Yesterday I attended my very first show trial. I had thought that such events had gone the way of the typewriter and VCR, consigned to the trash compactor of history. However, this particular case was more farce than fear and had a happy ending when the seven defendants were found not guilty of crimes such as insulting the person of the president of the Hellenic republic and not arresting 10,000 demonstrators on the spot.
But I get ahead of myself. On the 28th October or Ohi (No) day as it known in Greece the annual military parade in Thessaloniki was temporarily halted and the Greek president, Karolos Papoulias fled the area along with other VIPs after crowds flooded into the road and started chanting anti-government slogans (see pictures above). Eventually, the reminder of the parade continued to tumultuous applause, though without any political figure present. The same scenes were repeated across Greece and the shock of the event was such that the government of Giorgos Papandreou stepped down from government a week later.
However, live TV coverage of the Greek president and the local bigwigs being forced to abandon the parade was never going to be forgotten by the country's political elite keen for blood after the humiliation. Also with the Independence Day parades coming up on the 25th March some kind of message had to be sent to show who is in charge hence the arrest and trial of six protesters and one police officer present.
The courtroom was full of supporters of the defendants , not to mention uniformed and plain clothes police. Just to be on the safe side, a platoon of the quasi-military riot police lolled round in the corridor next door, shields and helmet close to hand in case things got feisty.
How much this particular farce has cost the tax payer is anyone's guess, but the fact that so many lawyers, police officers, court workers, witnesses and the like spent an afternoon listening to the charges that sounded more like a school yard spat that a breach of any sane law is an indication that Kafka's spirit lives on in the Greek justice system.
"Did you say anything against the president?"
was one of the questions I heard come from the judge's mouth and for a moment I thought it was a joke. But, no, much of the case revolved around allegations that some of the defendants had called the country's president "traitor" and "a mason". Actually, as I was there those were the least insulting things people shouted, and positively beniegn compared with the insults coming from some groups.
But due to the crowds involved and the fact that the police case was about as watertight as the Titanic nobody could say with any certainty that the accused were those insulting Papoulias.
The police officer faced charges of dereliction of duty since he failed to start arrest any of the 10,000 odd people who were in the streets. Given the potential for a violent reaction and the fact that the parade was full of families such a move was safe to say the most prudent and the court agreed. However you have to wonder what motivated the public prosecutor to pursue the case.
Despite what we see in the movies there was no popping of champagne corks or jubilant cheers, people shook hands, thanked those who'd helped and made their way out of the building, trailed by the riot police squads.