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Reviewed by:
  • Inside Greek Terrorism by George Kassimeris
  • Kostis Kornetis (bio)
George Kassimeris, Inside Greek Terrorism. London: Hurst. 2013. Pp. xi + 176. Paper $29.95.

A recent imbroglio regarding whether or not to stage a play at the Greek National Theater that was partly based on the recollections of Savas Xiros is indicative of the everlasting explosiveness of the issue of terrorism in Greece. Xiros was a member of the leftist terrorist organization 17 November (17N) who was badly injured and arrested in the summer of 2002 after a bomb exploded prematurely in his hands. As an organization that was operational from late 1974 (right after the collapse of the Colonels’ dictatorship) and up to the early 2000s, 17N retains the capacity to polarize Greek public opinion, partly through its various afterlives. Its history, action, effects, and consequences, as well as the various organizations that followed suit after 17N’s demise are at the core of George Kassimeris’s book. In the words of the author himself, “this book came from the deepening realization that the Greek terrorist landscape, in spite of 17N’s spectacular demise, remains as enduring, complex, and unpredictable as ever” (115).

Kassimeris, who teaches terrorism studies in Great Britain, has been researching the history of leftist political violence in post-1974 Greece for the past couple of decades and has written extensively on the topic. In fact, he was one of the few authoritative voices on the subject at a time when most Greek academics dealing with the issue of violence—political scientists and sociologists, mostly—chose not to embark on such a contested and politically dangerous topic. This book is therefore the outcome of a long engagement with the subject matter and a panorama of sorts of the dense microcosm of underground leftist organizations that embraced violence as a way of political propaganda in the last four decades. It is also quite ambitious in its scope, since it reaches beyond 17N and covers events up to the present day, attempting to grasp the psychological and political makeup of the new generation of terrorists that emerged since 2002 and especially after the killing of fifteen-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos by a police officer in Athens in December 2008. The book is divided into two parts: one dedicated [End Page 418] to the detailed history of 17 November and its sister organization Revolutionary Popular Struggle (ELA), the two most historical organizations operating the so-called urban guerrilla in Greece, and a second part about the organizations that emerged following the formers’ demise, based on a regenerated anarchist milieu.

Kassimeris’s book is well grounded empirically but also theoretically, as it is in direct dialogue with the wide international literature on the subject of terrorism. A great asset of the book is that the author places the Greek case within a comparative context—especially with the Italian case of the Brigate Rosse and at times the West German experience of the Baader Meinhof group. When it comes to the judicial part of these stories, the Italian experience proves to be a particularly important case to weigh against the Greek one and apparently a point of reference for the authorities themselves at the time of the arrests (hence the use of the terms pentito or dissociato, both taken from Italian jargon). This gives breadth to the case studies and takes them out of the isolation of Greek exceptionalism—even though at times one misses comparisons with the separatist ETA (Basque Fatherland and Liberty), at least during its initial stages. Furthermore, Kassimeris rightly refrains from searching for psychopathological triggers of the Lombroso kind behind individual terrorist actions, which (albeit entirely misplaced and outdated) often still inform the conclusions of other authors working on terrorism. Instead, Kassimeris shares the conclusions of Bruce Hoffman’s work, showing that these individuals are not “the wild-eyed fanatics or crazed killers” one would expect but are often “highly articulate and extremely thoughtful individuals for whom terrorism is [or was] an entirely rational choice” (22). The author goes on to analyze the role of imaginary resources, the impact of family histories, traditions, and mythologies, as well as the role of the past and history with...