This deliberate act of murder constitutes the kind of man-killing escalation by Greece's increasingly violent nihilist-anarchist fringe that local politicians and "experts" consistently denied it is a credible possibility. Lulled into apathy and fiction by their own delusions and self-imposed "democratic limits," Greece's "leaders," politicians, "opinion makers," and the "community avant garde" have come to believe in their hearts and minds that the "angry kids," who play with clubs, stones, Molotov cocktails, and petrol cans; and who have been smashing and burning the center of Athens and other Greek cities for years with complete impunity, actually abide by some unwritten pact, or "gentleman's agreement," not to take human life, the steadily increasing material cost be damned.
The murder of the three defenseless bank employees on May 5 came to shatter this catastrophic illusion in the most glaring, grisly and cold-blooded manner possible.
We have repeatedly argued in the past that Greece faces a deepening security crisis that is permanently pushed under the carpet by politicians and the ubiquitous media high-visibility talking heads, eager to prove all's well and rosy as can be, although a bit frayed around the edges. With Greece sinking ever so deeper and faster in an economic crisis that threatens to consume the Nation; and with a government overwhelmed by the speed of events, its own crippling incapacity in the face of terrifying odds, and the pitiless orders emanating from its European "partners" for Greece to jump over the cliff so that the common euro currency "stabilizes," the security aspect was again relegated to a back seat.
What happened on May 5 though catapulted it to the seat next to driver and reminded us, in a plume of black acrid life-taking smoke, that all's fair in love and war.
Those who still retain a modicum of level-headed perception can see that it would be less than rational to assume Greeks at large would "resign" themselves to a foreign-dictated "stability and budget streamlining plan" that effectively promises to brutally impoverish the largest majority of the population in one breath-taking sweep.
The joint EU-and-IMF "support package," which Germany commands with typical Teutonic disposition but allowed its launch a day late and a dollar short, and which the Papandreou government has rushed to hail as the "salvation" of Greece, in a spasm of mentally challenged toddler enthusiasm, aims to accomplish just that. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, whose country has tasted the IMF medicine and bitterly wept all the way beyond bankruptcy, warned Greece accordingly on May 6. As Daniel Cohn-Bendit rightly concluded in a much publicized outburst in the European Parliament the other day, Europe's leaders are all "mad" if they think this "package" can be enacted -- with the added blunt injury of Europe's larger members "profiteering" from Greece's misery (see the video; in French).
Backtrack to security.
What are the realistic odds of the Greek government successfully controlling a violent wave that may emerge at any moment as the austerity measures begin to bite deeper and deeper and the country, "support package" or not, keeps sliding toward bankruptcy and a possible departure from the euro?
The odds appear very much against the Papandreou administration because of both legacy and more recent factors. A sampling:
1. The police, by definition the front-line troops charged with fighting any outburst, remain of depressed morale and subject to perennial poor training and command motivation. Just like the rest of government workers, the average police officer has seen his already meager salary slashed by an average 20 percent overnight because of the EU-IMF "agreement." During the May 5 riot, police again displayed familiar hobbled tactics. Under permanent orders to avoid "casualties," anti-riot squads observed a state of extended "passive defense" that allowed the street thugs and the more vicious element, like the bank murder gang, to assume the initiative from the outset. Instances like a motorcycle patrol unit plunging into the thick of it and getting plastered, because officers on wheels are inherently vulnerable to "anti-cavalry" action by numerous "enemy light infantry," were noticed by both friend and foe. The absence of aggressive snatch squads to target, pursue, and detain leaders among the street thugs is glaring. Police stand passive even when physically struck by protesters, most of whom carry on with unmasked faces in plain view, and prefer to run the risk of serious injury instead of defending themselves as needed. The tear gas spray gun is still the main defensive weapon in the police arsenal. Increasingly ineffective because the opponent has adjusted by wearing gas masks and other makeshift protections and by targeting officers operating the "weapon," tear gas is rapidly losing its "battle" worth. The government has recently made noises about introducing high pressure water canon and, even, baton rounds, but nothing has seemingly progressed in this department, most likely because of "democratic sensitivities." Both these solutions, however, if adopted, will be of limited use anyway, and could even produce dangerous situations, if police "training" remains at its present level. Bottom line is the police are still only marginally empowered and trained to deal with a large scale contingency that could exceed in intensity and destructive potential even the December 2008 riots, which the then government allowed to develop without any effective response by the security services.
2. The broader "mood" in the ranks of those placed to defend the country is deteriorating dangerously fast thanks to government insistence on adhering to the socialists' old allergies toward the army. While few expect any involvement of the armed forces in the developing domestic troubles, uncertainty, dissatisfaction, raw anger over salary and allowance cuts, and barely-veiled protest, developing out of the sudden thinning of already hard-pressed incomes, have sharply risen among Greece's regular officer corps. In late April, air force pilots used the Web and SMS to organize a work-to-rule silent protest in which they claimed coordinated "illness" in not flying any mission but patrols over the Aegean and medical evacuation for 24 hours. The defense minister, Evangellos Venizelos, a university law professor by trade with very poor background in matters defense, reacted with his well-known professorial bluster in public to denounce the pilots. That sat very poorly not only with those immediately concerned but also with the whole of the armed forces. The dust had barely settled when navy officers picked up the baton, this time in much more plain and open fashion. On May 3, some 500 navy officers, most of them in uniform, again organized over the Web, marched in protest in downtown Athens in declaring their opposition to salary cuts. Press reports said the disposition of the protesters was not very pleasant toward the defense ministry and its civilian head. Such protests, practically inconceivable in most other countries, including almost all of Greece's "friends" and "allies," should give pause for (political) thought. Even by "hot blooded" Greek standards, these expressions of thinly muted anger are extraordinary. They should not be ignored as indicators of a wider malaise -- and the defense minister should measure his public responses accordingly.
