Terror unfettered as no one took charge

By Stamos Zoulas - Kathimerini

As the demystification of November 17 continues, it is natural that the public should raise questions about the real causes of terrorism's long reign in Greece. And it is equally natural, given that the organization possessed far from mysterious or invulnerable means, that the public should look into the weaknesses and tremendous errors of the State which allowed the organization to be an open wound for 27 years. It is by no means certain that turning the black page of November 17 and its offshoots will be seen to be the success of the authorities. What is more likely is that as impressions of the dramatic arrests and revelations fade, the causes and responsibility for the State's 27-year failure will emerge. A survey of the components of the Greek stance on terrorism ever since its first appearance in 1975, shows that the primary blame for the success of terrorism lies with our political leadership and, moreover, that of PASOK, which has been in power for 18 (compared with New Democracy's nine) of the 27 years during which terrorism was active in Greece. Apart from that, this party persistently and systematically opposed every attempt to strengthen the State's legal power to stamp out terrorism. Secondary blame lies with a significant proportion of the media and the elite of various intellectual and social organizations. The role of such organizations is not to accept, sustain and convey misinformed and wrong public opinion, but to contribute actively to the quest for the truth and to shape unprejudiced and correct opinions among the public. The blame also lies with the police, whose capability and effectiveness depend directly on the will, decisions and guidance of the political leadership. And, last of all, blame lies with the judicial authorities, whose intervention and final judgment directly depends on those same political leaders, the State and the general climate that developed concerning the reign of terrorism. PASOK's stance Immediately after November 17's first murders of Richard Welch (December 23, 1975) and Evangelos Mallios (December 14, 1976), the matter became a partisan issue and the subject of political debate. The initial suspicions expressed by New Democracy and Western governments that the terrorists came from the rump of the Panhellenic Liberation Movement (PAK) were not unjustified. Publicity arose around an interview in the Nouvelle Observateur on April 1,1974, in which Andreas Papandreou declared: «The electoral victory of the Left is not sufficient» and that it had to be directly supported by «secret action groups able to respond to the violence of the bourgeois state and to impose the legal power of the Left.» Similarly, PASOK was criticized for its opposition to the first counterterrorism law in 1978. PASOK, the Athens Bar Association and other prominent attorneys from the left criticized the law «as having unacceptable constitutional ambiguity.» Lastly, while terrorist action continued, this law was rescinded by the first PASOK government, which proclaimed that the existing provisions of the penal code covered terrorist action. (It should be noted that article 187 of the penal code, which is deemed to relate to terrorism, says as follows: «Those who agree with others to commit a felony or to commit a number of felonies, which have not been specially defined, are to be punished by imprisonment for at least six months.»). The suspicion of a remote connection between November 17 and PASOK was strengthened by the terrorists' proclamation following the assassination of US Navy Captain George Tsantes (November 1983), in which the organization declared: «Although it believes that the government's program was a failure, out of respect for the popular verdict, it has decided to postpone action temporarily so as not to create further obstacles.» The fact that the postponement of action did not take place immediately after PASOK took power (October 1981) but was announced two years later, when the counterterrorism law was repealed, was not considered to be irrelevant. The extreme Right To divert attention from the suspicion being cast on his party, Papandreou officially announced in Parliament in June 1981 the view that «those responsible for terrorist action must be sought in the direction of the junta Right and the parastate.» In a similar spirit, leading PASOK officials publicly expressed the view at that time that terrorism in Greece was the creation of the foreign secret services, and chiefly of the CIA, adopting the standard position of the Greek Communist Party. However, the basic nuclei of the extreme Right (the organizations of A. Kalentzis, N. Papadopoulos, H. Tzavellas and C. Protopappas) which had carried out bomb attacks after the reinstatement of democratic rule, were broken up in 1979 and their members sentenced to long prison terms. Since then, the extreme Right became a fringe group, confining itself to a few shots fired on the anniversary of the junta's seizure of power and pro-monarchy songs, which overexcited the democratic sensibilities of those in the media who systematically underestimated the actions of real terrorists. 