Shots in the dark

Judging by the testimony of most witnesses for the defense, most suspects in the November 17 terrorism trial are all wonderful human beings (except, of course, those who have confessed their crimes, who are beneath mention or victims of dirty tricks by the authorities), and the group itself is good because it stands opposed to a number of evils – mainly American «imperialism» and US backing for the 1967-74 military dictatorship. The interesting thing is that, in the eyes of these witnesses, these same wonderful people could simply not be members of this great organization. (To be fair, many witnesses did suggest that November 17 might have a noble cause but should not have employed violence. This reservation, however, often seemed to be a sop to the bourgeois system rather than a heartfelt conviction.) This raises two questions. Firstly, if the suspects are such fine people, and November 17 is such a fine assembly of idealist revolutionaries, then why would anyone want to deny being a member of the gang? (Other than simply trying to save his or her skin and so beating the system once again.) Secondly, if so few of November 17’s operatives are among those in the dock in the Korydallos Prison courtroom, how come there has been no dynamic display by the members of the gang which, if we were to believe the innocence of most of the defendants, should still be on the loose? The period since the start of November 17’s collapse last summer has been filled with events that should have prompted some response by the group. Many of its victims had died for less. Since June 29 last year, when Savvas Xeros, an icon painter, was injured by a bomb he was carrying, giving police their first break in the case, we have seen the arrest, detention and trial of 19 suspected members of November 17. Surely November 17 would have responded to show how mistaken the authorities were – if it could. Also, the United States has shaken the world order by invading and occupying Iraq in our era’s first pre-emptive war, fitting right in with the paranoia with which November 17 and its kind have always justified their actions. Greece has held the EU presidency for six months and Olympic preparations are at full steam, giving the group a global audience for anything it could still do. And Prime Minister Costas Simitis has shaken up his PASOK party, evicting the strongest representative of the «Old PASOK» from the powerful position of party general secretary, replacing him with the public order minister widely credited with destroying November 17 – Michalis Chrysochoidis. All that November 17 could come up with was a statement by self-confessed operative Dimitris Koufodinas about how the ruling party was becoming «Americanized.» And this, perhaps, is the most important thing that can be said about the whole November 17 story and the trial that began in early March: At least the killing has stopped. And slowly we will begin to grow out of the perpetual cringe that we developed over so many years as we waited for the next attack that would take another victim from his family and embarrass Greece further. When the trial began nearly five months ago, it was clear that it would test our democracy, our judiciary, our tolerance for hearing outrageous things and our ability to see through the noise and confusion and the woolly thinking that has always surrounded November 17. Now the trial is entering a new phase. Judge Michalis Margaritis yesterday told Koufodinas to be ready to take the stand on Tuesday. After so many months of hearing testimony for the prosecution and the defense, we are no closer to knowing anything than we were five months ago. The case will rest on the strength of the forensic evidence gathered over the years. If there are to be any surprises they will come if any of the defendants changes his or her position over the next few weeks. The defendants are split into three different camps. There are those who, like alleged mastermind Alexandros Yotopoulos and the only woman, Angeliki Sotiropoulou, claim they have nothing to do with November 17; there are those like repentant boat operator Patroklos Tselentis and schoolteacher Costas Telios, who have confessed and are likely to provide important testimony (so important that Telios recently had to be moved to another section of the prison to escape pressure from other November 17 defendants); and there are those who have confessed to being members of the gang, like Koufodinas, but who will not provide any details. A subdivision of the last category is that of defendants who first confessed everything and even provided extraordinarily detailed depositions to police and judicial officials before repenting for their repentance and denying everything. This last group includes the three Xeros brothers who are on trial – Savvas, Christodoulos and Vassilis – and whose earlier testimony had implicated other alleged members. So where are we? We have learned little more than we knew last summer – in fact, the most illuminating testimonies have been retracted (although they are said to still be legally valid). We have also seen a long column of witnesses speaking up for the victims or for the defendants, and a smaller number of crime witnesses. What has been striking is the way in which the judicial system functions. Several times, prosecutors and judges were caught by surprise when faced with witnesses who had nothing to offer other than their opinions (sometimes rather eccentric ones, at that), with the presiding judge battling to keep the trial on course. We did not learn more, we just saw how each side stuck to its guns, as we are used to seeing throughout our public life, where no one believes that the truth will set them free. The public’s expectation of revelations has not been met. But maybe that is because the torrent of news that kept us all glued to our television screens simply cannot be matched. And maybe that it is as it should be. Those who thought they could impose their will on the rest of us find that – as the rest of Greece goes about its work and play – their words are no more important than the prattling of the rest of us when not accompanied by blood on the sidewalk. That would be enough for anyone involved in the gang to start trying his best to distance himself from it or hide the extent of his involvement. For the messianic narcissists that we have come to know in the past year, their punishment has truly begun.

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