Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Adamantia Pollis
PhD, Professor Emerita - New School University


Before I discuss terrorism in Greece, I think it is crucial to consider, in general terms, the question of human rights. Like many other modern nation-states, Greece is an ethnic nation. In other words, the legitimacy of its sovereignty is grounded on the fact that the state embodies and speaks for ethnic Greeks. This is in contrast to civic nations, such as the United States, which in principle, are rooted in citizenship - in an acceptance of the institutions, principles and values of the nation. It should be noted that in the Balkans (and in other regions) ethnic nations are the norm - Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Rumania, among others.

In Greece, as in other ethnic nations, the only authentic Greeks are those who possess the necessary markers - primordial lineage or continuity from antiquity, language, religion and culture. Hence, all minorities - religious, ethnic, linguistic - encounter administrative and legal obstacles in addition to social and economic discrimination in the exercise of their rights. Although ever since the collapse of the Greek military junta and the adoption of a new constitution in 1975. Greece has been a democratic state which implements individual civil and political rights, this has not been the case for minorities. Proselytism is forbidden and can lead to arrest, except of course for the mandatory teaching of Orthodoxy in schools. The establishment of a non-Orthodox house of worship necessitates a permit from the Ministry of Education and Religion, which in turn asks the local bishop. Needless to say such permits have been routinely rejected. Greece in fact has been condemned numerous times by the European Court of Human Rights for violations of the minorities' rights to freedom of religion and culture. In recent years, in part because of Greece's full membership in the European Union, and in part because of the ideological stance of Greece's current political leadership, there is evidence of a gradual shift towards a civic nation, dramatized by the abolition of religious affiliation from identity cards, measures which have been strongly attack by Archbishop Christodoulos and right wing nationalists.
It is in the context of Greece as an exclusive ethnic nation that the "terrorist" organization should be analyzed and understood. Like the other "terrorist" groups in western Europe, Beider Meinhoff in Germany, Action Directe in France and Red Brigades in Italy, Greece's 17th November roots were in the student movement, except that in Greece it was almost a decade later since Greece was under military rule from 1967 to 1974. Its name, 17 November derives from the date in 1973 when the students occupied the Polytechnic Institute in Athens to protest military rule.

By contrast to the other comparable movements in western Europe, 17th November has been very nationalist, reflecting its commitment to ethnic nationalism. In fact all its targets, beginning with the first in 1975, namely the assassination of Robert Welch, the CIA station chief in Athens, have been those deemed to be responsible for the underdevelopment and exploitation of Greece. Its targets have been twofold; foreign powers, such as the United States, Great Britain and Turkish diplomats particularly at a time when a Greek-Turkish rapprochement seems imminent, and, stemming from its Marxist-Leninist ideology, banks and wealthy entrepreneurs, Greek or foreign, who it considers as oppressing ordinary people and workers.

Terrorism is the indiscriminate use of acts of violence committed against an entire population or a particular sector, designed to intimidate into submission. In view of this definition 17th November can not be described as a revolutionary organization engaged in terrorism, despite its repeated listing by the State Department as a terrorist organization It has never bombed a shopping center, a public square, a restaurant or tourists, despite the U.S's periodic travel advisories It has engaged in terrorist acts against specific, concrete targets. Individual assassinations have been 17 November's principal tactic, but particularly beginning in the late 1980s, it has engaged in bombings and rocket attacks against foreign banks, tax offices and Greek and foreign enterprises, none of them involving mass carnage. In more recent years it appears to have become somewhat careless and at times there have been a few unintended casualties of bystanders It is noteworthy that the overwhelming majority of its attacks have been aimed at Greeks, not foreigners. In more than 25 years of its existence 17 November has undergone cycles of activism. There have been periodic lulls followed by heightened activity, the most extensive having been in 1990. Their latest act, after a period of inactivity, was the assassination in Athens of Stephen Saunders, the British Military Attache in June 2000. Since then 17 November has been inactive. It is impossible to judge whether it has disappeared or whether it is undergoing another period of quiescence. There has been no action, nor have there been any of their proclamations which usually, but not always, have accompanied a terrorist act, which either justifies the act and/or attacks governmental policy and critiques the prevailing socioeconomic order.

In marked contrast to the other west European leftist revolutionary groups, no member of 17 November has ever been apprehended, nor is there information on its membership. Perhaps one reason for its success in maintaining its secrecy is that, by contrast to the other European terrorist groups, it at no time embarked on a strategy of mounting a guerilla movement. Nevertheless, there have been persistent rumors over the decades that 17 November has linkages with the current ruling party, PASOK It is conceivable that some members of the anti-junta PAK, the precursor to PASOK, may have jointed 17 November as did members of .other opposition groups, such as Democratic Defense. Both of these groups had engaged in bomb throwing against the junta and its American supporters which at the time were viewed as heroic acts. In January 2000 a Greek newspaper published a list of 124 PASOK members, compiled by a retired general, who it claimed were associated with 17 November. Furthermore, it was contended that the former conservative prime minister, Constantine Karamanlis, had a copy of the list. At the same time a former CIA chief claimed that the Greek government knows the members of 17 November. Karamanlis vehemently denied the existence of any such list. Significantly, no political leader of any party, from the right to the left, nor any other newspaper has given credence to this claim, thereby reinforcing the general belief that the list is fraudulent. Neither anti-terrorism acts enacted by the Greek government nor agreements for cooperation with U.S. intelligence authorities and somewhat later with the British, has succeeded in identifying or capturing any members of 17 November. Moreover there is no evidence that it has any connection to any other terrorist group.

If 17 November remains consistent with its ideological parameters, it is unlikely that it will pose any threat to the Olympic games in 2004. Not only does it not have a history of engaging in terrorist acts against a general population, Greek or foreign, but it may well view this event as an affirmation of Greek nationalism.