180-degree turn Having held power for five years but unable to prove that terrorism derived from the extreme Right or that it was a foreign creation (it had been shown that Christos Tsoutsouvis, who died in a shootout with police in Gyzi, had started out from PAK), Papandreou made a 180-degree turn. In Beijing on an official visit, directly after the murder of Dimitris Angelopoulos (April 7, 1986), he identified Professor Yiannis Tsekouras of the Advanced Industrial School of Thessaloniki, who was a PAK member, as the leader of November 17. (Tsekouras was «rehabilitated» by PASOK 14 years later, when he became a candidate in the elections of April 9, 2000). All the about-faces by PASOK on the ideological origins of the terrorists maintained the public's confusion about the political connections to terrorism for more than 15 years. And this was in spite of the fact that Constantine Mitsotakis, as leader of New Democracy, had stated in 1986 that, in his opinion, PASOK «had no responsibility as a party or as a government for the phenomenon of terrorism in our country,» while insisting that the leaders and members belonged to the extreme Left (discussion in Parliament on May 30, 1986). The tolerance and apathy shown by the public toward terrorism was maintained, if not in the words, then mainly by the actions of PASOK and the other left-wing parties, based on their opposition to the institution of counterterrorism laws. Thus, when PASOK had repealed law 774/78 «concerning the suppression of terrorism and the protection of democratic rule» (Justice Minister Giorgos Alexandros Mangakis), and after the murder of Pavlos Bakoyiannis, the New Democracy government brought in a new law in 1990 «to protect society from organized crime.» This law was also strenuously opposed by the opposition on the grounds that it restricted human rights and the right to information, while «there was fear that it would be applied to political opponents.» Papandreou, Evangelos Venizelos and Giorgos Kouvelakis, later to become justice minister, all made official statements that they would repeal the «terror law» as soon as PASOK came to power again. And they did, three years later, in 1993. Weak legislation At the same time, terrorist attacks continued at the same rate and in a more provocative fashion, while eminent legal figures, such as Honorary Supreme Court Judge Antonis Floros and Appeals Court Prosecutor Pavlos Delaportas, whom nobody could accuse of right-wing influence, pointed out the weakness of the legislation and the need for more stringent legal protection and for terrorism to be tackled more effectively. The counterterrorism law, which was recently introduced under great pressure from the USA and the European Union, was passed in the Greek Parliament by the votes of ND deputies, since PASOK maintained its «democratic sensitivity» with nearly all its deputies absent for the vote. This somewhat complicated sensitivity of the Left is also being exhibited - in the absence of any real doubt or evidence - in favor of those who have been arrested under suspicion of terrorist actions. It was in this same spirit that the late Melina Mercouri took flowers to Kyriakos Mazokopos, who was sentenced to 17 years in prison for being in possession of explosives intended for use in terrorist actions, when he lost an arm in an unexpected explosion. Left-wing icon Manolis Glezos was photographed warmly greeting Giorgos Balafas, who had rented a storeroom in which were found weapons alleged to have been used in the murder of Public Prosecutor Giorgos Theofanopoulos, three policemen in Gyzi and two guards of a money delivery van at Sklavenitis supermarket. Promising, on behalf of the same defendant, «to stand by him» was the teachers' union OLME, which passed a resolution, the Movement for the Support of Civil Rights (whose main representative was PASOK Central Committee member Argyris Karras, who also appeared together with KKE deputy Stratis Korakas as witness for the defense at the trial of Mazokopos), 50 mayors who made a joint statement, writers and actors. Proclamations A significant portion of the media took a similar stance, either passively, by publishing the complete text or long summaries of the terrorist organizations' proclamations, or actively, by supporting the «civil rights» of those arrested on suspicion of terrorist action. Publishing terrorist proclamations is considered to be a serious matter in all countries that have faced such problems. This was particularly the case in Greece, since the proclamations of November 17 were directly related to its lethal attacks and its leaders based the wide publicity for their organization's positions on the blood of its victims. The great majority of the Greek media responded to this vile incentive, giving widespread coverage to the positions of November 17 and its explanations for its atrocious crimes. The average person rightly wonders whether any illegal organization would have had access to so much publicity if its proclamations weren't written in blood. With this in mind, and without needing legislative prohibition, the Italian press decided not to publish terrorist proclamations. In Greece such a refusal was seen as a crime against freedom of the press. Given the unfavorable climate due to certain Greek peculiarities, the state authorities took ineffective action against the scourge of terrorism for 27 years. It is not at all by chance that the dismantling of November 17 started from the head and not the tentacles and offshoots of the organization, as it did in almost every other country which faced the problem of terrorism. Information, signs and evidence about suspects had been around for a long time. But the defenders of «civil rights» demanded tangible proof and confessions of guilt before the investigation could begin. They acquitted the suspects in advance, as victims of «the arbitrariness of the State.» Amid this political confusion and timidity, the irresponsibility of a large segment of the media, and the way certain social and intellectual groups traded on democracy, November 17 acquired the dimensions of a phantom organization, acting with impunity for 27 years.