Friday, 27 March 2009
Greece: Where democratic ideals go to die
Today is a broken record day. You know the drill. Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.
Nothing is special about today. But it’s as good a time as any to take (yet another) look at the motherland. So. Where are we?
Katerina Goulioni is dead. Don’t rake your brains. She’s not a famous artist or politician. She was a substance abuser, prison inmate and activist – trying from her cell to end the prison guards’ right to submit inmates to vaginal searches at will. She’s dead and nobody will tell us exactly how she died.
Inmate Giannis Dimitrakis was savagely beaten in prison by ‘Periander’ a notorious fascist agitator, finally behind bars.
We get it.
Inmates have no rights. They betrayed the sacred bond of citizenship when they broke the law and the system is punishing them in more ways than one.
We get it.
But what about the rest of us?
Well, it depends.
On your skin colour – as racist attacks are reported all over Greece and courts reduce the sentence imposed on ‘Periander’, racist attacker extraordinaire.
We get the message.
So earlier this month a Nigerian man is stabbed to death and it doesn’t even make the news and an Afghan migrant ‘strangles himself’ in his cell while students attack a group of Pakistanis in central Athens. Nothing at all ensues. Conditional rights. We get it.
It also depends on your sexual orientation. Only a week ago, a bar in Athens’ Exarcheia neighbourhood was attacked by hooligans screaming bloody murder against homosexuals. Naturally they attacked everyone in the bar, regardless of tastes in the bedroom. No-one was arrested. We get that too.
Is that all?
Well no, as the country’s flagship mental health hospital is virtually non-functioning as it’s understaffed by over 50% and a man gets beaten up by riot police for asking a question (you don’t believe me? Check out tvxs.gr for yourselves), rights seem to depend on a million and one things.
So where did we get to?
Rights are not for everyone. Prisoners, immigrants, homosexuals, the mentally ill and people who happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time may suffer. But the rest of us are ok, surely. Right?
Well, that also depends.
On whether a policeman armed with a stun-gun takes a shot at you with his Taser possibly causing permanent muscle damage. If that happens, you may find there is no recourse because the weapons are ‘safe’. Same applies to teargas.
On whether you found yourself arrested for being near a demonstration and then find that a number of policemen swear blind that they saw you throwing Molotov cocktails with your right arm. And then find that, even though your right arm is in a cast, the judge does not dismiss the testimony. Check out Sunday’s Eleftherotypia for a detailed breakdown of just how often this sort of thing happens.
Of course there are quotas. The police need to make arrests, show activity.
But when the only proof of guilt is the policemen’s own testimony, then all our rights depend on their moods. And I’m not all that comfortable with this idea.
So the police arrest those they can get to rather than those they need to get to.
D. Sarafianos, a representative of the Constitutional Rights committee of the Athens Bar Association, put it rather bluntly: ‘anyone is in danger of finding themselves accused of something they have no connection to’. We get it.
So a policeman’s word is enough to get me into prison?
Looks like it.
So just being at or near a demonstration can land me in prison. Being or being near an ‘undesirable’ singles me out for victimisation.
Of course, the courts don’t uphold all those arrests. Of course the system is not completely defunct. Yet. But it sure looks like it’s heading that way.
Police depositions are, according to reporters and journalists, formulaic, designed to send people to prison. Identifications of suspects are so detailed that, mr Sarafianos notes, they can only mean one thing: identifying traits were singled out after people were arrested. What are the chances of identifying the logo on a shirt pocket or the colour of a collar in the midst of a violent demonstration? You tell me. I’d go with slim.
But what do I know?
I know that statistically, the DA tends to accept police depositions.
As do many judges, claiming that if all police depositions are the same, any opposite opinion entails an accusation that the police suffered mass hallucinations or colluded to lie against the public.
Yes. Well. Now you mention that.
To be fair, because someone has to and I wouldn’t leave that to the state right now, so far, statistics suggest that most of these cases collapse in court.
Which is reassuring, but not enough. As it is not reversing the trend.
So let’s recap.
Rights. Depend. On your lifestyle and personal morality, on your skin colour and political affiliation, on wardrobe and geography, on bad luck, sheer luck and the mood the police, public prosecutor and district judge may be in that day.
An awful lot of variables.
That’s all I have to say today. No analysis. No clever repartee.
Nothing but anger, despair and fear over what comes next. Because if one of us is hit we are all hurt. One of these days, we’ll realise that. I just hope it’s not too late by then.