear such hate-filled bigotry in a church, even though some of the Church hierarchy embrace these views and have close ties with Elam, which is an offshoot of Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. Such views are given legitimacy when uttered after a church service to mark a national anniversary and the last thing we need are fascists imposing their toxic ideas on the public with the blessing of the priests. Has the Church hierarchy now decided to give a platform to fascists, racists and homophobes in order to help them get their poisonous ideas across?
Worse still, the political parties have kept silent on the matter less they alienate racist and homophobic voters, thus helping the hate-filled rants of the bigots gain social acceptance. None of them deemed it necessary to stand up for our open and tolerant, democratic society that is meant to treat all its citizens as equals. The speech castigated the non-Greek Orthodox, the LGBT community and reunification supporters as the “enemy within the walls,” allegedly threatening our society, yet no politician thought it necessary to dismiss this incitement to hatred. Everyone seems to be working in order to build Elam’s strength.