Greece Suppresses Free Expression
by Stephen Lendman
Ordinary Greeks face deepening Depression conditions. At a time vital help is needed, force-fed austerity is policy. Corrupt governance mandates it. Severe repression targets resisters. Now they’ve got another woe. Press freedom isn’t tolerated.
A previous article explained. Whistleblower/journalist Costas Vaxevanis faces charges of violating state privacy laws. He’ll be tried for truth-telling. More on that below.
Greece is bankrupt. Vital social services are vanishing. Ordinary people face extraordinary hardships. Corrupt governance makes things harder by punishing them. Human deprivation is more than many can bear.
At the same time, privileged Greeks manage fine and then some. When billions of dollars in aid is needed to keep the economy from collapsing, their wealth is hidden safely offshore in tax havens.
Much of it is questionable. Behind every great fortune lies a great crime. Greeks aren’t exceptions to the rule. Hiding wealth automatically makes it suspect.
Tax avoidance compounds other potential criminality. Government officials ignore it. Doing so makes them complicit. What have they got to hide? Answers needed aren’t forthcoming.
Vaxevanis learned what’s going on and exposed it. Privacy laws weren’t violated. No personal data was revealed. Allegations of criminality weren’t made.
Vaxevanis did what’s expected from all journalists – his job. He justifiably called for an investigation. Doing so got him arrested and bogusly charged with violating state privacy laws.
Revealing potential tax cheats is essential. Doing it in a country reeling from debt problems takes on greater urgency. If convicted, Vaxevanis faces up to two years in prison and a 30,000 euro fine.
Democracy’s birthplace tramples on principles it once embraced. Police state repression, corruption, and indifference to human need replaced it.
In charging Vaxevanis, government officials targeted press freedom. Destroying free expression endangers all other rights. They’re vanishing in Greece, other European countries, America and Israel.
Call it Western civilization’s darkest hour. Disturbing as things are now, expect much worse ahead. Vaxevanis and others like him represent a shot across the bow. Anyone can be arrested for any reason or none at all. That’s how police states operate.
Vaxevanis has supporters. On October 31, Russia Today (rt.com) headlined “Show-stopper: Greek journalists go on strike, alleging state censorship,” saying:
For months, intermittent strikes and street protests challenged austerity harshness. Now “(t)he embattled Greek government faces another strike – this time from journalists.”
State television ones began work stoppages. At issue is challenging government censorship. Greece faces two scandals back-to-back.
“One concerns presenters Marilena Katsimi and Costas Arvanitis.” National Broadcaster ERT suspended them indefinitely. They host a popular current affairs program.
Suspension followed their criticism of right wing interior minister Nikos Dendias. At issue was evidence of his involvement in torturing 15 anti-fascist activists. More on that below.
Katsimi and Arvanitis were suspended for “violat(ing) basic journalistic ethics” and making “unacceptable insinuations (that) didn’t give Dendias a chance to respond.”
In other words, they did their job. Katsimi called accusations against her an attempt to suppress free discussion of political issues on air. At a time of economic crisis, officials want dissent suppressed. She added:
“Everywhere in media people are being fired, but at ERT they are hiring. The government wants people who agree with their position, and they want to hire their friends.”
Arvanitis told the New Statesman:
“The decision made today by the News Department Manager of ERT, is clearly political in nature and based on false excuses that expose the management of the station politically and journalistically.”
“Our answer will be the unanimous decision of journalists and technicians through our unions (to strike till the decision is recalled). This is not the first time the show comes under scrutiny.”
“Top ministers both from Papademos’s government (2011-2012) and the one under Papandreou (2009-2011) targeted the show for axing.”
“The reduction of our airtime from 4 to 2 hours this season, should serve as an indication, especially as it was announced on the station’s twitter account after a direct intervention from the manager of the PM’s office Giorgos Mouroutis, while the leader of the opposition Alexis Tsipras was on air, interviewed in the studio.”
On October 9, the London Guardian reported fascist crackdowns in Greece. It headlined “Greek anti-fascist protesters ‘tortured by police’ after Golden Dawn clash,” saying:
They faced Guantanamo-style treatment. Two dozen others were “arrested after demonstrating in support of their fellow anti-fascists the next day….”
They said they were stripped naked and beaten. Some said they were burned. They described treatment amounting to torture. Greece’s Attica General Police Directorate (GADA) stands accused.
It’s the nation’s Scotland Yard equivalent. It’s more like Hitler’s Gestapo. They collude with Golden Dawn fascists. They’re a neo-Nazi Greek political organization.
They’re racist, xenophobic, and violent. They use Nazi symbolism. Eighteen of their members serve in parliament. Police turn a blind eye to their attacks. Reports say their encourage it.
Based on how police treat street protesters, denying press freedom shouldn’t surprise. Others are targeted like Vaxevanis. Weeks earlier, Golden Dawn extremists got interior minister Dendias to arrest the creator a Facebook group.
