ATHENS – In the midst of a pandemic, it was through television that the Hellenic nation – in the Homeland and the Diaspora – expressed their appreciation for the life and public service Christos Sartzetakis, past president of Greece. Prior to his election in 1985 to what had become a ceremonial post, Sartzetakis distinguished himself as a crusading prosecutor – the most well-known episode in life being the subject of the famous film ‘Z’ by Costa-Gavras. He was later imprisoned by the Greek Junta.
The funeral was held at the Metropolis – the Cathedral of Athens – with only family and public officials being able to attend. A few dozen mourners stood outside police lines as the full panoply of Evzones, the Greek Presidential Guard, were arrayed in the church’s courtyard.
The Associated Press noted that Sartzetakis was “a judge widely respected for resisting pressure from military officials who ultimately imprisoned him without trial during the Greek Junta in the late 1960s.”
Sartzetakis, who died at the age of 92 following a long hospitalization, had been hospitalized at the Athens Laiko hospital’s ICU and died on February 3 of respiratory failure according to a hospital statement.
“Sartzetakis first rose to prominence over his role as an investigating judge in the 1963 murder of politician Grigoris Lambrakis by right-wing extremists, and was lauded for resisting intense political pressure during the case. Lambrakis’ killing triggered mass protests and a political crisis,” AP reported.
Despite obstruction of justice by government officials, Sartzetakis doggedly pursued his investigation of the murder the pacifist Member or Parliament and physician. The police officers involved in the murder were convicted, but were later rehabilitated by the Junta. The Lambrakis investigation was first the subject of a 1966 novel, ‘Z’, by Vassilis Vassilikos. In its 1969 film adaptation by Costa-Gavras Sartzetakis was portrayed by Jean-Louis Trintignant.
Sartzetakis was of president of Greece from 1985-1990. “During the 1989-90 period, in an atmosphere of intense political tension, his work on the formation of a government was impeccable,” said Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who expressed condolences to Sartzetakis’ family.
“During difficult times for the country and for democracy, [Sartzetakis] handled the case of the Lambrakis murder as an investigating judge with exemplary independence and judicial ethos, paying a heavy price for this stance during the years of the junta,” Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou said in a statement. She added, “later, as President of the Republic, he honored the office with conscientiousness, dedication, and a high sense of responsibility in the execution of his duties.”
Sartzetakis was born on April 6, 1929 in Thessaloniki, where his father, a Gendarmerie officer from Chania, Crete, was serving. His mother was born in Sklithro, Florina.
According to the AP Sartzetakis, “studied law and joined the judiciary in 1955. He was fired from the judicial branch in 1968 during the military dictatorship, arrested, tortured, and imprisoned without trial. He was eventually released in 1971 and was reinstated into the judiciary after the fall of the junta in 1974, rising to become a Supreme Court judge in 1982. He was nominated as president by the socialist PASOK party in 1985, and served in that position until May 1990.”
Sartzetakis is survived by his wife and their daughter.
Material from the Associated Press (AP) was used in this story.