The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs has reacted strongly to foreign press reports suggesting that the country’s rule of law is in danger due to specific court decisions. The particular case refers to a legal dispute between Minister Nikos Kotzias and the magazine Athens Review of Books. However, the case was apparently one more reason for some foreign media outlets to question again the decisions of Greek courts, especially when the case of former ELSTAT chief Andreas Georgiou is still pending. Coincidence or a ploy?
Kotzias vs Athens Review of Books
It all began in 2010, well before Kotzias became a minister, when the Athens Review of Books magazine published a letter of a reader calling Kotzias “a true gauleiter of Stalinism”.
Kotzias, who was a professor back then, filed a law suit against defamation.
Last month, Maria and Manolis Vassilakis, the owners of the magazine, were convicted by the Supreme Court for defamation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and were ordered to pay compensation of some €22,000, the personal bank accounts of the magazine’s owners were reportedly frozen.
Vassilakis accused Kotzias of “wanting to close” his magazine and expressed his intention to refer the matter to the European Court of Human Rights as he believed this constituted a blow to the freedom of expression.
“The Greek Foreign Affairs Minister moved to shut down the monthly Athens Review of Books newspaper,” the ARB siad in a press release.
Kotzias’ side claims that the Greek court decision concerns the couple itself and not the circulation of the magazine.
Ioannis Mantzouranis, the legal representative of the Greek minister, noted that no asset of the Athens Review of Books magazine had been frozen and its circulation had not been impeded, in spite of the fact that the court rulings involved both owners.
He added that there had been three judgments at all levels of court that characterised the attacks by the Vasilakis couple against Kotzias as common defamation.
He continued, saying that defamation is a civil and criminal offense and is punishable everywhere in Europe. “European law provides for punishments for slanderers and court rulings in Europe are being implemented throughout the European Union,” he said.
However, he explained that the Minister just wanted an apology, which never received.
An aid of Kotzias, who follows the case, told EURACTIV that the issue had nothing to do with the freedom of the Press and that the two owners can afford the fine.
“However, they chose to politicize the issue,” he said.
It was really surprising to see a tweet posted by economist Miranda Xafa, a former IMF employee, holder of several government positions in New Democracy government, fierce SYRIZA opponent and Georgiou supporter.
The Greek Foreign Affairs Minister moved to shut down the monthly Athens Review of Books newspaper https://t.co/FRPdomKNIQ
— Miranda Xafa (@MXafa) July 31, 2017
The tweet was linking to the press released issued by the owners of the Athens Review of Books.
I had thought to write an article about the case, but the information to which I had access was much too one-sided for my taste.
Financial Times vs Greek Courts
The Financial Times on Wednesday (9 August) published an article saying that “Minister’s court win intensifies fears for rule of law in Greece”. The FT noted further that “Syriza accused of interfering in case and eroding independence of judicial system.”
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 that Mr Kotzias’s claim violated European human rights law and the Greek constitution, reversed her position. She gave no explanation for her change of mind.
“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.
Mr 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.
Kotzias vs FT
The FT article triggered the angry reaction of Greek Foreign Minister, who said in a statement that the article reproduces unprecedented lies in order to discredit the Greek government.
The Ministry issued a statement saying:
An unsubstantiated article in today’s Financial Times by the journalist Mrs Kerin Hope, propagates unprecedented lies aimed at discrediting the Greek government.
Among the other lies stated in the article:
A. While failing to provide any corroboration of the claims it makes, the article presents a false story aimed at defaming the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Kotzias.
B. The newspaper lies in saying that it received no comment on the article that was to be published. The truth is that on 30 July, following pertinent correspondence, Mrs. Hope received a relevant letter from Mr. Kotzias’ attorney, Ioannis Mantzouranis. The false statement that Mr Kotzias ‘declined to comment’ breaks every rule of journalistic ethics.
C. Reference is made to the independence of the judiciary and the alleged risk posed by the government to that independence, while the author of the article – obviously serving other expediencies and selfish interests – adopts all of the ‘arguments’ of the government’s opponents as self-evident, despite their having been struck down by courts of all levels. She flouts the rulings of the Greek judiciary because they are not to her liking, and she directs political labels and falsehoods at Nikos Kotzias, adopting extreme-right phraseology.
In its statement the Ministry attached the letter Mr. Mantzouranis sent to the FT reporter and said “Mr. Kotzias’ Office has Ms. Hope’s written confirmation of her receipt of the aforementioned letter.”
The Greek justice system was recently criticized by the European Commission for its decision to convict the former head of Greece’s office of national statistics (Elstat) Andreas Georgiou because he failed to tell the institution’s board that he had sent Greek fiscal data for 2009 to its European counterpart, Eurostat.
PS Some foreigner readers would say “It’s all Greek to me!” – Dear audience, it’s all Greek to me, as well… Some complicated things are just SYRIZA and Anti-SYRIZA.