3. There is no credible sign that this government will tighten judicial reins in the treatment of anarchists, street terrorists, and murderers like the ones who torched the bank employees alive. Carrying on with a long tradition of post-junta "democratically inspired" leniency, the Greek state shows often incomprehensible "understanding" toward dangerous suspects, who routinely get a slap on the wrist and go free to continue with their "pluralist" violence. A self-confessed terrorist, now in custody, who, himself, assumed responsibility for the crimes of the Revolutionary Struggle terror group, Greece's current worst, until six of its alleged members run into the police, Nikos Maziotis, was let go after his first run-in with the law a decade ago, for example, when, on appeal, a court agreed he was "politically motivated" and not of "base instincts" when he attempted to bomb a government ministry! The notorious 17 November terrorists, arrested in the summer of 2002, were eventually sentenced to heavy prison terms -- but, over the intervening years, have been quietly let go individually on various "legal grounds," with only the hard core of the terror gang still remaining behind bars. Following the devastating riots of December 2008, no one was investigated, arrested, sentenced and sent to prison. The riots that cost us a minimum €1.5 billion in damage to the economy, and ruined thousands of small and large businesses around the country, passed like a mere ripple, with the street terrorists strutting free to boast about their "victory" and prepare for another day in the "social struggles" sun. There is little doubt that if the arson gang that burned the bank down is somehow apprehended by accident, there will be an immediate "spontaneous" wave of support for the murderers from many "democrats," including some who occupy higher places but prefer "quiet" tactics of coming to the aid of "freedom fighters."
4. Counter-terror and counter-anarchist intelligence remains woefully ineffective. While newspaper reports claim, from time to time, that the authorities are well aware of this or the other dangerous suspect, the almost routine conclusion is that he/she was able to slip away either because of the authorities botching surveillance or because the investigation losing steam for lack of interest, sudden personnel rotation that breaks the continuity of investigations, and political interference. In one reported case recently, it was alleged that a retired division police commander had actually lifted cartloads of classified documents to take home when he was pensioned. Greek law enforcement since the fall of the junta has yet to present one single case of aggressively pursuing a terror group, building a solid case through the collection and presentation of evidence, and sending the culprits downriver for the duration.
5. Greek society at large remains unusually tolerant of violent forms of "protest," including bomb-exploding terrorism, blind street anarchism, and all other forms of sidewalk Molotov cocktail "democracy." While, during fatter times, a demonstration could be triggered at the drop of a hat over, for example, the slightest interference with "labor rights" or other forms of "people's empowerment," and throw downtown Athens into chaotic gridlock, Greece's "democratic, socially sensitive forces" never saw fit to organize a rally against terrorism and political violence. The families of victims of terrorism have long tales of government disinterest, and generalized lack of empathy from the "community," to relay. This social incubator provides ample surroundings for the formation and growth of a violent under-culture, involving mainly younger "desperate" people, which no Greek government has been able to reach and effectively contain. The generalized sense of anarchy that routinely permeates so many aspects of Greek public life is a significant buttress to this "justified protest" underground movement which, over the years, has produced innumerable bomb throwers, arsonists, and legions of violent demonstrators and, more recently, armed robbers and gunmen aiming to kill police as a "warning" to the "state of bankrupt capitalists and people's oppressors."
6. Little real attention has been given to the so far nascent issue of a million largely illegal immigrants suddenly becoming aware that they, too, are exposed to the effects of the economic crisis. During the December 2008 riots, many reports spoke of foreigners taking part in the looting party in downtown Athens and availing themselves of the opportunity to vent by joining in the Molotov-cocktail, rock-throwing contest against the passive police. Potential illegal immigrant violence, however, has remained a literal non-issue in the eyes of the Greek government, fearful as it is of charges from the politically correct community and various "human rights" advocates, not to mention outsiders eager to slash and burn any country's internal politics over "incorrect handling" of the burgeoning "irregular immigrant" crisis.
Those who watch Greek security developments from a closer vantage point have little reason to be optimistic. The Papandreou government is poorly placed to face down a potential rebellion over EU-and-IMF dictated austerity by virtue of politico-ideological legacies, inability to commit to hard-nosed law enforcement because of "social sensitivities," and a long national tradition of "social militants" going unpunished even for serious criminal activity. This is the weakest political-government scaffolding possible at such time of rapid all-round deterioration. But then again, playing Russian roulette, but not actually understanding the game's implications, is a favorite pastime of Greek "leaders."