Greece, ever since the fall of the military junta in 1974, has been pestered by successive “generations” of self-appointed freedom fighters, some deadly, some a mere nuisance. The grandfathers of the “movement”, the Revolutionary Organization 17 November (17N) and the People’s Revolutionary Struggle (ELA), have been retired, either by arrests (17N) or voluntary withdrawal from “dynamic actions” (ELA).
In both cases, the investigation failed to convince that the roots and branches of these two groups have been eradicated irreversibly.
In the past few weeks, our home grown “militants” appear re-energized. A bomb explosion inside an Athens mall, with two slightly injured, and the peppering of the New Democracy political party HQ with an AK-47, without any casualties, followed in quick succession a spate of gas canister incendiaries aimed at journalists’ homes and political party constituency offices and a petrol bomb launched outside the house of the brother of the government press spokesman.
Predictably, the usual furor has risen among the media, with many “experts” returning to morning TV talk shows with a passion to “analyze” the phenomenon.
The wobbly 3-party administration of Mr. Samaras also put on its grave ancient tragedy mask to announce that the Greek state won’t be defeated by violence “irrespective of its origins” (this sound bite is one of the most fatigued in the wooden Greek political vocabulary; one would expect ‘opinion makers’ as well as politicos to make an effort to at least ‘modernize’ their language since they are all unable to offer any effective solutions otherwise).
Those who have followed Greek domestic terrorism since its beginnings won’t be impressed by all this noise, I am sure. On a more serious note though, they should be thinking about both the timing of these “dynamic actions” and the perennial question in such investigations: who benefits?
Already, observers on the left suggest that the renewed “guerrilla” activity comes at a time when the Greek people, mauled by the economic crisis and pummeled by the Mr. Samaras’s brutal austerity measures, need to be distracted with yet another, different “crisis” – that of the “threat” of domestic terrorism.
As so many times before, these observers openly associate the various “terrorists” with Greek government security agencies, which allegedly act on orders from above to create an alternative havoc focus that can currently help re-direct public attention away from lethal legislation: a new tax law that devastates already devastated lower and middle income families; a spate of more job-killing “rationalization” aimed at the labor market; the imminent mass lay-offs in the public sector; the one and a half million unemployed and the continuing shuttering of thousands of smaller business; and a bill that offers unconditional judicial immunity to foreign lenders who wish to come in and literally confiscate Greek state assets in order to satisfy their claims.
Needless to say, the Greek “ruling class” vehemently denies such “scenaria” and accuses those who “peddle” them with nefarious aims and continuous perjury.
Those who try to be more rational point out that the Greek political and social environment has long nurtured a helpful habitat for the “angry youth” who decide to follow the road of “struggle” over working aimlessly within Greece’s desiccated democracy.
This line of analysis correctly looks at factors that mitigate the consequences for those who choose political violence and “dynamic intervention” of even the extreme kind.
Some of the more prominent elements here are: the traditional apparent insufficiency of Greek law enforcement to build solid cases against suspected terrorists; the irreversible decay of authority across Greek society; the readiness of all “democratic” political forces to intervene on the side of the accused, irrespective of their actions, and drown any, even measured, attempts to prosecute the suspects in a sea of invective and fiery charges of injury of “human rights;” the absence of a legal framework that would bring potential terrorists under special prosecutorial and juridical treatment and will deny them the flexibilities available to “common” criminals (like prison furloughs); and the general tendency of the average Greek voter to place terrorism among the subjects of least importance (along with foreign policy, defense, and national security).
Against this backdrop, there is little truly new we can say about this latest surge of random rifle shots and makeshift bombs. To the discerning eye, it all appears as a recurring routine part of a well-rehearsed play that has been staged so many times since 1974.
Indeed, if one seriously assesses the catastrophic impact of the economic crisis upon the vast majority of Greeks; the continuing blows dealt upon all but the richest and most protected; the collapse of Greek sovereignty under thinly-veiled foreign intervention; and the prospect of decades of poverty, want, and increasing encroachment upon this country’s future by outsiders, who care little about what happens to future Greek generations, then the absence of mass unrest and a violent attempt to defeat Greece’s corrupt political establishment becomes a subject of utter surprise (already expressed, quietly yet firmly, among many foreign analysts).
The only nagging question that emerges after all this replay of programmed pain and suffering is whether this latest spate heralds a critical shift in domestic security. Those experienced in affairs Greek would most likely answer in the negative. What sort of incident then would ring a bell and raise the alarm?
The question is not difficult to answer: If the gunmen outside the governing party’s political HQ appeared in daylight, and not in the middle of the night when the building is deserted, and pointed the AK-47 at human targets with the presumed lethal affect, then many an analyst would have to rush back to the desk.
If the bomb at the mall was not timed to detonate when all shops around it were closed, and the majority of people was not concentrated on the third level outside the mall cinemas, and, instead, had gone off in the middle of a full working day causing dozens of deaths and serious injuries, then, again, the intelligence community would be facing key questions about where did this come from.
At the end of the day, I am pessimistic about the ability of the Greek state system to assess correctly signs, indications, and the fine nuances of action (or absence thereof) in constructing probability sequences that may become significant “real time events” given an opportunity.
Do we need then to worry – I mean, truly worry – about this latest “upsurge”? Probably not.
Do the proponents of the theory of “directed terrorism” as a means of political bamboozling have a point? Probably yes, if one is more in favor of conspiracy theories.
Is there a rational way of assessing Greek variables to determine the probable course of anti-state, political violence? Perhaps yes, if one possesses the micro-knowledge of a culture that has frustrated and badly surprised over time even the most steadfast of its students.
Who’s up then to creating a truly new method?
(P.S one: A telling example of how the Greek legal-police system ‘works’ is the disappearance last summer of the alleged leader of the Revolutionary Struggle terrorist cell, Nikos Maziotis. Maziotis, along with his female companion, vanished from Athens after they were both allowed to leave prison because the period of 18 months of pre-trial incarceration, provided under the law, had expired. Revolutionary Struggle was considered the most dangerous ‘post-17’ terrorist group; among its many exploits is the firing of an anti-tank rocket at the US Embassy in Athens in January 2007. After Maziotis left prison, authorities had to depend on the suspect’s civic consciousness in appearing periodically at the police station to show that he still resided at the address on record. Predictably, revolutionary fervor overcame the sense of duty under the law and Maziotis plus companion disappeared into the ether. Right now, many local ‘experts’ and their TV hosts make ‘informed’ hypotheses about whether Maziotis is behind this latest surge or whether he and unidentified others are preparing a new round of ‘revolutionary violence’).
(P.S.two: The ‘disarticulation’ of 17N in 2002 is often quoted as an example of how ‘effective’ Greek state anti-terrorist efforts can be. This is an over-simplification. Foreign intelligence experts are more or less convinced that the group’s true directing echelon simply melted away after the arrest of the ‘soldiers’. The thousands of pages of the prosecution case left many gaps of evidentiary nature, some of which would have been enough for charges to have been thrown out if the case was judged before a Western court. Serious questions remain in regard to some of the group’s most heinous crimes. The interrogation of the arrestees failed patently to offer answers to key questions that plagued Greece for more than two decades. To this day, key material evidence – like the group’s infamous .45 caliber pistol – has not been discovered. And of the 15 17N members sentenced to prison time only six remain incarcerated. The rest have long been set free under various pretexts).