Judging the judiciary on its stance towards the ultra-right

Report looks at intrusion of ultra-right ideology into the Orthodox church, police, military and judiciary

Study finds judiciary has been 'systematic' in passing 'judgments and views that exceed the liberal-democratic limits of any modern state'

A detailed study into the intrusion of ultra-right ideology into four key state institutions in Greece has found that while there is an obvious problem in the military, police and Orthodox church, the issue is most problematic when it comes to the judiciary. 

The report says that while the situation in all "four institutions is quite dangerous ... the hardest case is the Greek judiciary" because of its constitutional status and also because of the generally deeply conservative worldview of its members, which is reflected in many of their judgments.

"What we found out is that, of course such penetration exists in terms of ideology, but we are certain that you also have enclaves, where this ideology transforms the informal structure," the report's editor, Dimitris Christopoulos, associate professor of political science at Athens' Panteion University, told EnetEnglish. 

He adds that the complex interrelations between right-wing extremism and the Orthodox church, police, army and justice "reveal the imperative need and remaining challenges to democratise the Greek state and society".

Alarm, not panic

"If there is one word which encapsulates what the report says, it's alarm. Not panic. But not satisfaction either. We have reason to be alarmed. We don't have reason to panic. But we don’t have enough reasons to be extremely satisfied with the Greek performance, either," he continues. 

Entitled Mapping Ultra-Right Extremism, Xenophobia and Racism within the Greek State Apparatus (pdf), the report was published in Brussels on Tuesday, ironically a day before the revelation that the most powerful government official, cabinet secretary Takis Baltakos, had told to a Golden Dawn MP that the judicial crackdown against his neonazi party was conducted on ministerial orders for political purposes. In the furore that followed, Baltakos, an aide to Antonis Samaras for over 30 years and a member of the hard-right platform within New Democracy, was forced to resign. 

While Baltakos denies that there was any truth in what he told his Golden Dawn interlocutor, Christopoulos, who is also vice-president of the International Federation of Human Rights, believes the encounter was not accidental. 

"The Baltakos case shows that even at the top-raking parts of the executive, you have people speaking to Kasidiaris, who is facing prosecution, and actually giving him two names of ministers. There is a link here, which is not accidental. This is something consolidated," Christopoulos says, adding that it begs the question to what extent this applies to the bigger part of the executive.

Vested right

Unlike the other institutions it covers, the 97-page report underlines the status of the judiciary as a constitutionally independent arm of the state, whose duty it is to provide solutions to the problems of the other two parts of government, namely the executive and parliament.

While this is the judiciary's "vested right", the report maintains that "this also creates the most serious difficulties" because of "systematic judgments and views that exceed the liberal-democratic limits of any modern state" documented in the study.

"This is why we do believe that the main issue of this study in Greece today concerns especially the Greek judiciary. This is not to say that the judiciary poses any particular danger to democracy, but that it does reproduce judgments and views that consolidate, as the normative horizon (ie as the common view of what is just) of the Greek political community, a culture that may be convincingly shown to share most features of the ultra-right," the report states.

"Judges are people too and are entitled to have the views that they prefer. The fact that some of them endorse racist views and pronounce racist judgments is naturally of concern. But the most interesting thing is not what judges think, but that some judges make their own ideology into a normative rule," the report says, adding that "more often than not" judges favour one side of the political spectrum – the right – "in a blatant and partial way". Thus, it contrasts the often prompt response of prosecutors when complaints are filed on issues such as blasphemy with the "inexplicable inaction of the judiciary towards severe Nazi crimi­nal violence until September 2013", when the murder of hip-hop artist and antifacist Pavlos Fysses prompted a crackdown on Golden Dawn.

And referring to that crackdown, it also asks the pertinent question on why, despite the clear evidence that Golden Dawn was engaged in criminal activity for years, the Supreme Court only began a criminal investigation when it received instructions to do so from the public order minster, which Golden Dawn is now trying to use to present itself as a victim of a political crackdown. 

"In the famous conclusion by the deputy public prosecutor at the Supreme Court, one reads that all it took to begin the recent anti-Golden Dawn mobilisation was for a document to be sent over by the minister of public order and citizen protection," the report notes.

