Greece: Cultural Freedom in the Gangster State

Y, translated by Edward Wharton

When preventive censorship was lifted last October after a two-and-a-half-year blackout, the newspapers of Athens (not including the organs of the military regime) began once more to report the news. They did so carefully, still refusing to make editorial comment so long as this new liberty was qualified by countless taboo subjects and forbidden attitudes, and vitiated by the martial law under which Greece has been living since 1967.

Instead of editorials, front-page cartoons expressed in capsule form, daringly at first, the paradox of press freedom in a land overshadowed by Law 509, which provides savage prison sentences for whatever the military court (on the evidence of soldiers, informers, and police spies) interprets as subversion—in a police state supported, not to say enforced, by a world alliance of free and not-so-free nations. The newspapers reprinted speeches and documents from the Council of Europe when Greece withdrew last December. Every day people were able to read the frightening exchanges in the courts martial and the defense speeches of students given eighteen years to life for passing out leaflets, or possessing explosives, or making some remark against the regime that was overheard, perhaps, at the next table in a restaurant.

Just as the most insidious enemy of truth is a half-truth, so the subtlest mockery of freedom is a controlled freedom. But give Greeks one grain of liberty and they will use it to advantage, until the mechanism of that mockery works itself out and brings on the retribution that was only in the wings.

Indeed only six weeks after censorship was lifted, the regime published a new press law decreeing sentences ranging from a few months to life imprisonment for defamation, obscenity, distortion of debates, quotation out of context from documents, insult to the royal family, reporting legal cases sub judice, articles inciting to sedition or undermining confidence in the national economy, reporting crimes and suicides, inaccuracy, negligence, and other offenses minutely listed in 101 articles, for which publisher, editor, and journalist are now held collectively responsible. In addition to laying out this minefield, the new law (which begins, “We, Constantine, King of the Hellenes, by the proposal of our Council of Ministers, have decided and do command: Article 1, The Press is free…”) struck at the newspapers by abolishing the franchise on imported newsprint. This concession—granted in 1938 to facilitate freedom of expression in the press—remains in force however for those recently founded journals which are the mouthpieces of the regime, but whose circulation is still less than half that of the older papers.

Foreign observers have asked about this seemingly passive and peaceful, if perhaps exhausted, country: Why—if Greeks don’t like being spied on, denounced, held indefinitely without trial, tortured, pressured to betray friends, imprisoned for their opinions, deported, forced into exile, forced out of work, censored, having their books and music and art work banned, or being made to acquiesce in the blunting and darkening of their children’s minds in school—why …

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Letters

Gangsterism; Torture in Greece September 24, 1970