It was supposed to be a provocative piece of journalism and a tongue-in-cheek comment on German concerns about a European Union bailout for debt-ridden Greece. But the Feb. 22, 2010 cover of the weekly German newsmagazine Focus -- which showed the goddess Aphrodite making an obscene gesture -- caused outrage in Greece. At the time, the president of the Greek parliament even summoned the German ambassador to complain about German media coverage of his country.
Now six Greek citizens who felt particularly offended are taking legal action against the journalists involved, including Helmut Markwort, the magazine's founder who was also editor in chief of Focus at the time of publication.
According to reports in the Wednesday editions of the German newspapers Handelsblatt and Tagesspiegel, Markwort and nine other Focus employees are due to appear in an Athens court on June 29. The newspapers reported that public prosecutor Ourania Stathea is looking into accusations of defamation, libel and the denigration of Greek national symbols.
'I'm Not on the Run'
The Focus cover featured a photograph of the famously armless statue Venus de Milo, which depicts the Greek goddess Aphrodite, that had been doctored so that the deity was showing her middle finger to the viewer. The story, titled "Swindlers in the Euro Family," included a detailed description of what the authors claimed was "2000 years of decline" in Greece, including reports of tax fraud and failed construction projects. The six Greeks who are now suing the journalists maintain that the article included false claims and was also insulting to the Greek people.
Markwort, who could face up to two years in prison, appears unperturbed by the accusations, however. He told the Tagesspiegel that he had a "clean conscience" and had only been performing his "journalistic duty." He said he would only get the magazine's lawyers involved once he had received an official court summons.
Markwort also asserted that he was a great fan of Greece. "I'm not on the run, and I'm also not afraid that I will have to go to prison," he said.