Perceptions of justice

Dimitris Christopoulos: 'If there is one word which encapsulates what the report says, it's alarm. Not panic. But not satisfaction either' Dimitris Christopoulos: 'If there is one word which encapsulates what the report says, it's alarm. Not panic. But not satisfaction either' But Christopoulos, the report's lead author, says that beyond the issue of the relation between the executive and the judiciary, "the problem lies in the fact that here we are talking about an ultra-rightwing extremism, which is spread in the normative perception of what is justice. This is not an ultraright extremism, but the consolation of an ultraconservative idea of what is right and what is wrong in our society."

"Denying second-generation migrant children that they have rights to become part of the nation," is one example, he says, referring to the opposition within the judiciary to granting citizenship to children of migrant parents who have grown up in Greece. 

Christopoulos also believes that the moral standing of the judiciary has increased as the political system has become discredited as a result of the crisis. In this new environment, he says, the "judiciary becomes a strong pillar of the state, seen as a protector, even if it is authoritarian. They are seen as a protection from second-generation migrants, blasphemy, all these things. That is the real far-right agenda, regardless of its political or party form."

When asked if the judiciary is, ultimately, up to the task of doing what he believes needs to be done with Golden Dawn, Christopoulos hedges his bets: “The Greek judiciary, in its historical trajectory, has equally displayed evidence of independence, as well as of dependence, from political expediency.”

Blatant and partial

Referring to a number of judgments on some prominent cases that have come before the courts in recent years, the report states: "We could say that in present-day Greece, you may well be a racist and a Nazi, because the Greek judiciary believes that this is protected freedom of speech. Yet you may never be blasphemous. In that case, Nazis along with fundamentalists are free to attack you, and, what is more, the judiciary is free to prosecute you as well."

One of the many peculiar court rulings concerning Golden Dawn documented in the report is one involving a party member who was charged with a misdemeanour and let walk free after he was arrested for arson on a Cameroonian-owned cafe in May 2013.

“The perpetrator stated the party had organised 'attack battalions' active in the areas of Kypseli and Agios Panteleimon, Athens, starting in September 2012, and that he along with 30 other persons had formed a 'committee' aimed at 'policing' Kypseli."

That confession alone, the report maintains, fitted the criteria of a criminal organisation under article 187 of the penal code.

Another is the case involving Kostas Plevris, a self-declared racist and Nazi. In 2007, he became the first person to be convicted under the 1979 antiracist law over his book Jews: The Whole Truth. That conviction was later overturned on appeal, with judges agreeing with him that his book only referred to "Zionist Jews" and not Jews in general.

The report continues: "Furthermore, the court accepted that this is a historical-scientific book 'based on historical sources and undeniable specific facts concerning the Jews’ trans-historical pursuit of global dominance … The strong phrasings and the characterisations against the so-called Zionist Jews, found repeatedly in the book, are logically and meaningfully consistent with the style and the content of the book, which is a book of polemic, and are justified by the defendant author’s exercise of his right to freely express his thoughts'."

The supreme court later upheld the decision to acquit Plevris. "This Supreme Court decision is emblematic, not only because the plenary session handed down its first case law on the matter, but also because it weighed the right to express a purely racist, and not just 'revisionist', discourse against the others’ protection of their rights from violations through the application of the antiracist law, and decided in favour of the former," the report states. 

What the report says about the …

Orthodox church

"The Greek Orthodox Church of Greece has many peculiarities and it is true that it can refine ultra-right ideologies by disguising them as religiously right … However … although it is indeed used to speaking on everything and anything … its influence … also has very clear limits … However powerful, the church cannot be the star of this story"


Despite the army's history of interfering in the matters of state through coup d'etats and the presence of ultra-right elements within the military, "one must also not underestimate firmly based democratic defences and traditions that are by no means insignificant across the Greek State apparatus, including the military"


"The Hellenic Police is indeed the most infected and long-exposed institution to ultra-right intrusion … However, one must not forget that the police is essentially a branch of the executive … If the head of the executive decides to send a powerful message to the police branch, this message may arrive late … but … it will certainly reach its destination … If the police is trained in a proper way by liberal-democratic standards, results are certain to follow, whether sooner or later"

* The report was commissioned by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, a research foundation associated with Germany's Left party. The foundation has operated a branch in Athens since October 2012

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