How a Greek politician is attempting to rewrite history by suing Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia he doesn’t understand

Theodoros Katsanevas, a Greek politician and one time son-in-law of Andreas Papandreou is seeking 200,000 euros in damages and the imprisonment for one-year of a young Wikipedia administrator over allegations that the entry about the former MP is defamatory.
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Thursday 13 February 2014
By Kostas Efimeros

Who is Theodoros Katsanevas

Born in 1947 Theodoros Katsanevas is a Greek politician and former MP with the socialist PASOK party (1989 - 2004). Mr Katsanevas was married to the daughter of former PM Andreas Papandreou until their divorce in 2000. Since May 2013 Katsanevas has been the leader of the political party DRACHMA.

What bothered Katsanevas

According to the suit filed against the 21-year-old Wikipedia administrator, Mr Katsanevas had sent a copy of his resume in order for it to be included in the online encyclopedia. Most entries on Wikipedia can be edited by anyone, and the alterations to the entry on Mr Katsanevas were far from his liking.

In particular the section which provoked the former PASOK MP’s wrath was the following, “In 1996 shortly after the death of Andreas Papandreou, father-in-law to Katsanevas (n.b. T. Katsanevas was married to the daughter of Andreas Papandreou, Sofia) his first handwritten will was opened in which he described [Katsanevas] as a ‘disgrace’ to the family and accused him of trying to politically exploit the name of George Papandreou...”

While the former is included in the lawsuit against the wikipedia administrator the continuation of the sentence is not, which reads, “...accusations which Sofia Katsaneva attributed to others and not to her father, while some judges maintain that the will was genuine but backdated.”

The references given in the Wikipedia entry are balanced. In any event the entry cites as sources articles in several newspapers including To Vima, Rizospastis and, media outlets against which the former MP never filed any defamation suits. All the writer of the entry did was include additional information from other sources in the interest of providing a more complete picture.  But wait a minute, who did write the entry?

How did Katsanevas find the Wikipedia administrator?

An interesting question is how Mr Katsanevas identified the particular administrator. The latter has not made his personal information public. Despite this, the administrator told us in a telephone telephone interview that Mr Katsanevas had located him in 2009 at which point he had sent him notice demanding parts of the wikipedia entry be deleted.

Reading the lawsuit it is not difficult to ascertain that neither Mr Katsanevas nor the lawyer that drew it up are particular whizzes went it comes to how Wikipedia works. The 10 page legal document includes a number of inaccuracies including the most fundamental: even if the judge approves temporary protective measures sought and orders the administrator to delete the controversial passage, he is not able to do so. Something which perhaps Mr Katsanevas should know given that when one looks over the history of the entry one can see a series of anonymous accounts logging in frequently to delete exactly the passage which so troubles the former MP. A cursory glance over the entry’s history will also establish that the passage is continually reinserted by a number of different administrators whereas the particular young man accused of ‘defamation’ has not edited the entry in over two years.

Our attempts to contact Mr Katsanevas to ask him how he came to learn the identity of the administrator were unsuccessful. It is worth noting however that Wikipedia itself - which has assumed the legal representation of the administrator - never received a formal request to reveal his identity, something which would have been difficult given that the law (especially as it stood when the first demand for the passage’s deletion was sent) only allows such breaches of confidentiality when there are indications of criminal actions.

Rewriting History

In his lawsuit Theodoros Katsanevas insistently demands for the removal of the Wikipedia passage referring to the description of him as a ‘disgrace’ in the controversial will of Andreas Papandreou. As an additional argument he refers to his 2003 victory in a court battle with Spyros Karatzaferis, a newspaper publisher who for a period in 1998 published daily a front page photograph of Katsanevas with the caption ‘Disgrace’, referring to the Papandreou will.

Referring to this trial, Katsanevas implies that the description of him as a ‘disgrace’ is found in a will the authenticity of which is in question and that this was a point conceded by the court in his victory against Karatzaferis. The truth is somewhat different.

Reading the news articles about the trial from the time, it is clear that nobody doubts that the will was indeed written by Andreas Papandreou. The trial only examined the question of whether it was backdated or not. Furthermore, Andreas Papandreou’s daughter, Sofia claimed that others pressured her father to write the particular comment, not that he didn’t write it. Finally, the court that ruled that Spyros Karatzaferis had committed libel doesn’t appear to have dealt with the issue of the will’s authenticity, only whether the newspaper was deliberately defaming Theodoros Katsanevas.

In light of these details, the ‘disgrace’ reference on Wikipedia is not only not defamatory but does indeed add to (with references and connections) a truly encyclopedic view of our modern political history.

A Bad Habit

In recent years there have been ever greater attempts to control the media through the filing of lawsuits. Theodoros Katsanevas is demanding an active participant in the online community pay him 200,000 euros simply because he doesn’t like the way he is being treated by history. He is not asking the same from the To Vima newspaper, even though that was the source for the “disgrace’ reference.

Mr Katsanevas clearly cannot appreciate how the biggest and most popular encyclopedia in the world works, which depends on the collective participation of its users. He falsely claims that the entry is locked (something which is disproven from its history) and is demanding that a simple administrator do something that is beyond his power.

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