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An Open Letter to Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, and Donald Tusk, President of the European Council

In 2010 The Athens Review of Books (ARB), the Greek counterpart of The New York Review of Books, published a letter from a reader that mentioned the political past of Nikolaos Kotzias as a leading member of the Communist Party of Greece and characterized him as a fanatic Stalinist (“gauleiter of Stalinism”) at that time. Mr. Kotzias (who in the 1970s and 1980s wrote books praising the totalitarian Erich Honecker regime in East Germany and Wojciech Jaruzelski’s dictatorship in Poland, and went on to serve as foreign minister of Greece from 2015 to 2018) then sued the ARB for defamation, demanding U250,000 in compensation.

Court rulings in 2015 and 2017 considered the characterization “gauleiter of Stalinism” to be defamatory, ignoring the fact that it is a political value judgment about a public figure. There is evidence that the minister and the government interfered in the course of justice in order to persecute the journal. One strong indication of this is the fact that in the Greek Supreme Court, the court rapporteur initially called for the case against the ARB to be dismissed for violating the case law of the European Court of Human Rights as well as the Greek Constitution, but then voted against her own fully documented report without explanation, only to be later appointed vice-president of the Supreme Court by the government.

Since July 2017, at the request of Mr. Kotzias the bank accounts of the publisher and of the chief editor of the ARB as well as the journal’s revenues from the Press Distribution Agency have been frozen by the courts, in an obvious attempt to shut it down. The ARB is now at risk of being forced to suspend publication.

The ongoing persecution of the ARB is an extreme abuse of the ability that Greek law affords to politicians to file lawsuits against the press and request excessive sums of money. Because of the latitude provided by Greek law they can win these lawsuits in violation of European Court of Human Rights case law, thus intimidating the press and deterring political criticism.

In recent decades legal prosecution as absurd as the case of the former foreign minister against the ARB has not been encountered in the European Union. Recently, three different MEPs’ questions to the European Commission regarding the journal’s persecution have been tabled at the European Parliament, while the leader of the Greek opposition stated that “the persecution of the Athens Review of Books is a shame for the Hellenic Republic.” On October 23, 2018, Mr. Kotzias publicly confessed: “I served in the Stalinist left.” Thus the statement that he had alleged to be defamatory in his lawsuit and that the courts accepted as such in condemning the ARB was true.

Mr. President of the European Commission, Mr. President of the European Council, we ask you respectfully to use all means at the disposal of the Commission and the Council in order to save a journal that honors Greek letters and the Greek press.

Kwame Anthony Appiah
New York University
Harold Bloom
Yale University
J.M. Coetzee
University of Adelaide
Nobel laureate in literature, 2003
Linda Colley
Princeton University
Jeffrey Eugenides
New York University
Samuel Freeman
University of Pennsylvania
Anthony Gottlieb
All Souls College, Oxford
Stephen Greenblatt
Harvard University
Joseph Koerner
Harvard University
Mark Lilla
Columbia University
David Luban
Georgetown University Law Center
Mark Mazower
Columbia University
Ian McEwan
author
Daniel Mendelsohn
Bard College
Jan-Werner Mueller
Princeton University
Joyce Carol Oates
Princeton University
Steven Pinker
Harvard University
Joan W. Scott
Institute for Advanced Study
Keith Thomas
All Souls College, Oxford
Mario Vargas Llosa
Nobel laureate in literature, 2010
Michael Walzer
Princeton University
and 232 others

(A full list of signatories can be found at bit.ly/2T3hu1S)