At issue was satirizing a noted monk named Elder Paisios (1924 – 1994). Charges included “malicious blasphemy and religious hubris.” Speaking, writing, or broadcasting freely in Greece puts everyone at risk. That’s how police states work.
RT said ERT workers walked out in protest. They said they’ll organize 24-hour rolling strikes until both presenters are reinstated. Perhaps they’ll be suspended, arrested and tortured. Fascism replaced democracy in Greece. It’s spreading dangerously across Europe, in America and Israel.
On October 30, London’s Guardian published Vaxevanis’ op-ed headlined “Greece gave birth to democracy. Now it has been cast out by a powerful elite,” saying:
“An exclusive club of powerful people engages in illegal practices, then pushes through necessary laws to legalize these practices, granting itself an amnesty, and in the end, there are no media to uncover what really happened.”
Earlier, Reuters and other press reports discussed scandals involving Greek banks, he said. Greek media suppressed it.
“For the past two years, the issue of naming people who are assumed to hold bank accounts in Switzerland has poisoned political life in Greece, with political and financial blackmail taking place in the dark rooms of corrupt power.”
At a time suffering Greeks go “through dumpsters for food,” privileged members of society hide their wealth in tax havens. Vaxevanis deserves praise for exposing them. Instead he may be fined and imprisoned.
Free expression in America and across Europe is threatened. On August 7, the London Guardian headlined “Spain’s cowardly purge of the journalists who ask difficult questions,” saying:
“The dismissal of journalists at Spain’s state-funded broadcaster RTVE shows how (prime minister) Mariano Rajoy’s government” silences critics.
RTVE’s “casualty list….reads like a competition for the most popular journalist in the country.” State-controlled media want critics removed. RTVE purges aren’t new. Suppressing truth happened earlier.
Now it’s worse because of high unemployment and force-fed austerity during hard times. “Spain has always struggled with impartiality and objectivity. Impartiality – never taking sides – is neither possible nor desirable in journalism.”
“Politicians in Spain are not used to being contradicted, or even pressed to answer a question. They expect the interviewer to nod sheepishly while they deliver their speech, and most do.”
“The newly jobless represented a new trend in Spanish political journalism: they asked real questions to our political leaders. That’s why they were popular. And that’s why the government, increasingly, is not.”
Much the same is true across Europe. Governments increasingly are hard-right and repressive. Policies instituted mandate austerity when vital aid is needed.
Protesters are beaten and arrested. Journalists reporting accurately are fired. Dissent isn’t tolerated. Democracy is more illusory than real. Hard-right neoliberalism replaced it. Repression goes hand-in-hand with it.
Challengers and truth-tellers aren’t tolerated. Freedom is endangered. What ordinary people value most is vanishing. Saving what’s too important to lose won’t happen without committed resistance. Key is mobilizing and sustaining it.
A Final Comment
On November 1, RT reported on television journalist Spiros Karatzaferis’ arrest. He threatened “to expose damaging information about (Greece’s) economy.”
The hacker group Anonymous sent what it “claimed to prove that the Greek deficit….was fraudulent.”
“Karatzaferis told the Greek Reporter that he was arrested not for possessing the information, but on an unrelated case dealing with libel, after he accused judges of trying to form a para-state outside the government.”
Freelance Greek journalist told RT:
“There is tension between government and journalists. Many people are saying the finance minister should be arrested and not the journalist who revealed the truth.”
Sociologist Panagiotis Sotiris added:
“If we combine government attacks and the fact that major media outlets in Greece are run by big corporations you have a problem when it concerns information. They want to create a set atmosphere that there must be things that should not be made public.”
Journalist Electeros Typos said Greece “used to have a free press. Governments are (now) trying to manipulate the media. Some people see it as a message to the media to stop criticizing the government.”
Unions said they’ll join striking journalists. Don’t expect real involvement that’s needed. Earlier union promises across Europe proved hollow.
Walking out for a few days accomplishes nothing. Only sustained general strike action can work. In May 1968 in France, it almost worked. Even then, unions backed corporate and government power, not their rank and file members.
Workers, students and others acted largely on their own. It was the biggest working class eruption since the 1930s. At its peak, 10 million strong joined students and other protesters.
Sustained strike action was initiated. Factories, universities, and offices throughout the country were occupied. For weeks, France was paralyzed. The de Gaulle government nearly fell.
Activism continued under the slogan, “Be realistic, demand the impossible!” Things could have gone either way. Capitalism was on trial. Transitioning to socialism was possible.
Ordinary people had a chance to have things their way. Revolutionary change was possible. It didn’t happen because corrupt union bosses united against rank and file members.
At the same time, energy waned. What might have been didn’t happen. Modest concessions were gained. They weren’t enough to matter. They’re long gone now.
Remember France 1968. Sustained general strike action works. Key is not yielding short of achieving demands and maintaining energy to keep them if gained.
A better world is possible, but only if committed people fight for it. It’s high they tried again now. And not just in Greece!
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
His new book is titled “How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.