ATHENS - Greek and foreign professors have banded together to protest Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias’ successful suit against a Greek magazine for publishing a letter in 2010 describing him as a “fanatical” Stalinist in a shot at his Communist background.
The Supreme Court froze the bank accounts of the Athens Review of Books (ARB,) convicting owners Manolis and Maria Vasilakis on defamation charges in awarding him €22,000 ($25,804) in damages and ordering its bank account seized.
They said he wanted their business shuttered, The Financial Times reported in an account of the case over the letter which described Kotzias as having once been “the most extreme, fanatical, cruel and relentless communist of our generation, a true gauleiter (petty official) of Stalinism”.
The ruling was sharply criticized by academics and public figures, who say it violates European Union law on freedom of expression, the paper said, amid growing attacks by Kotzias’ party, heavily Communist-ridden Radical Left SYRIZA of Premier Alexis Tsipras, a former Communist youth leader.
The Greek and international academics said Kotzias’ actions in going after the magazine were “unconscionable” and “vindictive.” It’s common in Greece for public officials to sue critics as there is almost no free-speech protection against public figures.
“Beyond the threatened destruction of an important publication, this development deals a severe blow to the right of free speech in Greece and to the uninhibited dissemination of knowledge and exchange of ideas, which are essential prerequisites of an open and democratic society,” said the state, according to Kathimerini.
It was signed by Lars Baerentzen, Department of Modern Greek, University of Copenhagen (retired); Richard Clogg, Emeritus Fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford; Kevin Featherstone, Eleftherios Venizelos Professor of Contemporary Greek Studies and Professor of European Studies, London School of Economics;
John O. Iatrides, Emeritus Professor of Political Science, Southern Connecticut State University; James E. Miller, Foreign Service Institute (retired); and Dimitris Papadimitriou, Professor of Political Science, University of Manchester.
“The ARB is a valuable cultural forum that must be defended against political influence of any kind,” the statement said.
The court issued a unanimous 5-0 verdict against the magazine after Penelope Zontanou, the Supreme Court rapporteur, who originally called for the case to be dismissed in 2016 after arguing Kotzias’s claim violated European human rights law and the Greek constitution, reversed her position without explanation.
“It’s unprecedented for a member of the Supreme Court to reverse themselves like this without a strong legal argument,” a top Greek judge said who was not named told FT after the decision was released.
Vasilakis said his dispute with the Foreign Minister reflected the “problematic state” of Greece’s judicial system. “This case goes beyond a personal dispute. The real enemy is the current government, which doesn’t believe in a democratic system of checks and balances,” he said.