NEWS

Public Order minister sees ‘globalized security’

Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis is in no doubt that the incredible events of September 11 will determine the way people live in the 21st century. People around the world have a profound feeling that they are no longer safe, he told Kathimerini in an interview last week. The minister also believes that terrorism and the resulting climate of fear and terror will restrict individual liberties and narrow the degree of choice. The minister expects that security systems will rapidly become unified, first on a European level and then globally. He admitted that counterterrorism methods trod a fine line between containment and preserving democratic liberties, but felt that in Europe, leaders were handling the issue with a great deal of sensitivity. Greece does not have a problem of mass terrorism; the activities of the November 17 group are, nevertheless, a major headache for the country. Irrespective of outside pressure, this problem must be solved as it strikes at the country’s very heart, he said, emphasizing that an organized operation was under way. However, he reserved comment on whether it would have achieved its goals by the 2004 Olympiad. But he did promise that an effective system for averting terrorist attacks would be in place by the time the Olympic Games begin. Chrysochoidis believes that Greece is still one of the safest countries in the world, but he expressed concern about stability in the surrounding area where populations are on the move, facilitating the movement of organized criminal elements. People believe that the incredible terrorist attacks of September 11 will deeply affect Western societies. How are you dealing with the issue? We all have to realize that September 11 will go down in history as the beginning of a new age. At the dawn of the 21st century, a form of generalized insecurity is at work among people and if there are no defenses for people and their leaders, it could develop into a global climate of fear and terror with particularly negative repercussions for everyone. What does that mean in practical terms? Insecurity lays the foundations for the so-called globalization of security, which the USA has in any case been aiming to achieve for some time. It is clear that in the present circumstances, this globalized security is likely to be imposed in a rapid and forceful manner. What form will it take? What methods will be used? I think that is quite obvious – unified agencies, cooperation within the European Union, with the USA, expanding cooperation between the EU-USA and Russia. Cooperation on two, three or more fronts which will take the form of unified policies, systems and measures against terrorism. Doesn’t this imply a unified legal system? Of course, unified security systems presuppose a convergence of prosecution measures. In Europe, for example, we are discussing the establishment of a common arrest warrant. Arrest and extradition will be dealt with as a matter of domestic order within Europe. Following cooperation on security issues with the USA, in the long term, there will be unification of security systems and the law. As an example, let me mention the effort to establish a common definition of the crime of terrorism. Aren’t you worried about the adoption of general principles on such sensitive issues? Don’t you think there is a risk that democratic rights could be circumvented? In Europe, civilization goes very deep, as do democratic traditions. In most European countries, there are civil defense groups and I believe that the leaders of (European) countries will not permit excesses. Are these assurances enough? They seem a bit like the promises of surgical precision in bombing attacks. I should probably be a bit more specific about defining security. Loss of the sense of security is very crucial and leads to great upheavals in life, it creates another kind of culture, it gets under people’s skin and deeply affects personal, social and economic behavior. The worst enemy of the individual is the prevalence of a climate of general insecurity. One cannot take decisions freely, other factors affect any given situation. Take, for example, the current climate in the USA. Apart from the anger at the brutality of the strike, it is clear that economic and social life have been deeply affected. One might say that there is a new model of social behavior which is restrictive for the individual and marked by great anxiety as it limits the range of decisions that can be taken. Security is usually taken for granted and is appreciated only when it is lost, like many other things in life. But is it possible that police measures, applied across the board, can restore that lost feeling of security? Perhaps we should look to history for examples, but I personally do not know of any similar circumstances in history. At any rate, I strongly believe that terrorism is the enemy of democracy. It strikes at the heart of individual liberties. The perpetrators of the events of September 11 acted, I might say, as agents provocateurs against democratic liberties. Resistance to terrorism is the struggle to defend democracy on an international level, to avert precisely that slide into anti-democratic forms of behavior, whether it is on the part of the state or society. Is such a political and social front possible? Under certain conditions, we can all work together to isolate terrorism and organized crime by means of political measures and containment. It is not enough to pass laws; our political behavior has to be such that it will lead to a complete condemnation of the phenomenon. After all, there are no arguments in favor of the other side. Those that are being put forward are without foundation. I strongly believe in the establishment of a political front to consolidate the sense of security in which measures can be decided upon and control systems formulated. Don’t you feel there is only a fine line between containment, the resulting infringement of democratic liberties, and the defense of democratic gains? Of course the line is a very fine one and it must not be crossed, but there are certain facts that have to be taken into consideration. The USA was subjected to an act of war and thousands of lives were lost. There had to be a reaction. I don’t know if it will bear any results, but it is clear that the USA could not stand by after sustaining so much loss of life. Let us consider what would have happened here. If we ourselves had been the object of such an attack, how would we have reacted? And I would like to point out something. Here in Greece, we have always wondered why the Americans had such a fixation about terrorism. I have to say that their fears are justified, unfortunately. As for that fine line, I believe that world history has shown that people have their defense mechanisms. In every society, there is a common consensus on justice which does not permit that line to be crossed; not in the long term. Wherever it has been crossed, it has quickly been triumphantly restored. At various periods in history, there may have been violations, but balance has always been restored and on much firmer ground. Meanwhile, some people have had to suffer the consequences. There is no question of this happening. Greece is a member of the European Union, it participates in the decision-making process and I can assure you that in Europe the entire issue is being dealt with with great sensitivity. Everyone knows that it is on that fine line that things will have to happen. Our country knows how to protect its democratic gains. What practical form will this action take? The effort is an ongoing one and we are already making our security mechanisms as effective as possible, above all with regard to prevention. Here in Greece, we have never had, nor do we have now, a problem with terrorism on a mass scale, with blind strikes. Of course, we have what is a major problem – the November 17 organization. It does not carry out mass terrorist attacks but has other highly dangerous attributes. It chooses very specific targets in a way that permits it to present explanations for its actions. But I think that everyone in the country realizes that its killings do not lead anywhere. Precisely because its targets are very specific, November 17 creates very serious problems for the country and I may say that every bullet it fires goes right into the country’s heart. That is why, irrespective of rumors of outside pressure, we have a duty to do everything we can to wipe out this organization. Let me assure you that we have developed an intensive and organized effort. Do you think this effort will bear fruit by the 2004 Olympics in Athens? Irrespective of November 17, the Olympic Games raises security issues of its own. We have a duty and we will do our duty. We will organize an effective security operation. Our aim is to set up an effective mechanism for preventing any kind of terrorist threat. As for November 17, I won’t make any predictions nor will I discuss what is an ongoing organized operation. I can’t give you any specific timetable. I can’t say any more. Are you worried by security in the country in general? Greece is one of the safest countries in the world, despite the fact that the surrounding environment is not favorable. European and world statistics show that Greece has one of the lowest crime rates. Yet it is situated in the midst of an unstable environment. Around us are countries with unstable governments, populations on the move and, with them, organized gangs involved in smuggling drugs and weapons, laundering money and even human trafficking, mainly of refugees from poor countries with major problems. What is likely to happen within such an environment? We have raised the problem with the European Union and are asking for a more comprehensive approach from Europe itself. It has to accept the problem as its own and to stop considering it a problem that is peculiar to Greece. For example, the problem of illegal immigrants entering Greece from Turkey cannot be regarded as a bilateral problem between Greece and Turkey but as one between Europe and Turkey. After many efforts on our part, the EU is taking action and making an attempt to get a commitment from Turkey to the EU, and not simply to Greece, on the problem.