Journal of Modern Greek Studies 20.1 (2002) 168-170
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Nikos K. Alivizatos, Athens: Polis. 2001. Pp. 324, 4,800 drachmas.
In marked contrast to the United States, public intellectuals are part of the fabric of society in Europe, particularly in France and Greece. They serve as a link among abstract theories, public policies, and ordinary citizens. And as such they are integral players in the ongoing political discourse that shapes decisions and policies and molds public opinion in their democratic states.
Nikos Alivizatos is just such a public intellectual in Greece. An eminent constitutional lawyer, he has argued cases before the European Court of Human Rights, in defense of human rights for all those residing in Greece. A professor of constitutional law at the University of Athens and a scholar, he has also been a prolific columnist in the Greek press. The current volume is a compilation of 39 articles written in 1986-87 and 2000, almost all of which have been published in the Greek press. These articles are an ongoing, almost daily discourse on the numerous proposals submitted to the revisionist Voulí for changes in the constitution of 1975, as revised in 1985. In these articles Alivizatos makes pungent commentaries on the legislative debates. At times he diverges from an evaluation of the proposed changes, but he remains within the parameters of the issues under consideration. The author brings to his analysis of the proposed changes not only his legal expertise but several additional qualities, both personal and professional, that significantly fortify his critiques. Although a legal scholar, his knowledge of the social sciences, in particular political science, is extensive, enabling him to locate his discussion in a broader context than one of legal technicalities. Secondly, he has an unwavering commitment to democratic values and to Enlightenment principles. Human rights for all, and separation of church and state are his core principles. In fact in the prologue to this volume [End Page 168] the author explicitly states that his legal judgements are grounded in ethical considerations. As a consequence, this volume is not only insightful, but it highlights the limitations and problems of Greek democracy, particularly as they pertain to human rights.
The decision to revise the constitution, a decision made by both major parties, New Democracy, and more significantly PASOK, which was the ruling party for most of these years, was ostensibly intended to "modernize" the Greek political system in light of changed conditions. Interestingly, one element of further democratization, proponents argued, was to restrict the powers of the judiciary, including the Council of State, a stance which ignores the critical role of the judiciary in democratic states in insuring the preservation of basic principles. After more than ten years of debate, approximately half of the constitution's provisions have been altered. As of the end of 2001, none of these changes had as yet been enacted by the regular Voulí, although the expectations are that they will be acted on. Despite the voluminous changes made by the revisionist assembly, Alivizatos and others view the constitutional changes, on the whole, as minor, irrelevant, or issues that should be handled by legislative acts. One is reminded of the Weimar constitution in Germany after World War I, which attempted to solve all social problems through constitutional provisions. The final outcome of these months of deliberation did not result in significant modifications in the basic law of the land and in fact left some crucial issues, such as separation of church and state and the restricted rights of religious and other minorities, unaltered.
Alivizatos's articles cover a broad range of subjects: the question of whether a constitutional court should be established, the judge as legislator, institutional changes, radio and television, alternative service for conscientious objectors, the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, and identity cards, among other issues. One recurring theme is the issue of church-state relations. In Greece not only is the Greek Orthodox Church the established church, but its functionaries are state employees. Orthodoxy is a marker of national identity, which...