Interview on the Greek riots
|12 Dec 2008|
The following text derives from an interview of the author with the Journalist Tomasz Pompowsk, Opinion Deputy Editor of "POLSKA The Times", regarding the recent riots in Greece.
Could you analyze important aspects of present street battles in Athens?
1) The street battles are the worst Athens has ever experienced, although it is a city with rather frequent clashes with the police.
Important characteristics include the rapid mobilization of the rioters. For example they were out in the streets destroying property in just 20-25 minutes after the death of the young person was announced. It happened in 21.03, it was first announced in a website around 21:30 and the riots were already swinging at 22:00. I have served in the Navy but I don't think armed forces are that quick in mobilizing their personnel!
Over the coming days, the rioters that numbered between 1,500-2,000 people (30% of those immigrants-mostly Muslim), were able to move from one part of the city to another in a quick way using a variety of methods, such as public transportation in small groups, motorcycles or even riding taxis alone and gathering in a specific "meeting place".
Lastly, the used extensively the internet, mobile phones and instant messaging services to alert against police and gather information of what the media were transmitting. In a few words they were trained in a fashion that distinct them from the usual "Athenian rioters". They seemed to have international experience and plenty of hideouts within the city centre.
2) I think it was a mixture of social disappointment, aftershocks of the global economic crisis coupled with foreign involvement and Greek tradition in extrovert activities such as taking out in the streets for a number of reasons! For the moment although it is a bit early to tell, I think that foreign involvement played a big part in making these riots last long and create big damages.
Do you know how they started?
3) During the first two days, the street fighting was intense, although the police had orders not to use violence in order to calm things down. The rioters had plenty of molotov bombs, heavy sticks, stones and other heavy equipment and were targeting specific items in the city: Shops and cars. Public buildings were not hurt especially due to police protection and that shows that the rioters were very much concerned of not get caught and "become heroes". They were more interested in creating damage, rather than attacking a public building to present a political message but having also the risk of being arrested. The last two days the police took more action against them and they disappeared. This is a typical urban guerrilla way of fighting; avoid confrontation and strike when least expected, always in a very fast mode. There was looting involved but it was not done by the rioters but by other elements that exploited the situation. Therefore the rioters were not seeking immediate financial gains, nor did they want to make a political pronouncement. Their aim was to inspire fear.
How would you describe those street fighting?
Do we have any reason to say about foreign involvement in sustaining those street battles?
5) The rioters were trained, disciplined and in a fighting mood for 3 days; and another 2 days with less stamina though. This is not a typical Greek group and I would say not typical of any country if one takes into account that the rioters were not replenishing their numbers but were the same people more or less for the whole period.
Secondly, after the riots broke out in Athens, almost simultaneously riots begun in all major Greek cities with the same style. Next day, almost 50 Greek cities were experiencing street battles and the following incident was reported were groups of people were moving from a city to city to start a riot for a few hours and then moving to the next one. Also in one city, named Kozani, groups of people that started the riots came from Athens, rented a hotel room and took the streets the next day. So we have people that are coordinated, able to control their "anger" and expose it with ferocity when needed. I would call them "urban guerrillas-mercenaries". There were reliable estimations by police circles over the past few months, that something is "happening" in the Greek radical scene and there are evidence that Greek NGO's collaborate with foreign ones by bringing volunteers in Greece from abroad, which in reality turn out to be radicals-anarchists. So a web of relations has been developed between Greek radicals and foreign ones. In that sense a provocation or the involvement of foreign intelligence apparatus it is not improbable judging by the recent European history.
6) My point of view is that Greece is the "weakest link" of the Eurozone, and I am not talking only from an economic point of view. It is Europe's gateway to the Middle East; its neighbour Turkey is a large country with explosive social problems and on its Northern borders it is accustomed into coexisting with the Balkan insecurity of Albania-Kosovo and so on. Therefore should Greece is destabilized it will create problem to Brussels that will loose contact with the all important East Mediterranean region and the Balkan politics will suffer a great deal of insecurity as well.
Moreover Greece is an ideal base for anyone wishing to enter EU for ill purposes. A strong Greek security system deters the flow of drugs, illegal immigration and terrorists into Europe. A destabilized Greece along with the already dysfunctional state of affairs in the Balkans will cause a number of security issues for the whole of Europe.
Who organized that fighting?
So we have a Pan-European network, which is to an extent under the surveillance of the European intelligence services. So my rough estimation is that no operation and preparation could have been implemented if some international officers were not involved.
Also if one adds the question "Cui bono?" in the long-term…the answer could perfectly be: The terrorist networks based already in the Middle East trying to find ways to establish firm roots in a Eurozone country. They have already managed to do so in Bosnia, Kosovo to an extent but Greece is a gateway to Brussels in all senses.
I have to note that many analysts here in Greece believe that the USA Intel. Services were involved due to the recent business deals the government made with Russia, China, Germany and France. I think this is not feasible, but it cannot be excluded that private intelligence firms based in USA could have offered consultation or information. Of course this is another facet of globalization and doesn't involve Washington with which Greece cooperates strongly in many important fields.
9) The weakest side was I think the disinformation and psychological warfare one. The Greek police do not have the ability to use such techniques and deter any "Opponent". It relies only in the traditional police operation methods and it is not capable of penetrating effectively the groups of the radicals. In a broader sense, Greece is gradually coming into terms with the changing global environment after 9/11 2001 which calls for agile and asymmetrical police forces to counteract against threats such as radical anarchism, Islamic terrorism and translational organized crime. Although a lot have been improved, the geopolitical placement of the country right beside the explosive Middle East-Turkey-North Africa and the Balkans will make the issue more and more pressing in the future.