Leading Article: Threat to an ancient freedom in Greece

Click to follow
The Independent Online
FOR MORE than two centuries the ideal of liberty and the national life of Greece remained inextricably bound together in the hearts of Western democrats. Through the long generations of Turkish occupation, Christians paid homage to the unextinguished light of Orthodox belief while poets and statesmen united in their admiration for the fierce dignity of Greek nationalism. That is why the critic who would chide the government of Greece must do so with scrupulous historical sensitivity.

International PEN, an organisation representing writers worldwide, has just appealed to Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou to provide protection for Anastasia Karakasidou, a distinguished scholar who has received threats of rape and murder because of her research into the ethnic Macedonian community of Greece. International PEN has rightly pointed out to Mr Papandreou that it holds no position on issues raised by Ms Karakasidou's research, a thesis with the less than incendiary title of Fields of Wheat, Hills of Shrubs, Agrarian Development and Nation Building in Northern Greece. The question is one of free expression.

This is not the only case for concern. Next week the trial is anticipated of Hristos Sideropoulos, an activist accused of 'spreading false information that might cause disturbance in the international relations of Greece'. He has claimed in public that ethnic Macedonians face curbs on their language and culture by a state which denies their existence. Few would endorse Mr Sideropoulos's highly questionable propositions about Macedonian nationhood. But such judicial harassment is deplorable.

The problem is that the Macedonian question has raised the temperature of all discussion within Greece and it has poisoned relations between Athens and its European neighbours. Let it be said that the Greek government has a point in its dispute with the former Yugoslav republic. No outsider has the right blithely to judge matters of painful immediacy to Greek men and women, who live with vivid memories of the burning quays at Smyrna, of wartime famine in Athens and the civil war of 1946 to 1949. The status of Macedonia requires more prudence on the part of Greece and better understanding by western Europe if it is to be resolved. But Mr Sideropoulos is entitled to speak his mind and the right of Ms Karakasidou to conduct impartial academic research is one cherished in Greece since antiquity. 'Happy is he who has the understanding of inquiry,' wrote Euripides, and happier the state where free inquiry flourishes and debate unfolds in liberty.