In Greek parliament, standards slip as tensions rise

Standards are slipping in Greece's parliament, where heated debate over gruelling austerity has combined with the influx of hot-blooded newcomers to create an explosive mix.

Elections in June brought in a host of new lawmakers from across the political spectrum -- including many from the radical left and far-right -- as voters punished established centrist parties accused of decades of corruption.

With many wizened faces of the old guard swept away, the latest 300-strong membership has considerably livened up the legislative process.

Two women lawmakers from the conservative and nationalist parties nearly came to blows earlier this week over a perceived family insult.

The slighted lawmaker from conservative New Democracy called her opponent "a cheap tart" before the presiding official quickly ended the debate.

On Thursday, newly elected deputy Vassilis Kapernaros -- a prominent lawyer who is now a nationalist MP -- broke a finger banging his desk during a particularly heated discussion.

Last week, a new arrival for the radical leftist party Syriza made headlines after appearing to exhort Greeks to take up arms against a fourth straight year austerity in an interview.

The government is "effectively telling people, kill yourself or take up arms," said Vangelis Diamantopoulos, a self-styled anarchist and former telecoms technician who later gave a television interview wearing a T-shirt stamped with an AK-47 assault rifle.

Another Syriza deputy, writer Petros Tatsopoulos, earlier claimed in an interview to have "screwed half of Athens", reaping a torrent of scorn on the Internet.

"This is the image of Greek society at this point in time," a veteran parliament source told AFP, adding: "Manners cannot be implanted, you either have them or you don't."

Some of the worst incidents in parliament have been sparked by deputies from Golden Dawn, a once-fringe neo-Nazi group that saw its ratings surge in the last election on a wave of anti-immigration sentiment.

In recent months, members of the group run with military-style discipline have accused the police minister of being a "man of the Jews" and a Muslim deputy of being a Turkish agent.

"Sit down, are you drunk again?" one of Golden Dawn's leading members, former commando Ilias Kasidiaris, shouted at a woman conservative rival who spoke out of turn during a recent vote.

Kasidiaris is scheduled to face trial for assaulting two other women deputies during a talk show.

"A lot of brash novices have come in who have yet to adapt to the code of conduct," says Manos Papazoglou, a lecturer in political systems at the University of the Peloponnese.

"But the anger in Greek society also feeds into this. And lawmakers know that this sort of combative behaviour is likely to generate positive coverage (in their) home (constituencies)," he said.

In another debate, Kasidiaris read out in parliament a passage from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic tract, to protest against his prosecution by suggesting that it was an age-old tactic.

He said Golden Dawn members were "honoured" to be on trial in a country that failed to punish political "thieves and embezzlers".

In addition to the crude language, falling dress standards are seen as a new threat to the integrity of the chamber.

Deputy speaker Christos Markogiannakis, a conservative, last month complained that an increasing number of lawmakers were turning up in jeans and short skirts.

"Lately there are expressions and behaviour that favour acrimony," Markogiannakis told a radio interviewer last month after sending out a circular to the heads of parliamentary groups urging them to bring their members into line.

"We also need to pay attention to certain other things. We cannot have people turning up with a short-sleeved shirt and a tattoo on display," he said.

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