AIM: start

WED, 25 APR 2001 19:56:20 GMT

Fighting Terrorism in Greece

AIM Athens, April 25, 2001

The next few months are probably going to be crucial in the fight against terrorism in Greece. It seems that for the first time in many years Greek and foreign (primarily British) security services now possess the evidence that may lead to the identification of the members of the elusive leftwing, nationalist terrorist group "November 17."

According to diplomatic sources, the only matter remaining to be settled before proceeding with the arrests is the Greek government's adoption of the new legal framework that supposedly will facilitate the arrest and conviction of alleged terrorists. The antiterrorist bill, which is continuously being modified so as to meet the criticisms leveled by human rights advocates, is expected to be introduced into the Greek Parliament next month.

Over the past 25 years "November 17" has killed 23 people including a CIA Athens station chief and three other Americans. It has also fired mortars on the Athens branches of major multinational corporations (Procter & Gamble, American Express, BP, Alico, Nationalen Nederlanden, IBM, Citibank, McDonald's, General Motors, Chase Manhattan Bank, Midland Bank, and Banque National de Paris). To date, not a single member of the organization has ever been arrested.

"November 17" is not the only terrorist group operating in Greece. Since 1975 there have been 146 terrorist attacks including mortar assaults, drive-by shootings and the placing of incendiary devices armed with improvised explosives. Only one of these cases has been solved, causing the State Department to identify Greece in its April 2000 Global Report on Terrorism as "one of the weakest links in Europe's effort against terrorism."

Some attribute the inability of the Greek authorities to deal effectively with the problem of terrorism to the monumental incompetence of the country's security forces. In many cases the crime scene was not sealed off, resulting in evidence being destroyed. In another case, police searched the bullet-ridden car of an assassination victim without wearing gloves, so eliminating any chance of finding fingerprint evidence. In yet another killing the police gave a spent bullet to a reporter as a "souvenir."

Others, however, including former Greek Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis and former CIA Chief James Wolsey, attribute the lack of success in the fight against terrorism to the protection the terrorists enjoy from officials within the state apparatus and even within the ruling PASOK party. This view is based partly on the ties that were thought to exist in the past between PASOK and groups classified in the West as "terrorists" (the Palestinian Abu Nidal, the Kurdish PKK, etc.). But the Greek government has consistently denied these allegations. Moreover, according to Western diplomatic sources, the present government of Kostas Simitis and in particular his Minister of Public Order Michalis Chrisochoidis are in full cooperation with Western security agencies in the fight against terrorism - that was not always the case with previous Greek governments.

Still, even if one assumes that the members of "November 17" will soon be arrested - and this is a big "if" - it is far from certain that their arrest will lead to the eradication of terrorism in Greece. What is often overlooked in discussions of the problem is the ideological appeal of November 17's nationalist-antiimperialist-antiglobalization agenda among a broad section of the Greek population. This is evidenced by the fact that, as "November 17" correctly points out in one of its declarations, in a country where street demonstrations and protests are quite common, not one rally against terrorism has ever been staged during the past two decades.

This state of affairs contrasts sharply with the situations in Spain and Italy, where the major political forces have repeatedly led demonstrations expressing their solidarity with the victims and demanding action against the terrorists. There has been no such outcry in Greece. Although very few Greeks sympathize with the violent methods employed by "November 17," there is a partial-to-total overlap (depending on the issue) of "November 17"'s worldview with the corresponding one of large section of the Greek population. The terrorist group has in most cases selected lines of action that could be ideologically legitimized by reference to beliefs widely held among Greeks. Attacks against Western (especially US) targets can always be justified as acts of resistance against "US imperialism," attacks against Turkish diplomats as reprisals against "Turkish expansionism," the targeting of foreign enterprises as protests against the sinister activities of "multinationals," etc.

The fact that "November 17" selects lines of action that command broad ideological legitimization was demonstrated most dramatically by the assassination, last summer, of Britain's senior military representative in Greece, Brigadier Stephen Saunders. The British diplomat was murdered for his part, as the terrorists claimed, "in the planning of the barbaric air strikes against Serbia." The "November 17" communique justifying the murder quoted chapter and verse the set of "truths" that defined nearly all the Greek media coverage and lead editorials on the Kosovo conflict: that, for instance, the NATO attacks were part of a US effort to establish world domination; that human right violations of Kosovo Albanians started only after the onset of the NATO bombings; that the Serbs committed no mass atrocities against Kosovo Albanians; that NATO consistently and intentionally targeted civilians in Yugoslavia, etc., etc. The "November 17" declaration not only reproduced faithfully the content of the Greek media's interpretation of the events in Kosovo but also their style of reporting. Hence the communique was richly sprinkled with references to "NATO's barbaric acts," the "Nazi-like crimes of the West against Yugoslavia," to "Hitler's (i.e. Clinton's) bombing" - expressions that could have lifted directly from the headlines of practically every Greek newspaper. There was not one single item in the group's proclamation that had not previously seen the light of day either in the Greek media or in the utterances of the country's leading politicians or clerics.

It is therefore by no means certain that the eventual arrest and legal prosecution of "November 17" will be met by joy and euphoria in Greece. On the contrary, one can be certain that the arrest and especially the trial that follows will accentuate the long simmering conflict, particularly within PASOK, between the forces that see the future of Greece as more integrated with its Western allies and partners and those that consider such a vision a betrayal of the party's basic values and principles.

Takis Mihas