Unfortunately, for many the names Athanasios Polyzoidis and Georgios Tercetis do not mean much. Perhaps, some people remember them from an iconic Greek film starring Nikos Kourkoulos and Manos Katrakis. The “Trial of the Judges” which deals with the trial for treason in which the fighters of 1821 Kolokotronis and Plaputas were dragged. Few, however, know that Polyzoidis and Tercetis are today considered the “national judges”. They are the judges who stood up to Otho and the regency and preferred to find these defendants rather than send them to the guillotine Kolokotroni and Plaputa. The trial of the judges began one day like today and concluded with the solemn vindication of Polyzoidis and Tercetis.
The trial of Kolokotronis and Plaputos
When a country drags to trial for treason its commander-in-chief and one of its most important warlords, who gave their lives for Freedom, then that country should be ashamed. Of course, Greece at that time was not an independent state. Others made the decisions. The foreigners. The “protectors”. And for them, names like Kolokotronis or Plaputas didn’t mean much. But then again… On the day when the Old Man of Morea and the warlord sat in the accused’s dock, the ragged Greeks bowed their heads in shame. And let it not be their fault. Some priests rang church bells to signal danger. It was April 30, 1834 when this despicable trial began.
The minor Othonas and the viceroyalty saw to it that the condemnation of the fighters was certain. Minister of Justice Schinas and prosecutor Edouard Masson, an anti-Greek from Scotland, appointed judges who were in the opposing camp from the militants (yes, the feud between the Greeks did not arise in the last decades. It is an ancient…custom) : President: Polyzoidis. Members: Tercetis, Tsoutsos, Frangoulis, Voulgaris and of course the prosecutor, the old man’s sworn enemy, Masson to make the result even more certain. The indictment referred to a “conspiracy with the aim of disturbing the public peace, and succeeding the citizens of A.M. in robbery and civil war, sign a reference to a foreign power and abolish the state regime…”.
The trial began but from the very first meeting the obvious was apparent. The accusers had absolutely no proof of what they were accusing the militants of. How could they? Their only “weapon” was the false witnesses, however, they too were not well prepared and constantly fell into contradictions that irritated everyone. The longer the trial continues, the more clearly the conspiracy to kill Kolokotronis, Plaputas and other fighters of Revolution of 1821 to end up in the guillotine. It is characteristic that the initial 16 witnesses for the prosecution increased just before the trial to 44, while the initial 130 witnesses for the defense were reduced to 115 with Masson’s interventions.
On the day of the decision, May 26, 1834, Soutsos, Fragoulis, Voulgaris sign the dictated judgment without hesitation. Polyzoidis and Tercetis, however, despite the threats they receive, do not bend. They don’t sign. “With such tainted evidence, not even two cats are sentenced to death,” says Tercetis. “In the name of the king, I command you to sign the decision,” shouts the Minister of Justice. “I’d rather you cut off my hand,” answers Polyzoidis. “You will not have me as an accomplice in the murder of two innocent people,” says Tercetis coolly. The heroic attitude of the two judges “stopped the executioner’s blade”.
The trial of the judges
Rumors of inciting a popular uprising alarmed the Bavarians and forced them to convert the sentence into imprisonment with the issuance of a royal pardon. The condemned were taken to the prisons to serve it. The question of Kolokotronis who was surprised to see that instead of the scaffold, they were being led to prison is typical: “Why are you taking us to the prison?” he asked, “will they not take our heads?” They, however, who set up the trial of the two warlords would not leave this shame unanswered. The plotters are sending Polyzoidis and Tercetis to trial “accusing them as being guilty of refusing service and of violating the secrecy of the court’s vote with the purpose of selfishly harming the state” but also that they had been bought off “with the gold of the Kolokotroni lighthouse”. The trial of Polyzoidis and Tercetis took place in Nafplio in September 1834. Commissioner – Prosecutor was – who else? – the “philhellenic” Masson.
The trial of the judges was slow to begin because they could not find judges willing to try the two who had carried on their shoulders the pride of an entire people. Apparently, and after a trial that was just as disgraceful and without the slightest evidence as the first one, the two accused judges were solemnly acquitted.
“The order not to kill scared me inconsolably, because an unforgivable murder is the unjust beheading of a person” said Polyzoides in his apology, of which only a few passages have survived, but we know that “they showed eloquence and precision of speech worthy of the ancient days of Greece” .
The apology of Georgios Tertsetis, however, is a legacy in the fight for Freedom and Justice, not only in Greece but in any part of the Earth and it has reached our days. “We have the human race as our homeland” he said initially and added “If we are abandoned by the Commissioner, if he threatens us with imprisonment, the reason is our fierce devotion to justice, in times which you know very well. And justice is not a privilege, it is the property of humanity and therefore it is appropriate that we mention today, as our help, the name of the human race, since we fought for it.
Who are you,” he said, addressing Commissioner Mason, “to play with us in the land of our birth?… Our nationalism, O Commissioner, is founded on the blood of eight hundred thousand Greeks killed in the struggle and it was not God’s will that we reach to such a degree of insensitivity that the epaulet of the Minister will eliminate the cult of nationalism from our bowels”.