Swelling chorus of revolutionary voices calling for radical change


LETTER FROM GREECE:Politics in Greece is more unstable than it has been since the military coup of 1967, writes RICHARD PINE

IT COULD be a line from a Woody Allen movie: “We earnestly apologise to the Greek people for not managing to blow up Citibank.” That’s how one of the Greek terrorist groups, “Revolutionary Struggle”, addressed the public after its car bomb was recently detected and disarmed in Athens.

Whatever its political intentions or affiliation, “Revolutionary Struggle” certainly did not intend its apology to be humorous. Its tone suggests a well-meaning attempt to keep faith with its audience, and is clearly heartfelt and committed. They are not Bonnie and Clyde or even a branch of the IRA. They don’t rob banks, they just blow them up.

New groups to join the revolutionary club are the “Sect of Revolutionaries” and the even more elusive “Gangs of Conscience”. All appear to be committed to anarchism rather than opposing the existing political composition of parliament. With the present government of New Democracy teetering on the edge of an election with a singe-seat majority, politics in Greece is more unstable than it has been since the military coup of 1967.

Both major parties, ND (conservative) and opposition Pasok (socialist), have lost many of their traditional supporters. Voters are floating between the communists (KKE) and the far-right (Laos, meaning “of the people”), and some new groupings, including left-wing Syriza, and Drasis (meaning Action), founded in March by a former ND minister, Stefanos Manos. Manos aims, as did the Progressive Democrats in Ireland, to “break the political mould” of the two main parties and push forward new political energies. He has tried before, and failed. I hope he reads the Irish papers.

Presumably EU leaders are watching closely as this very delicate democracy tries to balance the international banking crisis (and its threats to the already vulnerable Greek banks) with the problem of more specific local unrest of a fundamental kind. No other EU country is experiencing such a vertiginous political scenario today. Fragmentation might well lead to increased parliamentary instability if an assortment of minority parties were to hold the balance of power.

In particular, the entire Balkan situation might be affected, along with the banking system, relations with the “social partners” and with Turkey.

The newest terrorist group, “Sect of Revolutionaries” has undertaken not to make random attacks which would hurt innocent citizens, but to target banks, politicians and the media. But time-bombs have a habit of not exploding at the intended moment, and this could cause very bad public relations.

More Woody Allen scriptwriters may be called for. “Revolutionary Struggle” has had one major coup – a rocket attack on the US embassy in January 2007, but other actions have been sporadic. A private television channel (Alter) and a (different) branch of Citibank have been hit recently, a criminologist at Athens University was injured and an off-duty policeman was seriously wounded during a bank raid.

Journalists have received general death threats, with “Revolutionary Struggle” calling them the “paid hacks of those in power”. Banks are targeted because they are the unacceptable face of globalisation: “Revolutionary Struggle” calls them a “den or robbers and criminals”, which in the current worldwide bail-out fiasco cannot be discredited as a reasonable description of what banks are.

One of the leading Athens newspaper editors told me that he doesn’t take the threats seriously. “Only two editors were killed in the 1980s. Hardly a massacre.”

Death threats are in fact fairly common. I myself have received one, but it was half-hearted and, dare I say it, well-intentioned – more of a warning than an ultimatum – ironically, for apparently “condoning” terrorism in an Irish Timesarticle (February 4th).

Greek society has always been extremely volatile in political terms, especially since the police killing of a 15-year-old boy in Athens sparked off severe nationwide riots in December. Terrorist proclamations should most likely be given some credence, but John Psaropoulos, editor of the English-language weekly Athens News, queries whether it is the journalist’s responsibility to give space to terrorist announcements, or to suppress them.

Civil unrest in Greece is due to a number of factors. Globalisation and the financial crisis are universal. Specific and local to Greece are the need to reform the education system at both secondary and university levels, the power and status of the police force, the paralysis of public administration, and the condition of some of the Athens suburbs, especially Exarchia where the 15-year-old was killed.

The University of Athens has long been a no-go area for police – imagine TCD not only physically ring-fenced in the centre of Dublin, but also a forbidden city for the authorities. Students today resent the fact that, despite their degrees, the job market in Greece offers little opportunity.

The proliferation of terrorist groups seems to mirror the fragmentation of those making up the political spectrum, and this is reflected in commentaries on what is happening in parliament and on the streets.

“Anarchism” doesn’t exactly define what the violent protests are about. Yes, they query the validity of the modern Greek state, but they are also concerned with a system that denies them their own meaning as citizens.

Where the anarchists call for “the death of the system”, social scientists describe what is happening as “the end of political hope”. It isn’t difficult to see the connection, or, indeed, the common ground.

The author is Director Emeritus of the Durrell School of Corfu