‘One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors’, remarks Plato in Book I of The Republic – and that was in fifth-century Athens, the cradle of democracy, political freedom and western culture. One feels that his diagnosis of the present miasma of dysfunction, corruption and post-modernistic nihilism at the heart of Greek governance may have elaborated on that aphorism somewhat.
Indeed, the headline of an article in today’s Guardian by the recently arrested journalist Kostas Vaxevanis makes a similar point. In publishing the names of over 2,000 wealthy Greeks alleged to have Swiss bank accounts, Vaxevanis attracted censure from authorities who seem more concerned with the prosecution of journalists than with suspected tax dodgers and money launderers. The standoff coincides with a strike due to start today over the suspension of two popular television presenters after they criticized a government official, in what together amounts to a significant assault on freedom of expression by a political class who appear to either comprise or be in thrall to the moneyed elite.
Dimitris Trimis, head of the Athens Newspaper Editors Union, asserted that the present crisis was unprecedented. ‘This is a matter of democracy,’ Trimis said. ‘The government feels insecure. The only way it feels it can convince society of its policies is to try to manipulate the media through coercion.
‘This is true of both state television and in the private sector of the media where there has been a large number of lost jobs and wage cuts and so it has become easier to manipulate in the interests of the government and the economic elite.’
The list, published by Vaxevanis’s magazine Hot Doc, was originally supplied to the Greek government in 2010 by the then French finance minister Christine Lagarde (now head of the International Monetary Fund) which went ignored before it was later leaked. Vaxevanis can take solace from the widespread publicity and support his case has engendered subsequent to his arrest; a crowd of 250 people, mostly journalists, attended his court appearance, and the trial has received widespread international comment and condemnation. However the episode is resolved, it represents yet another retrograde step in a country that is coming apart at the seams; yet another chapter to add to those recently headed ‘sovereign debt crisis’, ‘mass civil unrest’ and ‘rise of the neo-Nazis’.
‘I was doing my job in the name of the public interest,' Vaxevanis is quoted as saying. ‘Journalism is revealing the truth when everyone else is trying to hide it.’ In consciously or not appropriating Orwell’s famous definition of journalism – ‘Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations’ – he both sets the benchmark high and forecasts a long and treacherous road ahead. George Papaconstantinou, the former finance minister in office at the time the list first came to light, has since added that this particular document signals merely the ‘tip of the iceberg’ in terms of Greek tax evasion. Investigative journalism, it would seem, has plenty of dark alleys to explore, and Greece's ruling class must not be allowed to obstruct their elucidation.