A year ago Alex and I sat on the balcony of a modest apartment in Athens talking late into the night with our old friends, Savvas Michael-Matsas and his wife Katerina. The discussion ranged over world politics, philosophy, poetry and history and, as always, we were struck by Savvas’ erudition and passionate interest in all spheres of human activity. His eyes would light up whether he was talking about Shakespeare’s Greek play, Timon of Athens, or about the struggle of the Palestinian people whom he wholeheartedly supports.
Today we were appalled to learn that on September 3 Savvas, a Jewish Marxist activist, goes on trial in Athens on trumped-up charges brought against him by the fascist party Golden Dawn. It’s a crucial test case for freedom of the press and has only come to court because of collusion between Golden Dawn, the police and sections of the judiciary.
The fascist party charges Savvas Matsas with defamation on the grounds that in 2009, following racist attacks by its members against immigrants, his paper New Perspective characterised the organisation as neo-Nazi.
Golden Dawn operates under a cloak of police protection: its members have never been brought to book for their violent assaults on immigrants, which have resulted in several deaths. Instead, it has been allowed to attack our friend with impunity, waging an anti-semitic, anti-communist campaign in which he has been described as “an instrument of the World Jewish Conspiracy to foment civil war among Greeks to impose a Judeo-Bolshevik regime in Greece”.
A fragile democracy
In a second trial beginning on the same day Constantine Moutzouris, former Dean of the National Technical University of Athens, is accused of having allowed independent website Indymedia to function from campus.
Under the impact of the economic crisis and the harsh austerity measures imposed by the European Union – now universally acknowledged to have been counter-productive – democracy hangs by a thread in the country that gave it birth. The very fact that these two cases can come to court indicates how fragile it is.
Savvas is not lacking in courage. Currently undergoing chemotherapy in a long battle with cancer, he writes from his sickbed, “Nobody can intimidate us!”
During one of those long sessions on the balcony last year, we learned for the first time that Savvas’ mother had been imprisoned and tortured by the German Nazi occupiers during World War Two. Her son’s voice – eloquent, informed, unafraid – must not be silenced.
The Greek journalists’ union ESHEA is fighting both prosecutions and is collecting signatures on its petition to drop the cases. You can also support the petition by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org saying “I demand the charges against Savvas Matsas and Constantine Moutzouris be dropped”, and adding your name and profession. You will have our unreserved gratitude.
UPDATE September 7
Savvas Michael-Matsas and Constantine Moutzouris were cleared of all charges on September 4 after only one day of the trial. Over the previous weeks the petition to dismiss the charges against them gained international support and a coalition of political parties, unions and community organisations campaigned for them in Greece itself. Not a single Golden Dawn member turned up in court to present evidence against them.
Below: Savvas outside the court following the verdict.