COMMENT

Unwritten laws and injustice

By Nikos Konstandaras

When the inevitable happens and we see behind the curtains of our public life and state mechanisms, we are terrified by the abyss. We see that the weakening of state institutions undermines society and leads to barbarism and chaos. The revelation of subterranean ties between a close adviser to the prime minister and neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, and the murder of a murderer in prison, are only the most recent evidence of the tragic consequences when society tolerates the breaking of rules, when personal interests, feelings and improvisation overstep the limits.

Until two days ago, Panayiotis Baltakos was a member of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s inner circle. This position, and the office of cabinet secretary, ensured that Baltakos was a prominent figure in government policy. His role was decisive in several very important issues: the shutdown of state broadcaster ERT, his objections to the adoption of anti-racist legislation, the channel of communication with Golden Dawn. These may have angered New Democracy’s coalition partners but could be explained as being part of his mandate and his wish to promote a right-wing (or, to be precise, a far-right) political ideology. Where things went awry, though, was when he violated his superior’s trust in order to pursue his own interests. The illegally videotaped conversation between Baltakos and a senior member of Golden Dawn which was made public on Wednesday reveals a climate of chumminess and trust, at Samaras’s expense, while Baltakos’s comments that the prosecution of Golden Dawn was for purely political reasons undermines the government that he ought to have been serving. By breaking the rules, the cabinet secretary undermined his office and opened the door to disaster.

The beating that caused the death of a prisoner who had murdered a prison guard is the most primitive proof that “unwritten laws,” in addition to the negligence or absence of institutions and the violation of rules, lead to violence and injustice. Greek prisons and detention centers are a nightmare: They hold far more people than they are capable of, their infrastructure is unsuitable, guards are fewer than necessary and supervision is usually indifferent if not malevolent. Under such circumstances, the guards can protect neither themselves nor their prisoners. The unwritten law is that if any convict attacks a guard he will regret it. And so the vicious murder of a guard opened the way to merciless revenge, allegedly by other guards – as if we have not had centuries to learn the procedures for handling such incidents.

When we stand at the edge of the abyss, our only support is the fact that others stood there before us. They made mistakes, they learned from them, they established institutions and procedures to reduce the danger. And yet we keep ignoring civilization’s achievements and persist in repeating our mistakes. Now only the justice system can prove that Golden Dawn’s prosecution was justified. Justice, also, must impose order in our prisons and secure humane conditions for inmates and guards. Unwritten laws leave too much room for injustice to run loose.

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