Greece does not often have the chance to show the world the value of an independent judiciary and of other democratic institutions, the chance to honor the principles of Europe.
But on Thursday, despite the dangers that this may bring upon the country, the Supreme Court rejected Turkey’s request for the extradition of eight members of the Turkish military whom Ankara accuses of being involved in the attempted coup of July 15.
It was not an easy decision, as the course of the issue had shown from the day after the coup attempt, when the eight arrived in the northern town of Alexandroupoli in a helicopter and requested asylum.
But from the moment that the Turkish government’s campaign against real or perceived opponents undermined the Turkish judiciary’s independence, the Greek judges had no real choice. Extraditing the eight would have left an indelible stain on a nation that has only its pride and democratic ideals left after years of crisis, after the gross devaluation of its name and property.
As political opportunism and expediency sweep the world – in Greece and Britain, in other European countries and the United States – the Greek judges’ verdict becomes even more important. It displays the independence and courage needed to fortify democracy.
Everywhere. In Britain, the judges who ruled that Brexit had to be debated in Parliament were branded “enemies of the people” by supporters of Britain’s exit from the EU.
Donald Trump’s election has lead to an unprecedented attack on news media that don’t see things as he does. We can only imagine how he will react to any judicial decisions that he does not like. Across the world, judges will be on the front line in the battle between justice and chaos.
When “might makes right” begins to dominate everywhere, the Greek judges’ verdict is cause for respect as well as pride.
The angrier Ankara’s response, the more important the verdict. It is imperative that we press home simple truths – that the issue is not whether we like or agree with those whom Turkey accuses of treason but whether they would be granted a fair trial in their country, whether their lives would be in danger.
Turkey’s judiciary is under the thumb of a government that has said it intends to reinstate the death penalty retroactively. The Greek judges carried out their obligation to decide without considering the political consequences.
Extraditing the eight would have damaged not only the standing of Greece’s judiciary but the very idea of justice.
It would have tainted all Greeks, whose myths, literature and history are a series of brave decisions and often desperate acts against the “right” of the mighty.
Thursday's ruling may cause damage in the short term, but it is a breath of air and a moment of pride on an endless uphill slog.