Anarchist attacks on the rise in newly multicultural Greece
ATHENS | Anarchy made a spectacular return to Greece this month as explosions struck banks and private businesses and a riot rocked downtown Athens.
Widespread urban guerrilla violence, growing racism toward Greece’s 1 million immigrant population and unprecedented disillusionment toward the political class characterize Greek society five months after it experienced its gravest rioting since World War II.
Greece faces a proliferation of new anarchist and anti-establishment terrorist groups, which pose a growing threat to stability, Greek and foreign analysts say.
“We have a new generation of terrorists showing its presence and teeth over the past couple of years, and now they have a new pool of possible recruits,” said Thanos Dokos, director of Greek think tank ELIAMEP. “Growing numbers of people are saying that if the politicians cannot understand with other means, then targeted violence might shake them out of their stupor.”
Greece’s center-right govern- ment has been battered by bribery, real estate and sex scandals, making it a tempting target for anarchists. A government reshuffle in February was widely criticized, and a second round of changes is expected after European parliamentary elections in June, in which the government is expected to do poorly.
Scandals have forced four ministers to resign in the past two years. Widespread public disillusionment was compounded by anger in December when a policeman fatally shot a 15-year-old boy, triggering a week of crosscountry rioting.
Police credibility plunged when riot squads stepped back and allowed widespread vandalism and looting in an attempt to avoid clashes that might cause further casualties.
When the smoke cleared, public and private businesses had suffered millions of dollars in damage. Public trust in the police was further damaged when it emerged in April that a policeman was a member of an organized gang of bank robbers that has carried out nearly 30 armed robberies since December.
“Prison riots, social exclusion, human rights violations, police brutality, lack of accountability and corruption are just a few manifestations that the system in Greece has reached its limits,” said Panos Kostakos, a researcher at the Department of European Studies at Bath University in Britain. “Weak states have always provided strong ground for malevolent actors and dark networks.”
Fresh attacks occurred in May as incendiary devices exploded outside a private security firm, a car dealership and a business selling military surplus gear.
The previous weekend, violence erupted in central Athens as right-wingers attacked hundreds of immigrants huddling within an unused courthouse and subsequently clashed with leftist demonstrators who came to their aid. Athens police announced that they are investigating all incidents.
Further inflaming tensions, police used tear gas and stun grenades to break up a protest by Muslim immigrants on May 22 after reports that a Greek policeman had defaced the Koran.
The volatile mix of social tensions follows a series of scandals that has threatened to overwhelm the government. President Karolos Papoulias adjourned Parliament earlier in May ahead of the European parliamentary elections in June.
Apart from public appeals for calm, the current government has taken a low profile in addressing the surge in violence. Repeated attempts to contact officials to comment for this article were unsuccessful.
Anarchist guerrilla activity has surged since the December riots. The attacks target government offices, TV stations, banks and police personnel with bombs and machine guns.
At least half a dozen new groups targeting policemen and journalists have appeared since the December riots, with exotic names such as Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei, Gang of Conscience and Revolutionary Struggle.
Iason Athanasiadis reports on Greece through a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in Washington.
A government office building in Athens is splattered with paint, symbolizing to protesters the blood they would like to hold the government responsible for shedding. Scandals in the Greek government also have been targets for anarchists.