No freedom of speech in the cradle of Democracy


 

Α major Greek journal is in danger of being shut down because of a politically motivated libel action and the complicity of the Greek judiciary in silencing a serious dissenting voice. A letter in the Athens Review of Books (ARB), one of Greece’s preeminent intellectual publications, published several years ago, characterized Nikos Kotzias, a long-time political figure and now Foreign Minister in the SYRIZA government, as “the most extreme, fanatical, cruel, and relentless communist of his/her generation; a true gauleiter of Stalinism.”

Mr. Kotzias, taking advantage of Greece’s oppressive libel laws, sued the ARB for defamation, arguing that by describing as a “gauleiter of Stalinism,” the journal had characterized him as a Nazi.

The Court of Appeals accepted Mr. Kotzias’ argument in a decision that stands as a monument to ignorance and incoherence.

The Court’s ignorance is manifested in that, oblivious of the fact that “gauleiter” is now universally used to mean any fanatical adherent to a doctrine (of the right or the left), it agreed that the expression implied that Mr. Kotzias as a Nazi.

The Court’s ignorance is also evident in its description of Mr. Kotzias as “a founding member of the Greek Communist Party,” which was actually founded in 1924, considerably before Mr. Kotzias, who, born as he was in 1950, could not have been present at its creation.

The Court’s incoherence is equally striking. The Greek Communist Party’s Stalinist orientation is well-known. But neither the Court’s own thinking of Mr. Kotzias as one of its founders nor Mr. Kotzias’ role as the Party’s central ideologue, which earned him the nickname “the GCP’s Suslov,” had any effect on its deliberations.

Neither did Mr. Kotzias’ contribution to a volume edited by Manfred Buhr, a Stasi agent during the Honeker regime, which was published by the East German state/party publishing house in 1976. That, the Court reasoned, did not suggest that Mr. Kotzias was the regime’s admirer.

Equally irrelevant to the Court was Mr. Kotzias’ defense of Martial Law in Poland under General Jaruzelski in a book he published in 1981, and which he once defended by confessing that he had written a lot of “nonsense” on the Party’s orders.

The ARB appealed the decision to the Greek Supreme Court. The Court’s rapporteur characterized the lower court decision as unconstitutional and in violation of EU human rights law and article 10 of the Rome Treaty and recommended the journal’s acquittal. But when it came to a vote, and spreading judicial incoherence and government interference throughout the Greek justice system, the rapporteur reversed herself, voted against her own recommendation, and the Court unanimously affirmed the lower court decision.

As a result, Mr. Kotzias has been able to freeze the bank accounts of the Review’s editor and publisher and confiscate the payments due to the magazine from its distributor in the clear hope that the magazine will be forced to cease publication.

The Athens Review is appealing to the European Court of Human Rights, which has already ruled in favor of its editor-in-chief in two other cases. It is widely expected that the Court will do so once again.

But the neglect, not to say the suppression, of freedom of speech and thought in Greece persists. In at least two other cases, political speech is being stifled under Greece’s notorious “anti-racist” law. And the former head of the Greek Statistical Service has been repeatedly charged with manipulating data so as to force Greece to enter into the painful agreements imposed upon it by its international creditors!

The relentless persecution of The Athens Review of Books by Mr. Kotzias and the Greek judiciary is scandalously unjust. It aligns the left-wing Greek government with the reactionary regimes of Poland and Hungary and the authoritarian state of Recep Erdogan’s Turkey. For a country that has for ages rested on its laurels as “the cradle of Democracy,” this is shameful and totally unacceptable company.

21.8.2017

* Professor of Philosophy and Edmund N. Carpenter II Class of 1943 Professor in the Humanities. Professor of Philosophy and Comparative Literature. Princeton University.

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