MP Kourakis’ “Church-Tax” proposal sparks new dispute between ND-SYRIZA

Posted by in Politics

Left-wing SYRIZA lawmaker Tasos Kourakis made a ‘revolutionary proposal': that clerics’ wages should be funded not by the state but by those who declare themselves to be Christian orthodox and thus through a special tax similar in other European countries like Germany.

The funding scheme was proposed by Kourakis in a broader reform to separate the Church of Greece and the state with the church to fund itself through own means than through the state.

“We propose to abolish the funding of the clerics’ wages by the state. It is obvious, when we ask for the separation of Church-State, salaries of priests of any religion cannot by paid by the state. I would say that if this is hard to do, we could discuss an alternative proposal. The alternative is to impose a special tax on those people declaring they are Christian Orthodox when submitting their tax declaration. This tax will be given to the Church.  In this case, the public should be fully informed that the statement, they are Christina Orthodox involves the imposition of this tax. ” (Kourakis)

Speaking at a conference organized by the theology department at Aristotle University on the topic “Left and the Church”, SYRIZA lawmaker Tasos Kourakis spoke in favor of a separation of the Church of Greece and the state with the church funding itself rather than via state coffers.

“The mainstream Orthodox clergy’s salaries and pensions are being paid for by the State at rates comparable to those of teachers. The Church had compensated the State by a tax of 35% on ordinary revenues of the Church but Law 3220/2004 in 2004 abolished this tax. By virtue of its status as the prevailing religion, the canon law of the Church is recognized by the Greek government in matters pertaining to church administration. This is governed by the “Constitution of the Church of Greece”, which has been voted by Parliament into law. “

As expected conservative Nea Dimocratia but also nationalist Independent Greeks sharply condemned Kourakis’ proposal that sparked a new heated dispute between Greece’s main opposition and PM Antonis Samaras’ party.

Nea Dimocratia issued a statement condemning Kourakis and SYRIZA and linked the proposal to “Stalinist methods”, while it claimed it would be unconstitutional to discriminate Greeks according to their religious beliefs.

ND statement:

1. In the most difficult times for Greek people, SYRIZA calls for imposing a new poll levy apparently to the entire population as more than 90% of Greeks are Christian Orthodox. We wait with interest that SYRIZA specifies the amount of poll levy and the way of payment.

2. It calls for taxing the Greeks according to their faith, a position reminiscent from the toughest years of authoritarian, Stalinist regimes, where believers were persecuted, or the Ottoman occupation where christians were persecuted and only they were taxed.

3. It is obvious that this moves goes beyond the limits of the Constitution, after separating the Greeks according to their faith.

Tasos Kourakis responded by pointing out that Greeks already pay for clerics wages through their taxes.”

“It’s funny for ND to indicate Christian Orthodox will be extra taxed and that this constitutes a persecution of believers. What we are saying is that citizens contribute this money through taxation anyway. Only the the way of tax collection for the Church will be different and thus depending on the religious beliefs of citizens.”

Nationalist Independent Greeks (former ND lawmakers) condemned also the SYRIZA proposal and said in a statement:

“While Archbishop Ieronymos offered land belonging to the Church to unemployed to cultivate, while local parishes support the needy with soup kitchen and the simple priest stands by the side of the family father, SYRIZA MP Mr Kourakis proposes the taxing the Greek Orthodox faith. Although we do not believe in silencing the free opinion, Mr. Kourakis has gone much to far.”

To each own defense, SYRIZA promoted a video footage from an interview of Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras expressing a similar taxation proposal to this of Kourakis. In an interview to private Mega TV, Stournaras proposed that clerics wages to be funding via a special taxation.

Video: upload in YouTube Aug 22/2012. However the interview was broadcast before he was named FinMin.

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direkt

On Monday afternoon, Stournaras declared he never made the same proposal as Kourakis but he just mentioned what happens in other European countries.

 (news sources: ekathimerini, in.gr)

Church-State relations in Greece

 I think it’s clear to everyone the attempt to demonize everyone wanting the separation of the Church and the State in Greece or to impose a religious tax has little to do with believers persecution and with the religious belief itself.

Of course, at this stage of state fiscal situation hardly a governing party like ND would like to see its tax revenues decrease, as a) not all taxpayers in Greece are Christian Orthodox (see: foreigners) b) there are muslim and catholics minorities c) atheists and d) not to mention the number of debt-ridden low incomers who would declare ‘atheists’ just to save on taxes.

On the other hand,  state-church relations in Greece are characterized by mutual control and exchange of power. The Church of Greece is powerful enough to mobilize the masses against the government, while no government would like to lose control over the Church, like threatening to cut funding…

One more point I would like to stress is whether faithful taxpayers in Germany, Italy, Spain, Denmark or France do feel offended and discriminated when it comes to pay their church tax for the religious congregation they belong to. Do they? I don’t think so. But I suppose, citizens in several European countries did not fail school classes when “Enlightenment” was been taught.

Nevertheless, separating state from church and taxing believers would need a major Constitution reform and that’s not on the agenda right now – or in the near future.

Further reading REUTERS: Taxing times for Church-State relations via greekcity.au

PS I was proud to tick religious check box “other” when I used to submit my tax declaration in Germany, however I could not escape from paying my “Solidarity Tax” and devotedly support the German reunification :)