There are certain things common to terrorism throughout the world. Terrorism is sickening, it is inhuman, it is criminal and it kills innocent people. Terrorists are criminals. They are murderers and must be dealt with by the law. The only place a terrorist belongs is in prison.
But the origins, the background and the circumstances of terrorism are different in different parts of the world. The problem of terrorism has its own local characteristics. Different terrorist groups will be driven by different issues and by different ways of thinking, whether religious, political or social. A government trying to tackle terrorism has to understand what motivates a terrorist group and from where it gets its support in terms of money, weapons and sympathy from people outside the group.
The convicted November 17 gunman and murderer Dimitris Koufodinas’s two-day furlough from prison and the storm of reactions it provoked has once again dragged to center-stage the question of terrorism in Greece. Very few people in Greece support Koufodinas and the terrorism he still promotes. The vast majority see a terrorist like Koufodinas for what he really is, just a coward and a murderer who shot dead unarmed people, thus ruining the lives of whole families. They recognize that he has been arrested, convicted and imprisoned and that he should remain in prison to serve out his sentence.
However, there is still a wider issue to be resolved. That issue is the continuing sympathy among small sections of Greek political society (left and right) for what they see as “political violence.” It’s an issue which was almost resolved on three separate occasions in Greece’s recent past. The first was after the dictatorship fell in 1974, when the extreme-right were dealt a severe blow and when the vast majority of anti-junta resistance fighters returned to a newly liberated Greece, put aside their weapons and began a new course of political activity in Sosialistiki Poreia (Socialist Course) and other political groups. The second was in 1981 when PASOK’s election victory proved that the left could take power without an ensuing right-wing coup. The third was in 2002 when the wiping out of N17 dispelled the rumors of political conspiracy surrounding Greek terrorism and revealed the phantom-terrorists as nothing more than criminals, bank robbers and small men with twisted minds. Unfortunately, it seems from Koufodinas’s furlough that this sympathy for so-called “political violence” has yet to be eradicated from Greek soil.
Now is perhaps the time to destroy the sympathy for “political violence” once and for all. The issue is a simple one. There is no space for “political violence” in a democratic country such as Greece. The anti-junta fighters I met while living in Greece were very clear on this one fundamental point. They fought against a dictatorship in order to restore democracy. They were freedom fighters and they risked their lives against the junta for that democratic cause. The Greek terrorists who have murdered and maimed since 1975 were fighting to destroy democracy. They were not freedom fighters, they were criminals.
It is fortunate for Greece that, in the last two decades, the Greek Police have shown themselves to be a formidable and professional organization, successfully tracking and arresting active terrorists. However, what the Greek Police cannot do is eradicate the remaining sympathy for so-called “political violence” in some quarters of Greek political society. It is not a job for the police, it is a job for the Greek people.
It is the job of the Greek people to say to the children in Exarchia who dress up in bandanas and hoods, and who pretend to be Che Guevara for the day, that Greece is tired of such pathetic and childish antics, that molotov cocktails injure real innocent people and that it is unacceptable in a democratic society. It is time to tell the terrorists of Greece that they are not freedom fighters like Che Guevara. They are just criminals and the Kalashnikovs they are so proud of using are not weapons of liberation but instead just the fashion accessories of spoilt children with warped minds. The tragedy is that their stupid games kill innocent people and ruin families. Those games must now stop.
The reality, of course, is that there has never been a better time in a democracy to promote your views peacefully through the internet and social media. If your political views can gain wider support in society then you can, perhaps for the first time in history, bypass the existing political elites and gain a position of political power and influence. The sudden and unexpected rise of the democrat French President Emmanuel Macron is a good example. If your political views can secure the backing of the majority in a fair, political contest, your route to power today can be short and swift. If, however, your views are not attractive to a majority of society, then you must accept that you have no right to seek to impose your views on others through physical intimidation or violence. If you do that, then there are political words to describe you. You are a fascist or a Stalinist, and, in a democracy, you are a criminal.
There is no place in a democracy for those who support violence against that democracy. It is time to put a stop to it once and for all through an act of political and social will. The overwhelming majority of people in a democratic society who wish only to live in peace with their families and their neighbors should now speak out just as the courageous relatives of N17’s victims spoke out. “Os edo” (“Enough is enough,” or “We’ve had it up to here”). It is time for the overwhelming majority to make clear that they don’t want supporters of so-called “political violence” in their democratic country. They don’t want to see them in their university buildings. They don’t want to see them on television or in the columns of their newspapers. They don’t want to see them in Parliament or on the internet. The message from the democratic majority needs to be loud and clear, “If you support so-called ‘political violence,’ please leave our democratic country now. Os edo.”
* Nick Foster is a retired British diplomat who worked in Greece from 1998 to 2003.