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Free Speech in Greece

In response to:

Bosnia and the Balkans: An Exchange from the October 8, 1992 issue

To the Editors:

To borrow a phrase from Greek embassy official Theodossis C. Demetracopoulos’ letter on Macedonia [NYR, October 8], “Absurdity has triumphed over reason.” But the site of this “triumph” is not Skopje in Macedonia, but Athens in Greece.

On January 26, 1993, the Athens Public Prosecutor is launching a trial against five Greek socialists, members of the Organization for Socialist Revolution (OSE). The five are accused of “disturbing relations with foreign states,” of “spreading false information” and “inciting citizens to discord.”

The Greek socialists face these charges of treason—which carry a penalty of as many as 15 years in prison—simply for publishing and attempting to distribute a pamphlet called “The Crisis in the Balkans: The Macedonian Question and the Working Class.”

This trial is one of a series which has taken place in Greece this year. In January, six socialists, members of the Committee for the Reconstruction of the KKE (Communist Party), were each sentenced to six months in prison for pasting up posters reading “Recognize Independent Slav Macedonia.”

In May, four students received 19-month sentences for distributing leaflets in Athens whose heading read: “The neighboring peoples are not our enemies.”

The prosecutions of Greeks who criticize their government’s position of non-recognition of Macedonia—a position which Misha Glenny is correct to characterize as “cavalier”—stem from geopolitics, not 3,000-year-old historical claims.

Certainly, the Greek government’s blatant disregard for free speech and civil liberties in these cases makes a mockery of Mr. Demetracopoulos’ invocation of the “verdict of the world’s leading democracies” to justify his government’s position of non-recognition of Macedonia.

The government’s Macedonia policy has real impact on people today. Greece does not recognize university credit for Greek students who study in Skopje. The reason? Because studies are conducted in the Macedonian language, a language which “does not exist” according to the Greek government.

It is distressing enough that the US and the European Community have acceded to the denial of Macedonians’ basic democratic right to choose their own government and nation. But the US and EC are also complicit in the denial of Greek citizens’ basic civil liberties.

Fortunately, the Greek government’s actions have not gone unchallenged. The international Committee to Defend Greek Socialists has won strong support for its demands that the Greek government stop all prosecutions of Greek citizens for simply exercising their basic right of free speech.

The Executive Committee of the General Confederation of Workers in Greece, the country’s main trade union federation, has called on the government to stop the trial. To date, five members of the Greek parliament, trade unions, student organizations and well-known academics and journalists have called for a halt to the trial.

The Committee to Defend Greek Socialists (US) invites NYR readers to endorse its statement of protest to the Greek Ambassador in Washington, DC:

We the undersigned, wish to express our serious concern about civil liberties and the right of free speech in Greece.

We have in mind the recent action of the Athens Public Prosecutor in committing five persons to trial on January 23, 1993, for writing and distributing a booklet opposing the policy of the Greek government of non-recognition of Yugoslav Macedonia. Some of the charges derive from the treason section of the Penal Code. The legislation employed dates from the period of the pre-war Metaxas dictatorship as well as from the repressive years immediately after the civil war. Witnesses for the prosecution include a prominent extreme right-wing supporter of the military regime of 1967–1974. In two similar trials in January and May this year, the defendants received heavy prison sentences for writing and disseminating material contrary to the official line on Yugoslav Macedonia.

We protest strongly against these infringements of the right of free speech. Without necessarily agreeing with the views of the defendants, we find it unacceptable that such serious charges have been levelled and prison sentences imposed for the mere expression of opinion. This is a clear case of violation of basic democratic rights, and as such is incompatible with the liberal democratic values of the countries of the European Community.

Freedom of public debate and the free expression of opinions, even if these are contrary to official policy, are a necessary precondition for preventing the spread of the Yugoslav disaster to the other areas of the Balkans. It is our hope that the democratic tradition within Greek political life will not allow this breach of civil liberties to go unchallenged. We offer our wholehearted support to those in Greece prepared to defend the right of free speech.”

Among the nearly 200 endorsers of this statement internationally are: Prof. Benedict Anderson, Cornell University* ; John Baglow, Vice President, Ontario Federation of Labour; Deborah Bourque, Vice President, Canadian Union of Postal Workers; Pete Camarata, co-chair, Teamsters for a Democratic Union; Robin Blackburn, editor, New Left Review; Prof. Noam Chomsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Prof. Samuel Farber, Brooklyn College; Prof. Fred Halliday, London School of Economics; Phyllis and Julius Jacobson, co-editors, New Politics; Prof. George Katsiaficas, Wentworth Institute of Technology; Erwin Knoll, editor, The Progressive; Joanne Landy, Campaign for Peace and Democracy; Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy, editors, Monthly Review; Ralph Miliband, editor, Socialist Register; Prof. James Petras, SUNY-Binghamton; Jerry Tucker, Movement for New Directions, United Auto Workers. The campaign also counts among its supporters British Labour MPs Tony Benn, Bernie Grant, Jeremy Corbyn and George Galloway and the fire brigades and coal oven-men’s unions.

If you would like to add your name to the list of endorsers and to find out more about the campaign to defend free speech in Greece, please write the Committee.

Lance Selfa
Secretary
Committee to Defend Greek Socialists
PO Box 16085
Chicago, Illinois 60616

  1. *

    All institutional affiliations for identification purposes only.

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