‘Man on trial’ exonerated, but what happens with the smear?
It is one thing to engage in political name-calling and to use sharp rhetoric, yet, it is another thing to characterise someone as a “man on trial”, thus associating him with criminal acts, while at the same time charging others with maintaining ties with a criminal.
Despite the collapse of charges of creating a “criminal organisation in football”, meaning that Evangelos Marinakis no longer faces charges in the affair, no one in the government thought it necessary to recant any of the accusations and innuendo that they unleashed against him.
The attacks were so pervasive that when cabinet members clashed with main opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, they repeatedly accused him of maintaining relations and being a koumbaros (best man) of the “man on trial” Marinakis.
Marinakis was on trial in the notorious case of the “criminal organisation in football”, and that was the case to which government ministers were referring.
Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis spoke of “game-fixing”, while ministry “circles” spoke of the football club owner/ “man on trial” and friend of the Mitsotakis family.
Guilty until proven innocent
This is the case that government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos – a lawyer by training – was referring when he declared: “He is on trial, and he is attempting to use Olympiacos FC supporters as a shield to protect himself.
Perhaps it is not positive even for him to try to try to link the Olympiacos family so closely with New Democracy and his relative, Mitsotakis.
Moreover, the prime minister himself was relying on this case to attack Mitsotakis when he said: “This government neither supports business interests, nor does it confer in secret. If, however, New Democracy and Kyriakos Mitsotakis cannot withstand any differing voice, having become accustomed to all the media marching to their tune, they need only ask their koumbaros and man on trial Marinakis, who has already bought about seven newspapers, to buy that many more for their sake”.
Beyond that, the defence minister, who issued dozens of statements and tweets, always treated Marinakis as if he were a criminal, always referring to the man on trial with regard to football.
By bypassing these pronouncements as merely a part of political polemics in the competition between parties, one misses the essence of the matter.
It is one thing to engage in political name-calling, to exhibit sympathy or antipathy, and to use sharp rhetoric in agreeing or disagreeing with particular policies or politicians.
Yet, it is another thing to characterise someone as a “man on trial”, thus associating him with criminal acts, while at the same time charging others more or less of maintaining ties with a criminal. Here, one is dealing with an act that merits great moral and political disdain, and one must be careful in using such epithets.
One must not forget that the mere mention of the phrase “man on trial” by the prime minister, and indeed in parliament, comes across in society not as a suspicion of guilt, but rather as a certainty.
That leads to even harsher characterisations in the public sphere and social media, which shape public opinion, which rushes to issue an a priori conviction.
This brings us back to the essence. All of the above statements, the dozens of references to the “man on trial” Marinakis, and the political conclusions drawn from his previous implication in the notorious “criminal organisation” case simply do not stand.
Today they have proven to be groundless. Today they have been belied. If there were a way to do so, the phrase “man on trial” should have been redacted from these statements. But then the statements would lose their meaning and value as tools of political polemics.
The worst part is that, by all appearances, not only will there be no retraction of previous statements, but instead a repetition of the same scenario, in a more emphatic and organised manner.
It has become clear that here we are not dealing with a criminal investigation of cases, nor with an effort to organise “plots”, in the manner to which we were once accustomed.
What we are dealing with is a veritable cottage industry, which produces far-fetched criminal prosecutions, without evidence or testimony, but based only on the excessive zeal of particular prosecutors.
Such cases have no real chance of reaching even the Council of Appellate Court Judges. They are manufactured with the sole aim of using them as a tool to smear all those who have been chosen to be political opponents, or convenient friends of political opponents.
What is at work is a sinister calculus. Although they know that in the end these cases will collapse and that those being prosecuted will be acquitted, they quickly set aside the principle of being innocent until proven guilty, so as to orient public opinion towards cannibalisation, by producing pre-ordained convictions, which end up poisoning the public sphere in the final analysis.
Poisoning the public sphere, politics
What the members of the Tsipras government have not considered, including the prime minister himself, is that constantly finger-pointing at the “guilty”, without actual evidence and guilt, may seem to give them an advantage in the clash between parties, but instead it maintains and aggravates the pervasive impression in public opinion that everyone is unethical, corrupt, and involved in criminal organisations.
This pervasive impressive could easily include the totality of politicians, with no distinction between left and right.
In the end, this is a mentality which serves only the extreme right and its rhetoric, and which will sooner or later boomerang against SYRΙΖΑ.