Snubbing Democracy 101

The lawmakers and members of Golden Dawn who avoided pretrial detention on Wednesday have hopefully received a useful lesson: Democracy functions according to specific principles. Their noisy allegations of a conspiracy against the far-right party and that they were the victims of political persecution proved to be foolish.

Judging however from the first reactions of Ilias Kasidiaris following his release, it is hard to be hopeful. On his way out of the Evelpidon court complex in Athens, the MP and spokesman of the extreme-right party hit a cameraman and kicked a photographer. Lessons in democratic politics are a non-starter for the core of Golden Dawn. These people feel free to exercise violence, not only in the dark of the night but also in the light of day. Nor are their attacks limited to foreign immigrants who have little chance of finding justice.

In any case – and besides the charges of felony and founding a criminal organization – the question also is: Should people who hit women on live TV or kick unsuspected reporters in the street be allowed to roam free? Even if – or rather despite the fact that – they are members of Parliament?

At the end of the day, if a similar assault had been committed by a hot-tempered regular citizen, you can be sure that he or she would already be facing the legal consequences of his action. Interestingly, Golden Dawn has taken every opportunity to express its indignation about the supposed lack of equality before the law, lamenting the alleged immunity status of Greek politicians. So I guess the other members and supporters of Golden Dawn will not mind if Kasidiaris gets punished for his thuggery.

It would not be wise to say much about the court’s decision to free the three deputies pending trial. No one knows better than the judges in this case. We should not forget that pretrial custody is an extreme measure and in a way constitutes an abuse of the democratic principle which says that no one must remain in jail without prior court ruling. However, in the way that being remanded in custody does not mean one is guilty, being released pending trial does not mean one is innocent either. Any judges who take into account the doubts about charges against suspects and don’t remand in custody everyone who appears before them are acting correctly.

The purpose of pretrial custody is to make sure that the suspects do not seek to evade trial, that they do not commit further crimes, and, finally, that they do not tamper with the case file. In this case, there seems to be no reason to be concerned about the first one. Time will tell about the second and the third. If, for example, the witnesses for the prosecution have trouble recalling, as it were, any important details that appear in their testimony, the prosecutors will need to be held accountable. No one is above criticism.

These are critical days. For the first time since the fall of the military dictatorship in 1974, a party’s deputies and members are being charged with felony; for the first time, we have seen a party like Golden Dawn enter Parliament; and for the first time, deputies are beating up citizens in the open.

This does not mean that the system can make concessions over the defendants’ rights. But similarly, it does not mean that nothing can be done merely because the defendants happen to be politicians.

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