TUE, 26 DEC 2000 23:40:19 GMT
AIM Athens, December 26, 2000
On 23 November 2000 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in favor of Constantine, the former King of Greece, and his family. The former royal family had appealed against the Hellenic Republic's confiscation of their property in application of the Law No. 2215/1994 without payment of compensation. The ECHR held that the estates in Tatoi Attica, Polydentri Larissa, and Mon Repos Corfu were the immovable personal property of the former royal family and that the family had been deprived of their use because of its position in Greece, as maintained by the Greek State.
Having established a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the ECHR suspended for six months the matter of compensation, because the Greek State claimed it was unprepared to submit appraisals on the value of that property or any other claims the former royal family had against it for which it might request compensation. On the other hand, the former royal family had stated its claims at approximately GRD 168 billion.
All this was stated in the decision on application No. 25701/94, with which two judges, a Slovenian judge and the ad hoc Greek judge, Professor George Koumantos, partially disagreed. Mr. Koumantos sat in for the regular Greek judge, Professor Christos Rozakis, who withdrew because he had taken part in the Commission that had made the application admissible in 1998. Lastly, it should be mentioned that Greece's defense was undertaken by a team of eleven legal advisors - both scholars and practitioners - including Prof. Nikos Alivizatos, the President of the Hellenic League of Human Rights, a non governmental human rights organization.
The news coverage of this decision and the reactions that followed demonstrated yet again the hypocritical stand of Greek society against human rights and the international institutions that protect them. To whit, someone looking through the Press over the past year would receive virtually no information regarding the ECHR's convictions against Greece for violations of the rights of Turks and Albanians. S/he would find, however, numerous reports of convictions against Turkey, particularly the developments in the Loizidis case, which Turkey persistently refuses to respect with the toleration of the Council of Ministers of the European Council. The general tendency has been to suppress information on the ECHR's adverse rulings and/or characterize as objectionable, or as enemies of Greece, etc., those individuals who apply to that Court.
Unable to suppress the decision on the "royal property" (note: this was the term included in the ECHR decision), the media and politicians of the left and left of center chose to ridicule if not revile the Court and/or the applicant-former royal family. In so doing, they demonstrated the utmost contempt for both justice and human rights.
The reaction of the Synaspismos party, a party once particularly sensitive to human rights issues, was characteristic: "'a painful contradiction of the essence of the protection of human rights,' was how Synaspismos characterized the court's decision. It explained that 'the specific property had not been acquired through labor, personal earnings, or through the right of inheritance, but rather 'was acquired through obligatory State "donations" during the most tragic decades of the previous century" ["Avghi," 24/11, p. 3]. An attack on the ECHR on the one hand and an erroneous historical reference on the other: the transcript of the verdict clearly states that the larger portion of the property came from purchases and that the donations don't seem to have been all that "obligatory."
Characteristically, no Synaspismos official publicly disagreed even with the party's stand that attacked the ECHR. Rather, two of its top-ranking cadres confirmed if not refined this position. Nikos Voutsis, the Synaspismos Press Secretary, wrote in the "Ethnos" newspaper [24/11, p.3] that: "this decision raises a major moral issue that also affronts European cultural tradition." Panayotis Lafazanis, an MP and member of the Synaspismos Political Secretariat, wrote in "Paron" [26/11, p.2] that: "the ECHR decision recognizing Mr. Glucksburg's illogical claims against our country constitutes a slap in the face to Europe itself and to the values it purports to express."
This stand may indicate a rapprochement with the KKE (Communist Party of Greece) or at least a means of approaching its electoral base, which might explain the convergence of Synaspismos' positions with that of the KKE. "The decree of the European Court on the so-called royal property constitutes a provocation, charges the KKE…, no one could expect otherwise from those who support the Law in order to protect such property acquired by robbing the sweat of the people and the riches of every country" ["Rizospastis," 24/11, pp. 1 and 9].
