This season brought us some strange rulings from the Hellenic Supreme Court of Cassation (aka “Areus Pagus”). One I personally find hardly surprising and the other came as quite a shock.
First off, a clarification: Areus Pagus is not like the SCOTUS. It only deals with civil and criminal cases; the constitutionality of legislation is judged by a different court, the Council of State. Second, it has an icon of Jesus hanging over the judges, but that’s a different story entirely. The Italians have been fighting against this for quite some time with hardly any results, so I’m not confident at all about Greece making any sort of progress on this issue.
Generally speaking, Areus Pagus has a good reputation in greek society and is relatively well-respected, but has a history of having Themis (the greek equivalent of Justitia) peek under its blindfold and put a finger on her scales in cases where political issues are being considered.
The Vatopedi Scandal
The Vatopedi Scanal rocked the political world of Greece in 2008 and seriously undermined the right-wing Karamanlis Jr. government of the time. To cut the long story short, the Vatopedi Monastery of Mt. Athos claimed ownership of lake Vistonis and its shoreline based on 10th century emperial byzantine decrees (even though ownership of bodies of water is unconstitutional). In response to local outrage, the government bought back the lake by giving in exchange large pieces of real estate: 2 buildings constructed during the Athens Olympics of 2004 measuring approximately 20,000 sq.m. and a large plot of land near Mt. Athos around 2,125 acres in size. Lots of government officials (and close family members), clerics, monks and off-shore companies where involved in the shady deals and the State suffered around €100,000,000 in damages.
Now, after years in trials and counter-trials (in which the Areus Pagus became inevitably involved as well), two days ago (9.11.2013) the Areus Pagus D.A. decided to counter the indictment of 14 people involved in the scandal, diverted in from the Felony Court to the Penal Court of Areus Pagus and attempted to purge the monks involved from any moral responsibility (they’re facing instigation charges).
I have no idea what the final verdicts will be, but there’s a strong tradition in Greece of the Media creating an uproar about a scandal, then have it die down and the culprits getting off scot-free once everyone’s attention is elsewhere. Naturally, actions like this are met with the utmost skepticism, but since this is just the D.A. talking and not the judges we must wait and see. (But is it OK if I don’t hold my breath?)
Humourous image about the scandal from when it originally erupted in 2008
(monachos = monk in Greek)
Vatopedi Monastery Edition ● NO PRISON!
Community: It’s your birthday! Get a plot of land from each taxpayer
“Ecclesiastical Truth” Journal
Play with public property ● Now with new holes in regulations
Sharia inheritance laws
If the previous piece of news can be viewed with ambivalence, this one is downright irritating. A Greek citizen, member of the muslim community of Thrace (remnant of the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923) recently died and willed his entire fortune to his Muslim wife (they had no children). So far so good. Ah, but you see, his sister attacked his living will claiming that since he was a Muslim, Sharia Law does not provide for a living will. Naturally the courts ruled in the wife’s favour, but the sister pushed the case all the way to Areus Pagus. And there the thing turns… iffy.
You see, the Supreme Court of the land saw it fit to send the case back to the regular courts with the demand that Sharia Law be respected and that the deceased had no right to file a will. Needless to say this creates a dangerous precedent, since thousands of Muslim Greek citizens have inherited real estate and money from their relatives since 1946 (when the latest inheritance laws came into effect) and of course sold and re-sold them since. The deceased’s wife is now forced to turn to the European Human Rights Court, in order to fight back against what’s being called “holy apartheid”.
That the Greek State tolerates, if not enforces, Sharia Law in the muslim communities of Thrace is nothing new; it’s been well-documented. Supposedly, this should have ended in 2011 with a family law reform (though why it was still going on is unimaginable, when even Turkey doesn’t follow Sharia since 1926 and is ironically more of an “état laïque” than Greece). It obviously did not, to the point that the Supreme Court directs judges with more sense to enforce it.
You can also watch this short video on the subject (it’s in Greek with English subtitles):
Initially I was honestly shocked by the news, but then I remembered that Sharia Law is tolerated, if not encouraged, in other european countries as well, like the UK or Norway or Sweden. And here I was feeling like we were the barbarians in a european sea of laicism. One might even say we’re pioneers. And the funny thing is that in this environment, the guy’s wife might not even get things set right even at the european judicial level (this bears watching).