NEWS

A general refusal to accept responsibility

The evidence in this space last Monday showed that the prime responsibility for the long duration of terrorism in Greece lies with the political leadership, PASOK in particular, the irresponsibility of a large segment of the media, and various intellectual and special groups that exploited democratic sensitivity. These factors resulted in the confusion, toleration and apathy evinced by much of the Greek public in the 27 years that terrorism was active in Greece. This climate had a highly significant effect on the role of the police and the judiciary, who confronted terrorism with unacceptable awe, timidity and ineffectiveness. In this second and last part of our survey we detail the circumstances and events that shaped the attitude of the police and judiciary. The public order ministers of the time are to blame for the ongoing terrorist activity. They usually blame the «incompetence» of the police, but they themselves bear the chief responsibility for introducing party politics to the police force, and for the disorganization and paralysis of the force. K. Balatsis, president of the Police Officers Union, described and denounced the situation that prevailed in the police force after the reinstatement of democracy in a letter to the press in 1994, following a statement by the public order minister of that time, Stelios Papathemelis, that «there is incompetence in the police force.» After referring to shortcomings in police equipment and training (which was also the responsibility of the political leadership), Balatsis notes: «After every government changeover, we have unacceptable modifications and changes so as to reacquire… lost control; the peak of this being the recent unprecedented appointments of retired officers, extraordinary promotions, and transfers in general… Indeed, in the information service complacently known as the national service, all the police personnel were replaced, so that one wonders whether this is a national or a party information service… Government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said that the state doesn’t need another law to suppress terrorism but that police methods have to become more perceptive and complex. But that requires more perceptive and complex police officers, who are difficult to find among the party hangers-on with which the force is largely staffed.» (Estia, January 31, 1994) The comments and accusations of the police union president are confirmed to the letter in a report by a public order ministry adviser commissioned by Stelios Papathemelis, the minister at the time. At one point the report states: «The police service has been turned into a reservoir of clientelism where chaos reigns. The counter-terrorism squad operates according to the terms of 1970 and the staff themselves say, ‘We get a new director every so often; they come here to have a rest and dress in civilian clothes.’» Party political control of the police force was included in the so-called reforms implemented mainly by PASOK governments, mostly by amalgamating the two security forces, when Yiannis Skoularikis was minister. This decision was a world first for Greece, since in all countries the police force’s task of tackling crime effectively is divided among two or more police services. Evangelos Yiannopoulos acknowledged PASOK’s error some five years later, when he was justice minister, saying: «All previous governments had four police forces. We had two and we joined them into one. That’s how we got into the mess we’re in today.» (Interview in Eleftheros Typos, Sept. 7, 1998) Yet nothing has changed since then. The police corps are still combined. The abolition of the obligatory spread of police stations and making them into combined centers that have proved to be anything but «multiple-force» stations continues. The abolition of the police headquarters and its incorporation into the Public Order Ministry, which makes the chief of police into no more than an administrative instrument of the ministry’s political leadership, has also proved to be a mistake. (The recent reorganization of the police leadership is also inadequate, since the police chief is still answerable to the ministry.) Political interventions and party politics are the basic causes of the police force’s «incompetence.» The police also had to deal with the self-proclaimed defenders of civil rights who, systematically ignoring the rights of the social whole, habitually try to turn the police from prosecutor into prosecuted. For example, in shootouts the Greek police have significantly higher casualty rates than the criminals. But in certain tragic cases, such as the killing of a young Yugoslav in Thessaloniki, a major debate has arisen in Greece about when the police have the right to shoot and even if they have the right to carry weapons. In his recent book, «The Diary of a Prosecutor,» Panayiotis Nikolodimos, deputy supreme court prosecutor, writes: «When the forces of order handle serious cases, and especially when they are dealing with armed criminals, they face problems about using their weapons. In other countries this problem has been solved. A criminal who is holding a weapon is told to drop it immediately, otherwise he will be shot; in emergencies he is shot without a warning. In Greece, as far as I know, the directive to police officers is to use their weapon if they are shot at, otherwise they will face criminal charges. But in that case, if the criminal is a good shot then the police officer will be dead. In such circumstances the criminal has the advantage and the police officer is the potential victim.» Given the circumstances, it is not by chance that in the shootout of May 15, 1985 in Gyzi, Christos Tstoutsouvis shot three police officers before being fatally shot. Something similar occurred recently with Costas Passaris, who managed to kill two police officers before escaping. On the same subject, and on the occasion of the fiasco in Niovis Street when a hostage held by Sorin Matei suffered fatal injuries, Yiannis Marinos wrote in the To Vima newspaper, «The police are afraid of injuring or killing a thief or terrorist, because the press, the television channels and politicians get together to destroy them, since they are mainly interested in individual rights of criminals and almost never in the rights of their victims…» These facts, and above all the unreal conditions under which the police are supposed to operate, must be taken into account as mitigating factors against the accusation that the police allowed terrorism to flourish unhindered for 27 years. During the three decades in which terrorism was active in Greece, the judiciary had four victims: appeals court prosecutor Giorgos