ATHENS, Greece – Last week Greek Prime Minister Kostas Simitis visited the White House and Ground Zero, where he expressed the sorrow of the Greek people for the tragic events of Sept. 11.
However, upon his arrival, he was greeted by an “expose” by CBS News. All the Greek political parties (far left to far right), most of the press, and everyone you talk to here condemned CBS for such a provocative action on the eve of the state visit.
“Nov. 17” is named after the date in 1973 that students and trade unionists demonstrated on the campus of the Polytechnic Institute in downtown Athens against the fascist junta that had been imposed from the outside and had ruled Greece since 1967. The date is now a national holiday.
At least 23 people died and hundreds were wounded when the army stormed the campus Nov. 17, 1973. Many demonstrators were killed, but within a year the junta had fallen.
The beginning of a new era of democracy saw the legalization of the Communist Party (KKE) – which celebrated its 83rd anniversary the week of Nov. 17 – and the growth toward the left-unity government of the 1980s that set new standards for social legislation for Europe and that closed American and British air bases.
For the holiday last year, the headline in the KKE newspaper, Rizospastis, was “Everyone to the Polytechnic … and the march to the American Embassy.”
It looked as though everyone did come. The march spread across the lanes of the major north-south boulevard for miles toward the embassy – over 20,000 in an anti-war march that dwarfed even the earlier marches. In Thessaloniki, as well, thousands marched to the American consulate.
In spite of a triple phalanx in front of the embassy of police with tear gas, people waved Greek flags and red banners, sang the national anthem and many freedom songs. Banners and speeches demanded an end to the war in Afghanistan and connected it with the anti-imperialist demands presented at the Genoa meeting of 7 last summer.
But Nov. 17 has a different meaning in the American Embassy. To it, the date is a trigger word for terrorism.
It evokes the anarchist 17th of November group that is accused of killings of military personnel and foreign diplomats. It provides the basis for U. S. demands for tougher “terrorism” laws in Greece, one of which it achieved this summer.
Many Greek legislators, while having no love for the group, resist the effort to use it to expand repressive laws.
Last week, this resistance led to an American accusation, reminiscent of McCarthyism in the 1950s, that the group consists of highly placed Greek citizens.
The first act of the group was during the insurrection against the junta – the assassination of Richard Welsh, the CIA officer widely acknowledged to be the mentor of the junta.
After that action, the group, still called “November 17,” may not have been a group at all, but a name taken by different people each time, acting like the CIA by assassinating mainly British and American diplomats and Greek military and government leaders.
There is no evidence of a common modus operandi and they do not present any political platform, or even explain their actions.
They are not terrorists by the definition of attacks on random innocent civilians, but they are definitely not supported by the majority of Greeks and are pursued as criminals. They are provocateurs who benefit no one but those who would like to see Greece become a repressive society again.
The CBS report was based on concoctions by a former ambassador, allegedly quoting the CIA and a report of a Greek “intelligence” officer, reminiscent of the ravings of Joseph McCarthy about enemies in the government.
In the present global politics, Greece has played a role in NATO and the EU by threatening to use its veto power in order to moderate the plans of the United States. The devastation of Yugoslavia would have been much greater without this role. This annoys the U.S. government greatly. So the theme in the papers discussing the current trip by the prime minister has been “Is Greece being pressured?” – with strong denials being issued by the ruling party.
Greece today is one of the most democratic countries in the world. In Athens there are about 15 daily newspapers, representing all parties and points of view. Athens has about 30 television stations, also representing all points of view, and a similar number of FM stations.
The government has to be responsive to the people, not only because the election laws use proportional representation, but because if they are not responsive, the people will shut down the country as they did twice last spring when the ruling party tried to cooperate with a minority right-wing party to change the social insurance to comply with EU edicts.
So you can see what annoys the multinationals that control CBS. The CIA has been trying to get the Greek government to change its laws Ashcroft-style.
In the past few weeks the sailors who protected Kurdish independence leader Abdullah Ocelan were indicted for “aiding an illegal immigrant” and just last week one of the protestors against American NATO troops passing through Greece to Yugoslavia in 1999 – a KKE leader and town councilor of a Thessaloniki suburb – was sentenced to eight months in prison for “wounding” a cop during a protest.
While the parliament gave in a little bit in a vote that had the support of the right-wing party, the law was not all the CIA wanted.
It did not stop, for example, one of the large circulation newspapers, Eleftherotypia (Freedom of the Press), from quoting European documents that revealed that the war in Afghanistan had been planned long before Sept. 11. Nor did it prevent Minister of Justice Philippos Petsalnikos from stating in the same paper that the EU definition of terrorism and of terrorist actions, as well as the terms of the European arrest warrant, must not trample on any fundamental constitutional or individual rights of citizens.
However, the struggle continues. This weekend, the front page of the newspaper Sto Karfi (In the Spike) featured the McCarthyite intelligence report, “proving” high-ranking government figures to be part of the November 17th group.