Sunday

27th Nov 2022

Opinion

The Greek Watergate

  • 'This is what the alt-right Mitsotakis government has brought Greece to: competing with Poland on the agenda of committees investigating democratic aberrations' (Photo: European Union 2022 - Source : EP)
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At the beginning of August, the news broke: a political storm of enormous proportions, kicked off by the wiretapping of the communications of MEP Nikos Androulakis.

The Greek politician was under surveillance during the same period he was in the running for the presidency of the third-largest party in Greek politics, Pasok-Kinal, right up until his election.

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  • MEP Kostas Arvanitis: 'Some of us, both within and outside the country, tried to break the wall of silence' (Photo: European Parliament)

This disturbing news came as another surveillance case developed, that of journalist Thanasis Koukakis, a case that first became public in August 2022.

Since then, more evidence of surveillance has come to light, including the infection of the phone of Christos Spirtzis, a high-ranking official of the main opposition party, Syriza-PA, with spyware — alarming news that puts the main opposition party and its leading figures, under the surveillance spotlight.

Neither the repeated complaints of the journalist himself, nor the revelations by part of Greek the press that followed (and there was a lot of them, with more than enough evidence to shed light on the ways by which spyware such as Predator made its way to our country) nor the insistence of some of us to keep talking about the issue, managed to break the wall of silence of the Greek media — what the Greek Twitter-sphere has dubbed 'Enimerosi 108', owing to the country's lamentable place in the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index.

Wall of silence

A wall of silence both invisible yet highly-effective, that stonewalls, and continues to stop, annoying news stories before reaching their rightful spots in the largest and most influential media.

A wall of silence, always working on behalf of the "truth" — as viewed by the centre-right New Democracy government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

On Friday 26 August, at a special session of the Greek parliament devoted to the wiretapping scandal, and requested by the main opposition leader Alexis Tsipras three weeks prior, the prime minister, in a fit of 'post truth'-fuelled political audacity, invoked the European Commission's 2022 Rule of Law Report.

Flying in the face of the facts, Mitsotakis did not hesitate to claim that the EU report vindicated his government and merely included "some recommendations."

This could not be further from the truth, as anyone who has perused the report can attest.

The delay — de facto refusal — to transpose the European Whistleblower Protection Directive (for which Greece is already facing infringement proceedings), the manipulation of the media through the infamous "Petsas List", a scandal concerning the selective state-funding of certain media outlets over others according to opaque criteria, the monitoring of Koukakis, the failure to solve the murder of the journalist Giorgos Karaivaz, the abundance of SLAPP suits, the prosecution of journalists, the serious concerns over the amendment of Article 191 of the Greek Criminal Code on the spreading of fake news, an attempt to silence the media under the pretext of protecting public health.

And the list could go on…The signs of democratic aberration were already there.

Some of us, both within and outside the country, were early to point them out and try to warn the rest.

The now collapsing regime attempted first to stop and then downplay the importance of this week's hearing in the PEGA committee, a hearing for the sake of which the committee decided to postpone an already-scheduled debate on Poland.

Embarrassing non-answers

In the hearing itself, while the spied-upon journalists recounted their experiences, the non-answers provided by Greek government official were embarrassing; confrontative, and institutionally vacant.

This is what the alt-right Mitsotakis government has brought Greece to: competing with Poland on the agenda of committees investigating democratic aberrations.

Add to the equation the frontpage stories in the international press which speak of a "descent towards authoritarianism" and the constant and escalating frictions within the government party, to complete the picture of the approaching doom.

A number of government MPs have been gingerly straying from the party line, including a former prime minister. The path has been paved for Mitsotakis' political demise, as evidenced by his attempts to blackmail his party, and turn members of his government into accomplices, as well as to undermine any parliamentary investigation of the scandal.

The loss of composure by the government has led to unprecedented public statements — such as the warning by the prime minister's sister, a government MP and former minister for foreign affairs, Dora Bakoyannis, about hefty prison sentences for those who blab their mouths off about the wiretapping cases.

Even traditional allies in the Brussels nomenclature seem to be pulling the rug out from under Mitsotakis' feet.

The Greek vice president of the European Commission, Margaritis Schinas, broke his days-long silence, with a carefully choreographed intervention, in which he very discreetly maintained his distance — essentially showing the way out to a stunned Mitsotakis, while also making a warning remark in the final lines of an article in the conservative newspaper Kathimerini.

Faced with growing popular discontent due to price hikes and looming energy poverty, with widespread concern and insecurity among Greek citizens about the confidentiality of their communications, with the first signs of a merciless war between interest groups, and a civil war between party officials and heirs apparent to his position, Mitsotakis is on his way out.

The best he can offer is a redemptive quick turn to the polls. For the sake of democracy in both Greece and Europe.

Author bio

Kostas Arvanitis is a Greek MEP with Syriza and The Left, and a member of the European Parliament's civil liberties committee.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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