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Monday, March 17, 2003



On March 7, in an editorial entitled “Greece Confronts Its Past,” The New York Times ostensibly congratulated Greece on the trial of the 19 accused members of November 17. “There is high hope…,” its editorial began, “that the trial…will provide reassurance that Greece…can deal sternly and effectively with terrorists of any stripe.” The Times went on to reassure its readers that “[c]ertainly there is every reason to welcome the fact that a group responsible for killing 23 people…is finally being brought to justice.”

Anyone who’s followed US-Greek relations even in passing knows that such praise never comes without a caveat, however; surely enough, there was one here. After waxing flatteringly and even graciously for almost two paragraphs, the kick in the shins came quickly toward the end of the second one. “We hope,” the paragraph’s penultimate sentence began ominously, that “the trial will offer further proof that Greece has overcome whatever it was [my emphasis] that prevented any arrests for so long.” In any case, the Times concluded, now adopting a prosecutorial tone befitting its subject, “That is something the Greek government still needs to confront, and explain,” adding, as a coda, that Greece “must demonstrate that [it] is prepared not only to bring its assassins to justice, but also to confront its ghosts.”

Leaving phantoms (and phantasmic journalism) aside for the moment, there are actually a lot of living, breathing human beings who would like to know why it took various Greek governments 27 years to break November 17 — but the vast majority of them are, as is only natural under the circumstances, Greek. Yet, once again, as befits a nation founded on Puritan self-righteousness, we have force-fed a sermon about (what else?) good and evil to some obviously benighted foreigners. The Times also has a pet theory to explain Greek inaction on November 17, one that was initially mooted by correspondents Frank Bruni and Anthee Carassava a few days earlier (see “Greece to Begin Trial Involving Long-Elusive Terror Group,” March 3): namely, “that after the fall of the American-backed military dictatorship that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974, the country was reluctant to crack down on left-wing organizations that had battled the junta. November 17 was among them [!]. It took its name from a 1973 student protest…and it carried on the spirit of resistance and anti-Americanism with proclamations rich in Marxist-Leninist bombast.” Nevertheless, the Times “sympathetically” concludes, there is yet another “sense” now, one “that the Greeks [are] finally abandoning a romantic attachment to…left-wing radicalism.”

Welcome to the fun house, as Gore Vidal would say. It was certainly an eye-opener for me to learn from the Times that November 17 “was among” the “left-wing organizations that had battled the junta.” Wouldn’t you know it — poor, dumb fool that I was! — I’d always thought that the junta fell in July of 1974 and that November 17 first struck in December 1975, about a year and a half later! What was I thinking? But that’s why The New York Times is America’s newspaper of record.

But seriously, folks, this is precisely the kind of “analysis” — and editorial commentary (ostensibly from America’s most “enlightened” newspaper) — that sets the rest of the world to ferocious gnashing of teeth. The current prime minister of Greece was actually a member of one of those “left-wing organizations that had battled the junta.” The father of the current foreign minister headed another one. As it turned out (not at all coincidentally), those two left-wing groups merged when the junta fell and formed a legal political party, PASOK, which contested every subsequent election, and was finally voted into power over two decades ago — and has basically been in power, with the exception of a couple of brief interruptions, ever since. “Romantic attachment to…left-wing radicalism”? Not quite. At least, no more so than that of Swedes or Danes to their respective social democratic parties.

As for that tiresome (and incoherent) canard, “Marxist-Leninist bombast,” is there anything left to say that has not been said already (a zillion times)? I’ll give it one last shot (yet again). As a self-confessed Marxist (and Freudian and Darwinian) of 30 years, I actually still read Marx (with great benefit to my understanding of the world). He is often difficult, obtuse, abstruse, maddeningly opaque, arrogant, unkind, and — most of all — wrong, but he is never bombastic. As an equally self-confessed anti-Leninist of about 29 years (it took me a few months to figure it out), I admit that I haven’t picked up The Collected Works in a dog’s age, but I do remember that while Lenin could be cynical, ruthless, unforgiving, one-dimensional, and — as they say in American business nowadays — focused, he, too, was never bombastic (certainly not the way they are in…American business). Has anybody on the Times editorial board actually read Marx or Lenin? Does anybody there know what “bombast” means?

In any case, the problem with November 17 was not its bombast, “Marxist-Leninist” or otherwise, it was its incoherence, paranoia, conspicuous contempt for democracy and constitutional procedure, and, worst of all, manifest — indeed grotesque — disconnection with “actually existing” Greece, let alone the actually existing Greek left. Greeks might or might not be romantic, but they’re not lunatics. What was scariest about November 17 was its clear sociopathology. The group had nothing to do with “romanticism” and everything to do with social schizophrenia.

The Times knows that its “sense” of things might be problematic, of course, so, before embarking on its excursus through “Marxist-Leninist bombast” and “romantic…radicalism,” it concedes that there’s “no shortage of theories, ranging from corruption to incompetence,” to explain the Greek government’s dizzying ineptitude in penetrating November 17 for almost 30 years. Talk about the dog that did not bark in the night. Elementary, my dear Watson: If the police are incapable of apprehending a criminal gang for three decades, is it the gang or the police?

To speak about police — and security services in general — in modern Greek history is, of course, to open up a frightful Pandora’s Box. I will not go there, to use contemporary phraseology. Suffice it to say that while past official corruption has not yet been proven, it still can be. More to the point, the record of the Greek police’s incompetence in regard to November 17 has already entered the annals of criminological legend. Even more to the point, there is a reason for that — and here I respectfully return to ghosts, if not exactly those of the Times, appropriately ghoulish ones nonetheless.

I suspect that the Times knows — although it doesn’t say so in its editorial — that the primary, determinant and institutional, reason that the Greek police was so incompetent until relatively recently was that, until the fall of the dictatorship and, even more so, the election of the aforementioned PASOK, most of its officers had been trained to hound and persecute political opponents (read: the romantic, anti-American, Marxist, Leninist, Trotskyist, anarchist, semi-/demi-/hemi-, quasi-, or none-of-the-above left) rather than solve crimes. More specifically, the notion of “crime” was hardly distinguishable from the notion of dissent; ipso facto, “solving” a crime was, more often than not, a simple matter of willful violation of the rights of Greek citizens, or physical abuse and even torture. In fact, until the junta fell in 1974, the “organs of order” were usually identified in the Greek mind with criminality rather than in opposition to it.

As Greece was, essentially, a protectorate of the United States until 1974, if the Greek cop on the beat was hardly a paragon of professional and civic virtue, well, cujus regio, ejus religio, as they used to say (translation: Speak to the Boss!). Ghosts, indeed. You have to be a spiritualist to tell the Greek apparitions from dem demons wid American accents. The Times was right about one thing, however: there is a specter haunting Greek history still — but it is not the left. It is called the United States of America. In the event, the US has some serious ghostbusting of its own to do, from Suda Bay to Tierra del Fuego.

Peter Pappas is co-founder of
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