Terrorism as an instrument of the state

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In Greece in December 15 men were convicted of the nearly 1000 crimes attributed to the November 17 terrorist group during the 27 years of its activity. There had been 23 murders, dozens of bombings and rocket attacks on a range of targets - typically foreign banks and other businesses, military figures, Turkish and German diplomats, tax officers - as well as raids on police stations to restock on weapons.

Yet, while 'justice' was finally supposed to have been done with the guilty behind bars, there was widespread suspicion throughout Greece of how neatly the November 17 case had been wrapped up. It seemed to have been done just in time to avoid affecting this year's Athens Olympics. There were also questions as to why the Greek state had previously done so little to catch the terrorists who in the end either gave themselves up or confessed: these were alongside questions on the origins of the gang and the 'interests' that initially funded them. Also, three weeks after the end of the N17 trial, the judges were chosen for the trial on February 9th of five members of the ELA - a lesser terrorist group that had carried out hundreds of bombings since 1975 - who had been conveniently arrested as part of the N17 investigation.

There had been suspicions about N17 right from its first killing in 1975, when three unmasked men shot the CIA Athens station chief at point blank range in front of witnesses. Because of the precision and efficiency of the attack little credibility was given to the claims of the previously unknown group. A year later the murder of an army officer was followed by a communiqué in Liberation that had reached the French paper via Jean-Paul Sartre. For a group that was only supposed to amount to two extended families they always seemed to have friends in high places.

Subsequent attacks and the communiqués that accompanied them showed that N17 had a typically nationalist agenda expressed in familiar left-wing terms. As its leader, Alexandros Giotopoulos, said during the trial, "modern Greece is a colony of the USA". N17's targets were American, British, German, French and Turkish, and those Greek bodies that were deemed to have betrayed, sold out or acted as agents of foreign powers. They bombed because of the running down of the health service; against any rapprochement with Turkey; in protest against a judiciary that was not taking action against corrupt industrialists; against privatisations; against German delays in paying reparations for World War II crimes. There were rocket attacks in protest against aspects of the Greek government's foreign policy (any concessions to Turkey or the US), attacks on British and German targets in protest against their role in the war in ex-Yugoslavia.

The left-wing of capitalism in Greece (and elsewhere) criticised N17's "militarism". But while it didn't accept the terrorist methods it had no quibbles with its ideology. N17 was against US imperialism, against Turkish 'expansionism' (that was 'backed by the US'), against the Greek media, against the EU. When PASOK (Greek social democrats) came to power in 1981 it was welcomed by N17 in one of its communiqués because of PASOK's "basic lines, anti-monopolistic, anti-imperialist and democratic". Accordingly, for two years N17 undertook no attacks and issued no communiqués. They renewed their activity when they considered that PASOK was making concessions to the US.

At his trial, Giotopoulous said he had been framed by "British and American secret services". This fitted in with N17's previous protestations, as, for example, when in 1995 they mounted a rocket attack on a TV studio with more than a hundred people in it and complained that they were being misrepresented by a CIA/FBI/Greek media conspiracy. They had no quarrel with Greek capitalism, just the foreign pressures that acted on it. In a 1988 communiqu�� they complained that "there is not a Greek Army but only a NATOite army".

Far from causing any difficulties to the Greek ruling class they seem to have been able to tolerate N17's actions for a long period. In 1994 the Greek minister for Public Order said in an interview that he thought that groups like N17 were controlled by elements from foreign secret services. This seems to contradict the reality of a group whose politics fitted perfectly well into the left-wing of the bourgeoisie's political spectrum, and whose defence of Greece against all foreign encroachments made the Greek state the only body with any interest in sustaining the existence of N17 for so long. There is no other satisfactory explanation for N17's survival. But what of the reasons for its sudden demise?

The 2004 Olympics would have seemed to be a perfect theatre for N17 activity - yet they've been brought to heel. Claims of US intervention behind the scenes need not be far off the mark. Athens has previously shown itself to be antagonistic to US policy in the area: in Greek support for Serbia in the conflicts in ex-Yugoslavia; in the opposition of parts of the Greek ruling class to US initiatives over Cyprus; in Greek opposition to the war against Iraq. But the situation is changing. In particular, the leadership of PASOK is being handed over to George Papandreou who spent much of his early life in the US, speaks better English than Greek, has been the leading figure behind improved relations with Turkey, is enthusiastic about the EU and has ditched the nationalist anti-Americanism of his father, who founded PASOK. Whatever manoeuvres the US has actually undertaken it must be pleased with the way things are going. The US backed the 'colonels' regime that ran Greece from 1967-74, and ever since a certain verbal distancing from American policy has been required from Greek governments. The end of N17, the coming trial of the ELA and the advent of George Papandreou show that, even if PASOK lose elections brought forward to March, Greek capitalism is re-orientating itself to take more account of the weight of US imperialism in the region.

Car, 27/1/04.