Democracy, if we can keep it - the situation in Greece

, by Giorgos Papaioannou

Democracy, if we can keep it - the situation in Greece
29 June 2011: Demonstrations in front of the Greek parliament. Credit: Ggia, Wikimedia Commons

Greece is set to hold its general elections in May 2023. Voters are going to the ballot boxes under the shadow of a catastrophic rail crash (Feb. 28) where two trains collided and 57 people died. The majority of the victims were young people, aged 18-20. Mass protests erupted all around the country, with slogans like “Text me when you get there” and “Their profits, our lives”. Citizens feel shocked towards a state that cannot guarantee their fundamental right to life. I myself in January was a passenger of the later crushed train. I was aware that it’s not fast οr luxurious, but I was sure that I would get out of it alive.

Αt the same time, citizens are called to renew their trust in a political system that handled the management of the railways with clientelistic methods; discrediting public transport and never investing in security mechanisms over the course of twenty years in order to avoid such a tragedy. While simultaneously continuing the tradition of Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles, the European Commission referred Greece -two weeks before the rail crush- to the EU Court of Justice for “failure to comply with rules on railway transport”.

In this case Greek democracy faces an enormous and accelerated danger: cynicism. Citizens need to believe again that their voices and actions matter, and that those responsible will be held accountable. According to a recent public opinion poll 40% of Greek people feel anger about the event and 64% point out that it’s the responsibility of all political parties that have governed Greece since 2000.

Furthermore, 2022 was marked as a political year by the “Greek Watergate” scandal. It was revealed that a series of journalists, politicians and other high-profile citizens were monitored by the National Intelligence Service and the illegal malware Predator. The rules of the democratic game were turned upside down.

In another example, journalist Thanasis Koukakis revealed last April that his mobile phone is infected with a malware, similar to Pegasus, that basically controls the device. After a while Nikos Androulakis (MEP & leader of PASOK-KINAL, the third largest political party in Greece) filed a lawsuit because his mobile phone was also infected with Predator and he requested an investigation in order to reveal who was behind it. Mere days later, the General Secretary of the Government and nephew of the Prime Minister, Kiriakos Mitsotakis, resigned together with the Head of the Secret Services. The Government at the beginning was denying any connection between the surveillance cases and the resignations.

The Independent National Authority for Communication, Security, and Privacy verified that the Secret Services spied on both Androulakis and Koukakis. Subsequently the Government was forced to admit that due to reasons of “national security” the secret services spied legally on these individuals. It did not disclose the reasons but it underlined that it was morally wrong, hence the abovementioned resignations of state officials. Regarding the illegal malware Predator, to this day it states that it has no relation with it. Τhe evidence of course says the opposite, but this is another dark story.

The most recent high-profile case is of Artemis Seaford, former executive of META and Greek-American citizen. She filed a lawsuit because she was monitored by the secret services and her mobile phone was bugged with Predator malware. Additionally, an inquiry was conducted in autumn 2022 by the Parliament on the use of Predator by the secret services. The ruling conservative party stated that there is no relation between Predator and the State. Case closed. The Greek Justice continues to conduct an investigation, but due to chronic judicial delays results are not expected before the general elections in May 2023.

Unfortunately, as the famous Israeli newspaper Haaretz declares “Democracy can die in daylight too”. The “Greek Watergate” is an insult to the constitutional order. A vicious attack to the rule of law and fundamental human rights. The deteriorating situation of press freedom in Greece puts obstacles on the accountability of the executive power. Reporters without Borders placed Greece at the bottom of EU countries on press freedom in 2022. The country was downgraded by the V-Dem Institute from a liberal to an electoral democracy in 2022.

In conclusion, with the fall of the military junta in 1974 and the transition to the Republic a new social contract was agreed. Some of its main features were the non-treatment of political opponents as enemies and the existence of social welfare.

Greek society is reacting to the authoritarian path that it has taken. Mass protests are taking place. Citizens’ initiatives are formed. Investigative journalists are conducting valuable reports. But the question remains: are we stronger than the Leviathan?

Giorgos Papaioannou is an active member of the Erasmus Generation (Erasmus Student Network) and a recent graduate of Political Science, University of Crete.

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