Dura lex, sed lex, but not in Greece

Last month, British Minister of State for Borders and Immigration Liam Byrne was driving along a Birmingham highway and talking on his mobile phone when a police car pulled him over. Even though the officer recognized the minister, he did not hesitate to apply the rule of law. He politely explained to Byrne that it was illegal to speak on the telephone while driving, and told him that his offense was punishable with a fine. The minister, without hesitation, paid the 100-pound fine and continued on his way. Anyone reading this piece of news – which traveled all around the world – in Greece, probably just smiled in a melancholy way, imagining the behavior of Greek politicians and other VIPs in similar circumstances, or even that of the man in the street, who often feels that he or she is above the law and can act with impunity. A few well-publicized examples suddenly came to mind when I read about the British minister… The slap given by former Public Order Minister Antonis Drosoyiannis to a traffic policeman for daring to examine the credentials of a friend who was accompanying him to a military dinner without being invited. The impudent policeman even paid for his brashness with an unfavorable transfer. I remembered the incredible story of former Thessaloniki Mayor Theofilos Ioannidis, who tried to stuff a parking ticket into the mouth of the municipal policeman who had issued it. Then we have the standard and extremely provocative behavior of Thessaloniki Prefect Panayiotis Psomiadis who rides around on his motorcycle without wearing a helmet – as do many other political figures – oblivious to the law and any criticism aimed against him. The case of the British minister proved the axiom «dura lex, sed lex» (the law is harsh, but it is the law), meaning that the law applies to everyone and is enforced on everyone, as high as they may be on the social ladder or in the political hierarchy. This contrasts sharply with the situation in this country – where we still nurture a certain snobbery for all those countries in which «people were living in caves when we were teaching democracy and culture» – where we appear to believe that the law is a spider’s web that traps the smaller insects, but from which the bigger insects can break free and escape. If anyone objects to this explanation, let them just take a moment to ponder what goes on in the streets of Greece every single day in terms of traffic violations. And let them imagine how one of our men of power would have reacted in Byrne’s shoes.