Theofanopoulos was murdered on April 1, 1985, by members of the Anti-state Struggle, as were court of first instance prosecutor Constantinos Androulidakis on January 10, 1989, and deputy supreme court prosecutor Anastassios Vernardos on January 23, 1989. Deputy supreme court prosecutor Panayiotis Tarasouleas was shot in the legs but survived. Several bomb attacks were carried out on the homes and offices of members of the judiciary, such as deputy supreme court prosecutor Avraam Stathopoulos and supreme court judge Samouil Samouil. The attacks were obviously aimed at intimidating the judiciary and influencing them in the administration of justice. Besides, the terrorists did not hide their objectives. In a proclamation, the Revolutionary Organization of May 1 threatens, «By this action we declare in practice that judges who participate in rulings against the people must be treated as criminals against the people.» The Anti-state Struggle, which murdered Theofanopoulos, stated in a proclamation, «The prosecutor was a mercenary who did not hesitate to send others to prison, torture and death.» November 17, which killed Androulidakis and wounded Tarasouleas, on the pretext of the Koskotas affair, warned: «No decision for improvement or catharsis can come from within the establishment (…). The solution can only be completely revolutionary. The Nihilist Fraction, whose members placed a bomb in the residence of deputy prosecutor Stathopoulos, said in its proclamation, «We will execute any criminal judge, in the name of vengeance.» The terrorists’ attempt to intimidate the judiciary was at least partially effective. When deputy prosecutor Dimitris Tsevas, who had been in charge of the inquiry into terrorism, died suddenly of a heart attack in March 1993, it was difficult to find a replacement. To Vima wrote on April 11, 1993: «The sudden death of D. Tsevas has created panic in the prosecutors’ office of the supreme court as to who will succeed him in the sensitive post of investigator into terrorism. Some are moving heaven and earth to avoid the bitter chalice. Other are invoking other occupations and duties, while a senior prosecutor has feigned illness. And someone else has let the authorities know he suffers from amnesia.» Deputy prosecutor Panayiotis Nikolodimos, who eventually succeeded Tsevas, describes the above details as exaggerated, but in his recent book he himself says: «Every person, including myself, were I asked, would try to avoid that position, mainly because of the risk he would run from the action of terrorist organizations, since by then three prosecutors had been murdered (…). Consequently, in order to avoid that appointment I would have had to resign. But that would have been humiliating and faint-hearted, and that is why without discussion I undertook the task that had been assigned to me.» The same writer accepts that the judges were intimidated and in a fearful state at the trial of Giorgos Balafas, who was charged with having rented the warehouse in which were found the weapons used to kill Theofanopoulos, the three policemen in Gyzi, and two guards of the money delivery to Sklavenitis supermarket. Nikolodimos notes: «In this trial, while the prosecutor handling the case accepted that the defendant was the lessee of the warehouse, he claimed it did not follow that Balafas was in possession of the weapons as a guard or distributor or had the intention of making them available to third parties, and he asked for the defendant to be acquitted of all charges. But the court did not accept his proposal and sentenced the defendant for possession of weapons and explosives.» Nikolodimos deems the case of conscientious objector Nikos Maziotis, who was tried on bombing charges, to be even more blatant. His fingerprints were found on two of the unexploded bombs. The court sentenced him to 15 years in prison, but in order to reduce the term, it recognized that «he committed the acts for motives that were not base.» According to Nikolodimos this decision was a «monument to judicial arbitrariness.» Once the terrorists had succeeded in intimidating at least some of the judiciary, one can easily imagine the terror of the civilian judges involved in such trials. Thus in a series of rulings by mixed courts (where judges and jury sit on the same bench) where defendants were on trial for terrorist actions there were acquittals, with the majority of the jury voting for and the three judges against (such as the trials of Avraam Lesperoglou, Balafas, and Kyriakos Mazokopos). In his book, Nikolodimos claims that in all these cases there was sufficient and unimpeachable evidence, which he lists, which dictated that the defendants be found guilty. It is obvious that the inability of the judicial authorities to make a decisive contribution to the suppression of terrorism was due largely to the PASOK governments which in 1983 and again in 1993 repealed the two counter-terrorism laws which the New Democracy government had passed in 1977 and 1990. According to those laws, defendants accused of terrorist actions were not sent to mixed courts but to the five-member appeals court for the first level, and the seven-member appeals court for the second level. Moreover, with the repeal of the two counter-terrorism laws, and between 1993-2002, offenses classed as felonies were reclassified as misdemeanors, punishments were reduced considerably, and the statute of limitations for terrorist crimes was reduced to a minimum. Furthermore, the fear which some of the judiciary had shown in the performance of their duties cannot be attributed solely to the threats the judiciary received from terrorists. It was certainly also due to a sense of their inability to enforce the law, to the observation that the endeavors of the judiciary did not have the support of the necessary legislation, and to the not unfounded fear that an unstable and timid political will made judicial effort and decisiveness useless. Concluding this survey of 27 years of terrorism, and the attempt to find its causes, the climate and those responsible for its long duration, we return inevitably to our initial observation. The discovery and arrest of alleged members of November 17 cannot be seen as a success by the institutions of the Greek State. It leads to further questioning, holding to account and reasoning, rather than to celebration and bragging. In the phrase of Seferis, it is like «the pains of rebirth» – above all for the PASOK government, for our political parties, and for our intellectual and social leaders who make it their business to expropriate the democratic sensitivity of the Greek people. And for all of us, who for almost three decades showed unacceptable tolerance or apathy toward the plague of terrorism.