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Mediterranean Quarterly 12.3 (2001) 1-7

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Terrorism in Greece:
Revisiting an Issue

Dora Bakoyannis

In 1989 my husband, Pavlos, a member of parliament and a journalist, was gunned down by terrorists as he was on his way to his office. He was one of the architects of the final reconciliation between the Right and the Left in Greece. His actions helped solidify Greek democracy. It is natural that terrorism leaves people emotionally charged, and I am afraid I must plead guilty to the charge. Yet I consider myself not an individual victim of terrorist activity but a representative of the Greek people.

Much has been said and written on terrorism, but while it is relatively easy to define, when it comes to the specific forms it takes in any given country, much confusion about its nature persists. This confusion comes from the facts that, although it is a global phenomenon, it does not conform to any universal criteria of formation and operation and does not appear vulnerable to a universal solution.

All around the world we experience the terror of so-called political violence. From Oklahoma City to East Timor, from Spain to Yemen, violence of this sort is employed as a tool to blackmail societies. There is, however, one common denominator concerning terrorism; it revolves around language. Language clothes actions and determines the rationale committing them. Opinion makers know that the choice of words is vitally important in the phrasing of a question--since it has a decisive bearing on the answer. This knowledge is shared by terrorists.

George Orwell wrote, "If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought," and, I add, action. This is the case of terrorism today. It [End Page 1] clothes with noble words its far from noble actions. But I shall be very clear with my choice of words. Terrorism, I believe, can be defined by its objective. "The purpose of terrorism is to terrorize," wrote Lenin. For once, I agree with him!

The advent of modernity, the potency of the free market, the rise of the urban centers, and the establishment of democratic nation-states brought with them a new kind of political violence. Gone are the days of the Ides of March; gone are the days of Garibaldi, the days when the death of a king or a dictator could free a people. They are replaced by the peripheral actions of small groups of individuals who attempt to short circuit democracy, terrorize society, and violently impose their will on the majority.

In the West, we have the privilege to live in times of unprecedented democracy, human rights, and prosperity. Problems still exist, but are solved by social and political pressure and institutional debate, not murder. As the historian John Steele Gordon wrote, "The history of capitalism is no longer written by its ideological enemies." Terrorist violence in the West today is politically irrelevant; that's why, when it occurs, it is even more repulsive.

Greece has the longest history in the West combined with the least terrorist activity. But at the dawn of the twenty-first century, it carries the sad distinction of being the Western country with the longest-standing undiscovered terrorist organization. The so-called Revolutionary Organization of 17 November, the main subject of concern in Greece, was named after the day of a student uprising in Athens against the military regime.

In the past twenty-five years it has committed sporadic but well-targeted murders and proceeded to more frequent, usually minor, bombings and attacks against political party offices, bank branches, and so forth, usually in the early morning hours. The 17 November group is unlike any other terrorist organization the West has known since World War II. Unlike the Italian Brigades, the Irish Revolutionary Army, and others, it is a very small group--its members can probably be counted on one hand. Unlike the French Action Directe, it is highly disciplined and effective. Unlike the German Red Army, its acts are relatively few and are cautiously set chronologically apart from each other. The ELA (the Greek acronym for the Revolutionary...


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