Emigration or anarchy seem the only options for resentful Greeks
To resist authority is a natural part of being Greek. So too, is terrorism
Supporters of ultra nationalist party Golden Dawn hold party flags and Greek flags at a demonstration in Athens on February 1st. There is a scale of resentment within Greek society, with Golden Dawn and the anarchist sects at either extreme. Photograph: Milos Bicanski/Getty Images
Between 1922 and 1974 Greece experienced nine coups and counter-coups, a civil war and three periods of dictatorship, the last being that of “the Colonels” from 1967 to 1974.
The root of these regime changes was the deep division as to how order was to be maintained in civil society. Yet despite them, to call Greece an unstable society would be a misreading of history. Greeks can point to neighbouring states that are equally, or more, liable to instability: Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Israel, Lebanon and Egypt – all now, or very recently, split and transformed by political unrest on religious or ideological grounds.
Not least of the causes of unrest is what Brian Friel, speaking of Irishness, described as the “paranoiac individualism” of the peasant mind: putting oneself and family ahead of the greater good. To suspect and resist authority is a natural part of being Greek. So too, today it seems, is the phenomenon of terrorism.
Greece seems to have cornered the market in home-grown terrorism, with a plethora (a fine Greek word) of major gangs and splinter groups, apparently doing what comes naturally to angry people. It’s what young Holmes, in the third series of Sherlock, calls “their version of golf”.
At the last count there were 18 or 19 self-styled anarchist or terrorist groups operating in Greece, some with bizarre names, including my favourite, Untamed Desires, many comparing themselves to Baader-Meinhof or the Red Brigade. Of these, Revolutionary Struggle and Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire are the main actors. Some terrorists are members of more than one group – like someone belonging to two golf clubs – and there are certainly many anarchists working on their own.
The targets are professional groups such as policemen, judges, journalists, civil servants, while innocent citizens are likely to be killed in attacks on the metro, the bourse, tax offices, shopping malls, banks and McDonald’s. So far, the Swiss, Russian, French, Mexican and Belgian embassies have received letter-bombs, while an assassination attempt was made last year on the German ambassador at his residence.
In 2007 Revolutionary Struggle launched a rocket attack on the US embassy in Athens. In 2010 Sect of Revolutionaries killed a journalist. Last year the Sect of Rebels killed a ministerial aide at the citizens protection ministry and Militant People’s Revolutionary Force shot two supporters of the neo-fascists Golden Dawn.
Old-style revolutionaries hanker after the “good old days” when there was only one show in town – the November 17 terrorist gang, which flourished from 1975 until its leaders were imprisoned in 2002. Brady Kiesling, a former US diplomat now living in Greece, said “most Greeks over the age of 30 wonder ‘Where is November 17 when we need them?’” It took its name from the date in 1973 when the uprising at Athens Polytechnic signalled the imminent fall of the Colonels’ regime. From 1975 to 2000 it killed (among others) the CIA’s chief in Greece, two US military attaches and one British, a newspaper proprietor and an MP. Its arsenal of anti-tank rockets, guns and bomb equipment was formidable.
There is a considerable difference between the straightforward revolutionary precepts of November 17 and the anarchist groups proliferating today, so much so that spokesmen for November 17th have criticised the new groups for lack of policies and revolutionary acumen. The recent prison escape of a November 17 leader and the release of others have fuelled speculation that it may regroup and start again.
There is a scale of resentment within Greek society: at either extreme, the neo-fascist Golden Dawn and the anarchist sects. Caught in the middle are those who quietly accept the inevitable economic disaster, and those who vigorously but peacefully protest. The middle-of-the-road government of Antonis Samaras is so lacklustre, and its ability to stand up to the investigating troika so pathetic, that there is nothing for parliamentary democracy to discuss. So far-right and far-left capture the imagination, if not its active support.
“I’ve decided to fire the guerrilla shotgun against those who stole our lives and sold our dreams for profit”, the November 17 escaper declared last month, while Sect of Revolutionaries stated “we are not interested in politics, but guerrilla warfare”. One of Revolutionary Struggle’s leaders told the judge sentencing him “you are the criminals, the state and capitalism” while Cells of Fire has said: “the organisation consists of very angry young people who don’t have anything to hope for”.
Emigrate or join the anarchists, seems to be the choice.