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Reviewed by:
  • Greek Urban Warriors: Resistance & Terrorism 1967–2014 by John Brady Kiesling
  • Nikolaos Papadogiannis (bio)
John Brady Kiesling, Greek Urban Warriors: Resistance & Terrorism 1967–2014. Athens: Lycabettus Press. 2014. Pp. xx + 413. Paper €30.

Left-wing terrorism in Greece was one of the most enduring in Western Europe. John Brady Kiesling offers a meticulous study of its emergence and decline between 1967 and 2014. He explores the activity of all left-wing terrorist groups that were active during those years. His comprehensive account includes the notorious 17N (Revolutionary Organization 17 November) and ELA (Επαναστατικός Λαϊκός Αγώνας, Revolutionary Popular Struggle) but also ones that were short-lived, such as LEP (Λαϊκή Επαναστατική Πρωτοβουλία, Revolutionary Popular Initiative).

Kiesling analyzes the attacks of the terrorist groups in question, including arson or attacks against specific individuals. He also scrutinizes the ways in which those terrorists secured the financial means needed to operate, as well as the payroll of 17N, exploring, for instance, the inflow of wealth due to the 1991 Aigaleo Post Office robbery proceeds and how these were shared among the group members (227–228). This was, according to the author, “the largest robbery in Greek history,” as the terrorists got an amount then worth $1.6 million (228). Kiesling also refers to the ideological background of the terrorist groups in question, especially the undiluted nationalism of 17N. In this vein, he examines the statement that 17N made in 1994 that it would kill “members of the Turkish ‘political-military complex’ until the occupation army left Cyprus” (256–257, 262).

In addressing these themes, he delves into the competition among differing left-wing terrorist groups, especially the bitter antagonism between 17N and ELA. Kiesling sheds light on the varying approaches of 17N and ELA towards the assassination of individuals. While 17N pursued such tactics from its inception until its decline, ELA largely avoided them, although some of its members were in favor of deadly attacks. Moreover, Kiesling carefully maneuvers through the conflicting class analyses that the diverse left-wing terrorist groups in Greece employed (143). Through this examination, he establishes that left-wing terrorism in Greece was far from uniform.

Kiesling’s meticulous scrutiny of the violent attacks of ELA and 17N, as well as the payroll of the latter stems from diverse primary sources: he takes into account material published by the terrorist groups he studies but also the autobiographies of former terrorists. The author is forthright in disclosing the gaps in the material he has managed to collect, and he duly informs the reader when his assumptions are speculative (for example, 51n20). Nevertheless, the way in which he approaches autobiographies (for example, 38) is not totally convincing, as Kiesling does not consider how the elapsed time between the narrated events and the point when the autobiography was written may have affected the narrator’s memory.

Kiesling also takes into account counterterrorism in Greece, including the trials of 17N and ELA (317–330). He pursues the vexatious task of deciphering the cryptic language employed by the terrorists during their trials, although he lacks—as he admits—insider knowledge. He also makes a commendable effort to understand the idiosyncracies of the terminology used by their prosecutors (304, 313–315, 342). In approaching counterterrorism in general, he makes a compelling argument: the “17N pursuit was an expensive fiasco” (xii). He asserts that its pursuers, especially the Greek police and the CIA, used unreliable sources or were “aggressively self-confident” (xii). [End Page 421] In this respect, he maintains that the defeat of left-wing terrorism in general and the demise of 17N in particular were accidental.

The author offers a few hints on the transnational connections of some of the terrorist groups in question (29, 81). His relevant findings, however, do not form part of a coherent argument concerning the long-term impact of cross-border transfers of ideas, cultural forms, and people on the making of left-wing terrorists in Greece. Kiesling’s analysis does not escape the framework of the nation-state, either. Nevertheless, it can still serve as food for thought for a transnational approach to left-wing terrorism, especially if seen in conjunction with the conceptual framework that has been proposed by historians Robert Gerwarth...