Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Greece flirts with tyranny and Europe looks away

Kostas Vaxevanis speaks to journalists as he awaits the beginning of his trial in Athens. Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images


Greek democracy is in peril and much of the fault lies with the EU's hard stance


When those madcap Scandinavian satirists awarded the Nobel peace prize to the European Union, they let everyone in on the joke by praising its commitment to "reconciliation, democracy and human rights". If the committee's 2012 citation were anything other than a spoof, you would have read denunciations of the rise of oppressive state power and neo-Nazism in Greece from concerned Euro commissioners long before now.
The EU denounces threats to freedom of speech in Viktor Orbán's Hungary with vigour. European politicians worry with good reason about the fate of independent institutions that stand in the way of the rabble-rousing regime. They notice the fascistic element in the new Hungarian right's flirtations with antisemitic and anti-Roma hatreds and its willingness to indulge the revanchist fantasy that Hungary can regain the lands it lost after the First World War. On the fate of Greek democracy there is silence, however, although there is much that Europe's leaders might talk about.
You spot the pressure points of a failing state by looking at what it censors. In the case of Greece, the authorities' prosecution last week ofKostas Vaxevanis showed that he had hit a pressure point with the accuracy of a doctor sticking a needle into a nerve. While Greeks live with austerity without end, while Greek GDP has shrunk by 4.5% in 2010 and 6.9% in 2011, and will shrink by a predicted 6.5% this year and 4.5% in 2013, the list of the names of 2,000 Greeks with bank accounts in Switzerland Vaxevanis published, suggested that the well-connected were escaping the burdens that fall on the masses.
"Instead of arresting the tax evaders and the ministers who had the list in their hands," thundered Vaxevanis in a call to arms that stirred the blood, "they're trying to arrest the truth and freedom of the press."
His acquittal on privacy law charges, though welcome, was less important than it appeared. It did not mean that freedom of the press was secure in Greece. Even in good times, independent journalism has rarely been a force in the land. Most Greek TV stations and newspapers are owned by either the state or plutocratic corporations, neither of which likes seeing corruption exposed. The leftwing daily, Eleftherotypia, which for all its faults and flirtations with terrorism at least challenged the oligarchs, filed for bankruptcy last year.
Few of the employees of the remaining Greek news organisations reject the notion that they should keep quiet in the interests of holding on to their pay cheques. The state is hounding too many of those who do. "We still have freedom of expression recognised by the law at a theoretical level," said Asteris Masouras, one of the free speech monitors at Global Voices. "On a practical level, well..." And he proceeded to give me a list of instances of menacing forces intimidating reporters that would go on into the New Review section if I ran it in full.
Where to begin? How about the self-defeating austerity policies the troika of the European Central Bank, European Commission and International Monetary Fund have forced on Greece? The authorities used an old warrant to arrest Spiros Karatzaferis, after the journalist threatened to reveal confidential emails, that might have explained how the troika's alleged "rescue package" had pushed the country into depression.
Police brutality is another pressure point, undoubtedly. The Greek left makes persistent allegations of collaboration between the supposed forces of law and order and the thugs in the neo-Nazi Golden Dawnmovement. The Guardian ran reports that the police had beaten up anti-fascist demonstrators after they had confronted Golden Dawn. Yes, I know leftists call everyone "fascists" from headteachers to their mums and dads, but as Golden Dawn is building a mass movement while marching under a swastika, the term is correct on this occasion. The following day, Greek state TV replaced Kostas Arvanitis and Marilena Katsimi, the presenters of its morning news show, after they told managers they planned to follow up the Guardian's claims. Another state TV reporter, Christos Dantis, has joined the ranks of the vanishing journalists. His editors assigned him to cover the celebrations of the centenary of the liberation of Thessaloniki from Ottoman rule. He was about to report on popular protests against the presence of the Greek prime minister and president in Greece's second city when his masters turned off the camera and cut to a more amenable hack.

0 σχόλια:

There was an error in this gadget

Translate