I passed by United States Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt’s residence on Thursday morning on my bicycle. The wall was already repainted when I returned. The official response, a tweet referring to “childish vandalism,” obscures the point, but the message of Rouvikonas isn’t obscure:
1. They hold the US Embassy responsible for the withdrawal of furlough rights for convicted November 17 hitman Dimitris Koufodinas by Greek authorities (with some logic, though the UK and Turkish embassies took the same position, as do Greece’s main opposition New Democracy party and family members of N17 victims).
2. They are able to operate freely in the most heavily guarded Athens streets (thanks in large measure but not entirely to restrictive police rules of engagement, rules that will not be changed before the next parliamentary elections, if ever).
3. These two points are important because of the strict moral/political constraints ordinarily imposed by Greek society on its violent revolutionaries (a counterpart, let’s not forget, to the restrictive rules on use of force by police).
Were Koufodinas to continue his hunger strike to death – unlikely, but he is a hero to the far-left precisely because his character is so unusual – that would open the door, as far as several hundred extremists are concerned, to deadly “counterviolence” in return. A few of them are armed. A handful are capable of patient planning. The conventional target for a deadly attack would be a prosecutor or judge involved in the furlough rejection decision, or a senior Justice Ministry official.
Rouvikonas, however, is signaling that US diplomats or persons closely connected with the US official presence should consider themselves targets as well. I don’t know if any Americans at the embassy have any experience of the 1983-2002 period in Greece. Not having to be afraid of every motorcycle with two helmeted riders aboard is a luxury sensible people would feel sorry to lose.
Let’s hope, for that reason at least (though there are others), that the government of Alexis Tsipras will persuade Koufodinas to stay alive. The easiest way would be to implement Greek penal law as currently written.
Yes, showing even this much respect to a defeated opponent is distasteful. The current US president encourages us to mock the defeated instead. Respect for the rule of law is, however, the key difference between the deadly violence of democratic states and the deadly violence of terrorists. We would do well to emphasize the key differences – and not delude ourselves that they are automatically self-evident – between us and them.
John Brady Kiesling is a former US diplomat who served as chief of the political section of the embassy in Athens and author of “Greek Urban Warriors: Resistance and Terrorism 1967-2014” (2014), among others.