Not a toy tram

For those who don’t remember, Lee Kuan Yew was Singapore’s «permanent» prime minister, of a type that are found in certain regimes only. Still, there was something original about this leader: Instead of stifling criticism, he preferred to take legal action. The courts, which were under his complete control, would thrash any political dissident or journalist who dared raise their voice. And when the senior leader was annoyed by the advocates’ questions, the court would award him compensation for psychological damage. We don’t know if Public Order Minister Evangelos Venizelos is envious of Lee Kuan Yew’s glory. Greek citizens and journalists are fortunate to live in a democratic country with an independent judiciary that resists those who respect freedom of expression only when this concerns their own. Skai radio station has criticized Venizelos, as culture minister, over the controversy concerning the exact line to be followed by the tram route and the additional cost the new plans entail. One may agree or disagree with Skai’s criticism. But it is undeniable that the confrontation has evolved into a costly fiasco as Transport Ministry experts have rejected the new plan proposed by the Culture Ministry and in turn proposed one of their own. It’s no coincidence that the case has roused public ridicule while 33 conservative deputies signed a question on the responsibilities and the cost of the successive alterations. Venizelos, however, was not annoyed with the inconsistencies but with the criticism instead. He therefore announced yesterday, «with deep sorrow,» as he said, that he would file a suit against Skai for personal offense, asking for 700 million drachmas – the cost of planning a new tramway, that is. Venizelos did not stop there. He went on to issue a press release hinting at the existence of common «publishing interests,» also implicating Kathimerini and past reports on the rowing center at Schinias in an attempt to give the impression that Kathimerini and Skai are driven by expediency and not out of indignation over the multimillion-drachma flop. Venizelos might as well keep the deep sorrow all to himself. As a law professor, he should bear in mind that in democracies, constitutions are meant to safeguard freedom of expression so that ministers are not able to toy with tramways at the expense of the public purse, offending public intelligence. If Venizelos has forgotten this, the Greek courts certainly haven’t.