Organized crime is a relatively new phenomenon in Greece that is expanding at speed. Non-existent up until the late 1980s, organized criminal enterprises multiplied after the fall of communism and the wave of illegal immigration that engulfed this country. Quickly, internationally connected criminal groups, mainly from the former Eastern Bloc states, established their nefarious business inside Greece. Greeks also began to learn fast. Alien smuggling, trafficking of women and children, drug and arms smuggling, murder, kidnapping, extortion, and bribery of public officials became chosen fields for this next generation of Greek criminals, who frequently established lucrative connections to foreign organized crime groups as well.
Greek law enforcement, badly prepared and institutionally unable to adjust to the many changes in Greek society anyway, found itself outmanned, outgunned, and outwitted by this new breed of organized criminals. Greek cops became even more powerless in view of the rapid overlap between organized criminal enterprises and "mainstream" Greek government and business corruption. Although statistics are not forthcoming, since the nature of these relationships still remains largely unexplored and poorly understood, empirical observation seems to suggest that the presence of organized criminals, like the Vlastos gang, is growing exponentially in many areas of legitimate business, with the outlaws discovering new ways of intertwining their criminal activities with more sophisticated crimes like real estate fraud, exploiting government contracts, and using deadly threats to "facilitate" various "clean" business deals to the profit of those with the cash to hire such "facilitator services."
In a society that appears increasingly immune to, or apathetic toward, the debilitating impact of corruption on the very fiber of the Nation, battling organized crime becomes an enormous challenge. Experience from other parts of the world with similar challenges does not provide encouraging lessons. Even in countries like the United States and others in western Europe, where there is earnest and sophisticated pursuit of organized criminals, the bandits appear often way ahead of their pursuers. And while effective police investigative work remains the critical tool in unhinging multifaceted criminal enterprises, it is also necessary for governments to integrate hard hitting racketeering statutes with an un-intimidated judiciary, ready and able to try and convict, and a broader, supposedly self-evident, social understanding that criminals belong in prison for threatening life, property, and peace.
All this of course cannot be built and finished in seven days. It takes decades of political, social and cultural development to acquire the attitudes and skills that would form the foundation of aggressive law enforcement capable of meeting the challenge and of attracting and training the kind of manpower best suited for the task. And it takes even longer to nurture a collective rejection of crime and corruption as acceptable measures of individual "success."
In a past editorial, and commenting on the Greek condition, we wrote:
When “leaders” and other influentials, be it individual politicians, “opinion makers," or pressure groups, are generally indifferent or dismissive of the law, how could they insist on our appointed police apply behaviors the rest of the “establishment” undermines daily as the measure in a law-abiding society (that does not really exist)? How could we expect our police becoming an island of virtuous robustness and rigorous self-discipline surrounded as it is by a sea of anomy, mass anarchy, and complete disregard of “good neighborly relations?”
Here lies the most dangerous characteristic of organized crime as a longer term, strategic threat to this country: while Greek politicians continue to parrot the benefits of an amputated, asthmatic "democracy," the rot of corruption expands beyond anyone's control and, more often than not, with the active collusion of those who, by general definition, have assumed the role of guardian of the public good.
In recent years, Greece has witnessed the discovery of an extensive, para-judicial, trial-fixing ring working to relieve dangerous criminals for a price; and successive financial scandals involving politicians and thinly-veiled criminal figures, which have jolted the government without, however, causing the corrective motions that would have been expected in other advanced political systems. News stories routinely report cases of police officers who carry on as members of criminal networks -- and a police internal affairs division that is hard pressed to meet the mount of multiple, serious investigations of police corruption.
While corrupt politicians, cops, and civil servants will never cease to exist, it is critical that that these creatures do not come together to form the controlling majority in any system. Here in the Balkans, we are surrounded by stark examples of how criminal majorities are transformed into the effective governors of "independent" states. Greece, despite angry cries to the contrary from many concerned citizens, is dangerously toying with becoming exposed to corrupt and openly criminal elements exercising decisive control over significant segments of public and economic life, if they are not there already. The busting of the Vlastos gang, a success that has struck some less enthusiastic observers of things Greek as a fluke and most unlikely to be repeated in the near future, gave us a tiny glimpse into the dark world of organized crime and its apparently unstoppable reach into every segment of society. It is a chilling thought to contemplate what other, much better networked and supplied criminal groups, with literally unlimited cash, can achieve in this country with its paltry defenses, its creaking government organization, and its mass collective attachment to denial.
The rot is hot and getting hotter.