Greece — more austerity, less liberty
While the EU is keen to expose increasing authoritarianism in Viktor Orbán's Hungary, it tellingly turns a blind eye on the erosion of press freedom in Greece, the country on which it has foisted a raft of self-defeating austerity measures, argues a British columnist.
When those madcap Scandinavian satirists awarded the Nobel peace prize to the European Union, they let everyone in on the joke by praising its commitment to "reconciliation, democracy and human rights". If the committee's 2012 citation were anything other than a spoof, you would have read denunciations of the rise of oppressive state power and neo-Nazism in Greece from concerned Euro commissioners long before now.
The EU denounces threats to freedom of speech in Viktor Orbán's Hungary with vigour. European politicians worry with good reason about the fate of independent institutions that stand in the way of the rabble-rousing regime. They notice the fascistic element in the new Hungarian right's flirtations with antisemitic and anti-Roma hatreds and its willingness to indulge the revanchist fantasy that Hungary can regain the lands it lost after the First World War. On the fate of Greek democracy there is silence, however, although there is much that Europe's leaders might talk about.
You spot the pressure points of a failing state by looking at what it censors. In the case of Greece, the authorities' prosecution last week of Kostas Vaxevanis showed that he had hit a pressure point with the accuracy of a doctor sticking a needle into a nerve. While Greeks live with austerity without end, while Greek GDP has shrunk by 4.5% in 2010 and 6.9% in 2011, and will shrink by a predicted 6.5% this year and 4.5% in 2013, the list of the names of 2,000 Greeks with bank accounts in Switzerland Vaxevanis published, suggested that the well-connected were escaping the burdens that fall on the masses.
"Instead of arresting the tax evaders and the ministers who had the list in their hands," thundered Vaxevanis in a call to arms that stirred the blood, "they're trying to arrest the truth and freedom of the press."
His acquittal on privacy law charges, though welcome, was less important than it appeared. It did not mean that freedom of the press was secure in Greece. Even in good times, independent journalism has rarely been a force in the land. Most Greek TV stations and newspapers are owned by either the state or plutocratic corporations, neither of which likes seeing corruption exposed. The leftwing daily, Eleftherotypia, which for all its faults and flirtations with terrorism at least challenged the oligarchs, filed for bankruptcy last year.