OPINION

Letter from Thessaloniki

«Oh, thank God it was just the Bulgarian Mafia! No terrorists were involved in our case!» Good grief! What a relief! When the other day Greek counterterrorism police found explosives on a freight train going toward Thessaloniki, they reassured people with soothing remarks: «We believe that the device was planted for self-seeking purposes by a group of Bulgarians involved in smuggling,» a police spokesman said at a time of increased concern over security for this August’s Olympic Games in Athens. But there’s no humor column today. Madrid has suddenly become a frightening place. Nobody, least of all the outgoing Spanish government, appears to know where the bombers have come from and when or where they might strike again. «Of course, it was ETA!» was the first official remark, referring to Spain’s Basque Homeland and Liberty separatist guerrillas. It does not seem to be so. Yesterday, in a videotaped message, Al Qaeda claimed it carried out the Madrid train bombings. «We declare our responsibility for what happened in Madrid two and a half years after the attacks on New York and Washington.» Some hours before this message was distributed, MP Andreas Adrianopoulos, speaking on Costas Arvanitis’s talk show «Another Dimension» on NET channel, pointed out that the Madrid bombings took place exactly 911 days after September 11, «which is the way Anglo-Saxons refer to the date 9/11,» he added. «What are the measures you consider appropriate?» he was asked. «Certainly not placing more guards at railroad stations,» Adrianopoulos countered. «There have been terrorist attacks on planes and trains already. In all probability, their next move will be of a completely different nature.»   Terrorists thrive on frightening the public and provoking governments into blind reaction. In our post-industrial era, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the moribund Soviet Union has been replaced by a new «evil empire,» embodying the demonized figure of the barbaric Other. Gone are obsolete conflicts between social classes expressed politically in the left-right divide. We discovered that after the results of our last elections. Today the world is facing a new kind of danger: terrorism, a term whose definition has not yet been agreed upon. What is certain is that in the face of global terrorism, there must be global mobilization too. In an interview with Kathimerini (October 15, 2001) Professor Paul Wilkinson, co-founder and director of the independent Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, and professor of international relations at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, emphasized: «The removal of bin Laden would be a huge blow to Al Qaeda, but would be unlikely to halt terrorism by his followers and network around the world.» That answers the question as to what comes after the Taleban, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are finished: most probably more Saddam Husseins and new Talebans. In the realm of terrorism, all things take on a twilight shade. Yet, there are two key questions: a) How did we get to this present situation? and b) How do we stop the killing? Question a) has been pretty much settled. In the red-scare years, the West made extensive use of political Islam as a weapon in the fight against communism. In an interview in Athens with Agence France-Presse, the author of «Unholy Wars» – a book published in 1999 and dealing with Afghanistan, the USA and international terrorism – Mr John Coley openly attacked the CIA for creating a monster: Osama bin Laden. Furthermore, the alliance between Western democracies and local despots, i.e. Saddam Hussein in his early years, obliterated any chance for a liberal Arab nationalist movement that could act as a bridge with the modern world. Which poses another crucial question: Is it morally permissible to enforce morality as such for mere geopolitical reasons? You must remember John Landis’s hilarious movie «Spies Like Us.» Two American spies, considered by their government wholly dispensable, are dropped off in the desert of Afghanistan in order to mislead the Soviets. Finally, they are saved by the anti-communist guerrillas. Note that this film was made in 1985. Now, as for probably the only way to at least minimize the escalation of death and ferocious destruction, the way out would be – what else? – to impose a settlement in the Middle East. There are no doubt many ways for an elegant solution, enforced by the international community to dampen the Arab-Israeli conflict. While fewer Greeks are worried about terrorism (4 percent) than the average EU citizen (12 percent), Greece officially asked NATO to help provide security during August’s Olympic Games in Athens. Meanwhile Portugal, which hosts the Euro 2004 football championships in June, stepped up border controls and said it was considering installing metal detectors at stadium gates. In actual practice, northern Greeks find themselves in a highly troubled neighborhood. It has frequently been said that there are still followers of Osama bin Laden, at their most forbidding and cruel, throughout the Balkans. A good deal of information on their activities must be known to Serbia’s Interior Ministry. «We know who is at the head of the branches of bin Laden’s worldwide organization, which is also present in [the Former Yugoslav Republic of] Macedonia,» former Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihailovic declared only a few years ago. Did someone investigate further? Obviously, public attitudes will have changed since those vigorous days of the Yugoslav war.