The government, who had the exclusive responsibility of defending Greece at the ECHR, offered various versions of its ignominious treatment of the applicant at the international Court. In an unaccustomed outburst of populist sentiment, Prime Minister Costas Simitis himself declared from Zagreb that: "[Constantine's] claim is morally unacceptable since it comes from a person who was responsible for the seven-year-long tyranny and the weakening of democratic institutions. This claim is economically and politically unjustifiable" ["Avghi," 25/11, p. 5]. That same day, governmental spokesperson Nikos Athanasakis added that: "Even a king has the right to humiliate himself" ["Exousia," 25/11, p. 6].
In contrast, the New Democracy party had an easy job of it. It showed up respecting the ECHR and reproaching the government for its faulty handling of these matters in both the past and the present. New Democracy spokesperson Theodoros Rousopoulos stated that: "Through its actions and blunders, the government continues to sustain an issue that should have been resolved years ago. Our country is discredited in the international arena by the decision of the European Court of Human Rights" ["Eleftheros Typos," 25/11, p. 9].
Shortly before the Prime Minister made that statement, that earned him the qualification of "neighborhood bully" by commentators who usually support it (see Yannis Tzannetakos on "Radio Flash" on 24/11), the Liberal Party, which has now replaced Synaspismos as the party most sensitive to human rights issues and which fearlessly "goes against the current," touched the sore spots of Greek society with a statement issued: "The Liberal Party opposes a State whose government legislates by trespassing on the personal rights of individual citizens who may be disliked - rightly or wrongly - by the majority of its citizens… the actions announced by the government through its spokesperson are, unfortunately, on the level of the neighborhood bully. They are an indirect sign that it does not intend to comply with the compensation decision, which will be issued - something that will deteriorate even further the image of our country in the eyes of our partners in the EU and other international organizations" ["Eleftheros Typos," 25/11, p. 9].
The "bully" is also a "wise guy." Knowing that, in the end, Greece will be summoned to pay compensation to the former royal family, the government via the Foreign Ministry and especially Elisabeth Papazoi, "gave instructions" that Constantine's claims are to be exorbitantly inflated. This way, the final payment will look like a "great victory": "According to statements made by Alternate Foreign Minister Ms. Elisabeth Papazoi the defendants claim compensation for approximately GRD 600 billion. The Greek government estimates the value of the royal properties at just 160 billion and increases the amount of property transfer taxes to 170 billion. In other words, it calculates that the former royal family must pay the State GDR 10 billion" ["Kathimerini," 24/11, p. 5]. For those questioning the accuracy of our quotation of the Minister's (deceptful) wording, a comparable report may be read on the English language website of the Foreign Ministry at http://www.cthesis.com/politics/1100p_767_2411.html.
It is true that journalism in Greece customarily "receives instructions" on "sensitive national issues" from the Foreign Ministry, if not the National Information Service. However, this non-existent 600 billion claim of the former King's was adopted even by the right-wing newspapers that have otherwise devoted themselves to an anti-governmental, if not pro-royalist, coverage of the news: · "He wants 600 billion in return!" ["Eleftherotypia," 24/11, front page, main headline], · "Glucksburg himself…demands compensation of $1.4 billion if his possessions are not returned" ["Avghi," 24/11, p. 3], · "The total amount ($1.4 billion dollars) demanded by [the Ex]" [N. Hasapopoulos, "Vima," 24/11, p. 3], · "King of Knaves": And … the Ex demands 570 billion in restitution … The European Court awards him the 'royal property'" ["Exousia," 24/11, front page, main headline], · "As Alternate Foreign Minister Elisabeth Papazoi noted … Glucksburg is claiming approximately 600 billion" ["Ethnos," 24/11, p. 13], · "He's claiming 600 billion" [K. Iordanidis, "Kathimerini," 26/11, p. 13], · They claimed 1.4 billion [K. Stylianea, "Eleftheros Typos," 26/11, p. 36].
