An attempt by the Foreign Minister of Greece to shut down a monthly review

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Greece’s Foreign Minister, Nikos Kotzias, froze the bank accounts of the monthly The Athens Review of Books’ (ARB) publisher Maria Vasilaki today. Furthermore, he seized her revenue from the “ARGOS” press and book distribution agency. In actuality, he is attempting to shut down ARB.

Over the past few years, Mr. Kotzias has been pursuing legal action against ARB– Greece’s equivalent to The New York Review of Books. Pretext for this action arose from ARB’s publication of a letter to the editor recalling the minister’s political past, from the days when he was one of the Greek Communist Party’s most fanatical cadres, overseeing propaganda from his post as a Central Committee member, which earned him the nickname “the GCP’s Suslov.” The letter to the editor included a political characterization of the minister as “the most extreme, fanatical, cruel, and relentless communist of his/our generation; a true gauleiter of Stalinism.”

Mr. Kotzias sought legal redress, claiming the above reference to be libelous, and demanded a huge monetary sum in damages. Greek judges, as a rule, they consider it their duty to protect politicians and not the freedom of the press. And so, they “vindicated” the minister and ended up finding ARB guilty. However, this decision violates the standard case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In fact, Greece tops the list of countries found guilty by the ECHR in cases concerning freedom of speech and violation of Article 10 of the Treaty of Rome. Today, it ranks 88th worldwide, lagging behind countries like Mongolia at the 69th spot and Albania at the 76th.

The absurdity of the decision rendered in favor of Mr. Kotzias by the Court of Appeals, which was subsequently upheld by Greece’s Supreme Court, is evident in the opinion of the judges, which includes the following statement:

Although it was proven that the plaintiff [Foreign Minister N. Kotzias] was a founding member [!] of the Greek Communist Party” [which was founded in 1924, while Mr. Kotzias was born in 1950], “nonetheless, his texts, which were cited and submitted by the parties, do not prove his admiration for the absolutist regime in question [Erich Hockener’s regime was totalitarian, not absolutist] or promotion of it.”

The Court of Appeals’ decision was sharply criticized by members of Greece’s academia, the President of the Academy of Athens, renowned professors, and leading Greek attorneys, while equally critical articles were published in academic journals by distinguished legal scholars. The decision was also criticized in the Greek press and by the Association of European Journalists.

Athens University Professor Thanos Veremis remarked, “So much nonsense in such a short time. It should be called ‘The Economy of Nonsense.’” Meanwhile, G.V. Dertilis (Directeur d’études, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris) called the decision “a masterpiece of historic ignorance, irrationality, and absence of judgment hardly befitting judges.”

Former European Ombudsman Nikiforos Diamantouros noted, among other things, that “aside from the unfathomable and clear-cut absence of elementary reasoning that is evidenced by a court decision which cites an individual born in 1950 as a ‘founding member’ of a party whose charter dates back to 1924—in other words, 26 years earlier (…)

A decision by a court of a European Union and Council of Europe member-state which is in direct conflict with fundamental principles of European jurisprudence regarding freedom of speech and freedom of the press—freedoms that both the European Union Court of Justice and especially the European Court of Human Rights have historically defended—creates deep uneasiness and intense concern.

The Court of Appeals blatantly ignored all the evidence that was presented and the dozens of articles and books containing Stalinist propaganda written by Mr. Kotzias. The Supreme Court did the same, also overlooking the firestorm that the Court of Appeals’ unjust decision, which marred the prestige of the Greek justice system, set off.

As examples, a few pieces of evidence submitted to both of the aforementioned courts are cited below:

1. The propagandist book Der autonome Intellekt (The Independent Mind), written by Mr. Kotzias under the supervision of a Stasi agent (known by the name “Rehbein,” or “Deerfoot”), who headed up the Honecker regime’s Department of Ideological Struggle. This book was published by the East German state/party publishing house Akademie Verlag in 1976. The subtitle of this book reads as follows: Alfred Sohn-Rethels “kritische” Liquidierung der materialistischen Dialektik und Erkenntnistheorie, which translates to “the ‘critical’ liquidation of Dialectical materialism and Epistemology by Alfred Sohn-Rethels.” It should be noted that the term liquidation is associated with Stalin’s purges (Liquidierung).

2. Mr. Kotzias is also the author of another propagandistic book in support of Jaruzelski’s dictatorship entitled Η Πολωνία κι εμείς [Poland and Us] which was published in 1981. After becoming a government minister and in light of the fact that the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, had been sent to prison by the Jaruzelski regime, when asked about his book, Mr. Kotzias was forced to unceremoniously admit to the German magazine Spiegel (9 February 2015) that “upon the orders of my party [the Communist party], I wrote things, i.e., regarding Poland, which were nonsense.” In this book, he wrote that the Nobel prize was awarded to an “unknown refugee,” Czeslaw Milosz, by “imperialism” in order to strengthen the “counter-revolution.”

3. In yet another book of Stalinist propaganda, Mr. Kotzias noted that “the peaceful transition [into socialism] includes not just general violence…but may also contain armed violence. It simply does not reach the level of a national civil war. The use of weapons in the event of a peaceful transition may, in the worst case, be isolated, incidental, and geographically contained.”

And yet, according to the Greek judges, none of this proves that Mr. Kotzias was even a mere admirer of those regimes.

Among other things that transpired at this trial, Mr. Kotzias maintained in writing that he was elected as a professor at the University of Oxford and subsequently at Harvard! Both universities deny this.

The case was reviewed by the Supreme Court, with the written report filed by its responsible member strongly advocating a not-guilty verdict for ARB. In the end, however, political pressure by the Court’s chief justice—who was appointed to the prime minister’s legal office after her recent retirement—generated results. The Supreme Court upheld the decision by the Court of Appeals. In fact, the rapporteur went as far as voting against her own report, which conceded that the Court of Appeals had violated Article 10 of the European Treaty of Human Rights, Article 14 of the Greek Constitution, and various articles of the civil and penal code.

The Athens Review of Books is now taking the case to the ECHR, which has on two prior occasions vindicated the ARB director against Greece in similar cases involving violation of freedom of speech. Nevertheless, Mr. Kotzias has proceeded with the seizure of the periodical’s assets, since his goal from the onset was to silence its irritating voice.

The sad conclusion is that with the current government—which does not accept the system of checks and balances—civil liberty, freedom of the press, and democracy in Greece are in jeopardy.