A violation of freedom of speech

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vagenas4.9.17

by Nasos Vayenas*

As Mr. Polakis rightly states, court judgements are not above criticism. They are not beyond reproach. But the problem with this statement is that the government limits recourse to this exclusively to cases where court judgements are not to its liking (even if they are dictated by the higher justification of complying with the Constitution). And all this while at the same time they are maintaining a hypocritical (to be precise, disgraceful) silence in those cases where outrageously unfair judgements favour their policy or specific government officials, even when they come into conflict with fundamental issues of democracy and freedom of speech, on which those currently governing pride themselves.

There are two main reasons why a judge might be led consciously to make an unfair pro-governmental decision: powerful ambition to rise on the hierarchical ladder of the judiciary, in conjunction – usually – with a lack of cultivation that engenders insecurity and vulnerability to governmental pressures.

Given the recent reasoning by which the Supreme Court judges upheld the decision of the judges of the Athens Court of Appeals, according to which the principals of The Athens Review of Books committed the offence of slander of the current Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Kotzias (who at the time of the “offence”  – in 2010 – was advisor to the then Prime Minister George Papandreou), one can only reflect sadly on the quality (the educational level, the reasoning ability and the legal ethos) of some members of the Greek judiciary.

The members of the court of appeal and high court judges in question found the characterization of the present Minister in a letter to the magazine as “Gauleiter of Stalinism”  defamatory. “Yes, it has been proven that the plaintiff was a founding member of the Greek Communist Party,” says the decision, but “in none of the texts the parties were required to submit is there to be found any expression of admiration for that totalitarian regime” (the regime of Honecker).

What can be said about the extreme ignorance of the five high court judges and three members of the court of appeals, who refer to something that has never been proven in court and could never be submitted as evidence because the Greek Communist Party was founded in 1918/1924, thirty years before the plaintiff was born (1950)? (One of the three appellants was promoted to the High Court following publication of the indictment by the court of appeal.) And what can one say about the inability (?) of these judges to discern the difference between metaphorical and literal language, when they interpret the term “Gauleiter” literally? Οbviously concluding that Gauleiters ceased to exist after the collapse of the Nazi regime.

It is worth nothing that the term “Gauleiter” in its metaphorical sense is to be encountered in numerous editions of the newspaper “Rizospastis” at the time that the plaintiff was responsible for ideological guidance in the Communist Party (for example: “In his well-known Gauleiter style, the American defense minister…” (5-10-1983) (research by D. Psarras), and that the high court judge who presented the preamble to the case, despite the positive [for the Athens Review of Books] content of her presentation, finally voted against the magazine, without saying a word on the subject of her about-face.

The fact that the outrageous decision of the Court of Appeal raised a storm of protest from the university and wider intellectual milieu (prominent lawyers, political scientists, historians, international relations specialists, economists, etc.) including expressions of ridicule, evidently cut no ice with the unrelenting high court judges. I quote some of the commentary:

“The decision betrays an incomprehensible and blatant lack of logic, woeful ignorance  and an absence of basic knowledge of history” (N. Diamantouros),  “A masterpiece of historical illiteracy and inaccuracy that disgraces judges”, (G.V. Dertilis), “So much nonsense in so little space”, (T. Veremis), “Stupidity on a grand  scale” (Y. Gianoulopoulos), “The court’s decision is a monument to lack of education that devastates the reputation of the Greek judiciary” (P.S. Vallianos), “The judgment of the court suggests that Orwell’s satire seems to have become a reality in the Greek justice system” (A. Nehamas), “Unfortunately, apart from entertaining, the decision is also disturbing, because it illustrates how deficient the independence of the judiciary is in practice” (P. Kitromilidis), “Uninformed reasoning and an impressively mistaken judgement” (A. Delivorias), “The rationale behind the court decision testifies to political bias impermissible for a court” (A. Manitakis).

One would not, of course, expect that SYRIZA’s sense of justice and the war unleashed by Mr. Polakis against unwanted court judgements would also be targeted at the indictment of the Athens Review of Books that is so satisfying for Mr. Kotzias. Nevertheless, that indictment entails something that cannot but have annoyed the government and in particular Mr. Polakis: the exculpation of the plaintiff from the charge of having been an admirer of Sovietia.

* Professor of Literary Theory and Criticism at the University of Athens.

Published in Vima and Ta Nea

TO VIMA, 24.7.2017

http://www.tovima.gr/opinions/article/?aid=893829

ΤΑ ΝΕΑ, 24.7.2017

http://www.tanea.gr/news/politics/article/5461794/enas-biasmos-ths-eleytherias-toy-logoy/