Only one newspaper, "Ta Nea" [24/11, pp. 8-9], respected journalistic ethics by accurately and analytically reporting the appraisals from all sides, on the day following the announcement. The government submitted an appraisal of the royal possessions from the appraisal firm of Lambert & Smith (GRD 187 billion), and of the former royal family's taxes and other liabilities from the firm of Deloitte & Touche (GRD 197.5 billion). Meanwhile, the former King's claims amount to GRD 165.5 billion for immovable property [from the firm of Moore & Stephens] and GRD 1.6 billion for movable property. Surely, the reader will notice that the appraisals on behalf of the State are greater than those on behalf of the former King - something not even mentioned in the newspaper article, which, at any rate, was hidden away in the "fine print" section.
When the former King personally stated his "160 billion claim" ["Eleftherotypia," 28/11, front page headline] at a London press conference, the newspaper made it its leading story. Yet, it did not have the sensitivity to explain the disparity in its front pages nor, of course, to seek the source misleading its readership. In Greece those who are disliked have no rights - even to the truth. Unfortunately, the Minister of Justice also stuck by the misleadingly inflated appraisal, ascribing it to the other side: "'The amounts claimed by the former King are inflated. They do not take into account the fact that a large portion of the properties is forest land that cannot be economically exploited and does not have the commercial value that is alleged,' charged the Minister of Justice M. Stathopoulos" ["Eleftherotypia," 26/11, p. 18].
Another myth presented by the government and its press lackeys was: "Pyrrhic victory for Mr. Glucksburg: He's not entitled to use the title 'former King of the Hellenes'" ["Vima," 24/11, headline p. 3]; "the Court found…that the deposed is not entitled to use the title 'former King of the Hellenes' [N. Hasapopoulos, "Vima," 24/11, p. 3]; "in its most official fashion, a court of international repute has prohibited the ex-monarch from using the title of 'former King of the Hellenes'" [N. Hasapopoulos, "Vima," 26/11, p. 20]. "The government's spokesperson insisted yesterday that the Court's decision is a political defeat for Mr. Glucksburg since it deprives him of the title of nobility that creates an economic disparity" ["Eleftherotypia," 24/11, p. 4]. All the same, the transcript of the decision refers to "the former King of Greece, his sister, Princess Irene, and his aunt, Princess Ekaterini" (http://www.echr.coe.int/eng/PRESS/New%20Court/KingofGreecejudepress.htm).
Nikos Dimou surely recalled "The Misfortune of Being Greek," published twenty-five years ago, when he summed up these events ["Ethnos," 3/12, p. 4, "Royal Hysteria" http://www.ndimou.gr/em-3-12-00.html]:
"If anyone had any doubts about whether we are an hysterical people, s/he must be rid of them now, after the recent scenes concerning the royal property. Other nations have had kings, too, and they have ousted them.
The kings of these other nations were not paragons of democratic conduct, either. (Usual with monarchs - that's why they got ousted.) And the kings in those states had property, too - indeed, much bigger than ours. But no other people have overreacted to such an extent. No other government employed such language for a matter that is a simple formality and totally meaningless. An outside observer following these reactions would say that we must be very insecure in our political system. Or something more: that we're scared of the (non-existent) power of the monarchy. Otherwise, there's no explanation for such agitation over a thoroughly formal procedure.
The Ex looks at this, and gets hopeful. Everyone's paying attention to him down there: Prime Ministers, political leaders, governmental spokespeople, the media. Therefore, he's somebody special. Therefore…
Let's coolly and indifferently assign a committee of low-level civil servants to negotiate a reasonable compensation (which we'll end up paying anyhow). With no brouhaha, headlines and announcements. Give him something to stop his whining, and forget about him.
We have a problem with our past. We either idealize it or we execrate it. Monarchy is the childhood illness of every political system. Once a country gets through it, it's over. So, how does it look when a grown man is scared stiff about having the whooping cough or the measles?
We have the same problem with dictators. In Spain, Franco's mausoleum overlooks the Valley of the Fallen and has a military honor guard. What does that mean? Simply that the Spanish people have completely recovered from the dictatorship. They don't employ excessive anti-junta rhetoric. They are healthily indifferent.
Some day we, too, will have to grow up and stop ranting and raving both about the glories as well as the disgraces of the past."