Arlington National Cemetery Website. http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/rwelch.htm, accessed October 3, 2006.
Chapter 8. 1974–2007: After History
On June 29, 2002, coming back from dinner around 1:20 a.m., my husband and I were stopped at a traffic light on the main thoroughfare that connects the port of Piraeus to downtown Athens. At this hour, in the middle of the week, Athenian roads are almost deserted, even in the middle of the summer. As if from nowhere emerged an impressive apparition: three police cars followed by an ambulance followed by three more police cars, flanked by four police motorcycles, all with their sirens and surveillance lights on. We knew immediately that a major event had taken place, but the only event that we thought could explain such a display of care would be an accident to the prime minister or the president of the republic. We turned the radio on. Breaking news was already being broadcast: an explosion had taken place at the port, and a person had been seriously injured, apparently the detonator of the bomb. “It all points toward November 17,” the announcer announced. This organization, 17N, falls somewhere between the Weather Underground (WU) and the Red Army Faction (RAF) or the Brigate Rosse in that it engaged in bombings of public and government buildings, like the WU, and in assassinations, like the RAF or the Brigate Rosse, but it did not engage in kidnappings. The two of us, secure in our knowledge of the ineptitude of the Greek police, shrugged off the claim with a laugh. “Yeah, right,” we said. “As if it's that easy to capture 17N” .
Of course, we could not have been more wrong. This was, indeed, 17N. Savvas Xeros and Dimitris Koufondinas, two of the main operatives of the organization, were at the port. Koufondinas served as the lookout while Xeros, attempting to place a bomb at the ticket counter of one of the shipping companies, apparently pushed the detonator a bit more forcefully than he should have. Later it was all blamed on the fact that the person who had procured the timing device, an alarm clock, was a new recruit to the ranks of the organization. Unaware of the importance of such things, instead of purchasing a sturdy, German-made metallic clock, he had bought a cheap plastic one made in China. So much for globalization and its discontents. The bomb exploded in Xeros's hands, severing completely four of the five fingers on his right hand and leaving him almost deaf and blind, with severe wounds all over his body. Koufondinas immediately called an ambulance, and he left the scene when he was certain that Xeros was being taken to the hospital. What we witnessed that night on Syngrou Avenue was Xeros's transfer from the regional hospital at Piraeus to the main trauma center in downtown Athens, less than two hours after the explosion had happened.
During the following two months, we also witnessed, to our surprise, the rapid dismantling of the Revolutionary Organization 17 November. Koufondinas was not captured by the police until he turned himself in at the end of the summer, claiming responsibility for the actions of the organization in order to continue fighting for the recognition of 17N as a political and not a criminal organization, on the one hand, and an urban guerrilla and not terrorist organization, on the other. The two categories were not drawn by chance. The former addressed the efforts of the liberal state to refuse to accept the political and ideological parameters that 17N had articulated for itself, as had been the state's usual practice since the introduction of the Idiônymon. The latter addressed the efforts of the parliamentary Left to deny 17N any legitimate claim to be part of the Left, and thus to claim a common kinship with the history that has made the Left both a possible and a legitimate participant in the post–Second World War political spectrum in Greece.
One of the key issues in this gesture of classification, both by the state and the calcified Left, was, of course, the fact that the Left, legal and forgotten, had finally managed to pass the dangerousness of its existence on to a different self. What were the political issues at stake in differentiating among the various forms that violence takes? Terrorism, urban guerrilla warfare, armed citizen self-defense, armed national liberation movements, political liberation movements, partisan armed struggle, and, more recently, the antiglobalization movement (and especially Black Bloc) are all now semantically collapsed into “terrorism” when their tactics, objectives, political mandates, and relationship to the state, and to often-competing political ideologies, demand the preservation of their differences.
Of course, the latest such gesture by the liberal U.S. state is the recent morphing of the Iraqi insurgents into something that hasn't acquired its own nomenclature yet. “I hesitate to call them 'insurgents,' ” Donald Rumsfeld announced at a news conference. “They are against a legitimate government.” When Peter Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the U.S. military was “taking cities from the—I have to use the word 'insurgents' because I can't think of a better word right now,” Rumsfeld cut him off in mid-sentence, saying: “Enemies of the legitimate Iraqi government—how's that?” George W. Bush went even further the next day, creating three new categorical classifications: Saddamists, rejectionists, and terrorists (William Safire, “On Language,” The New York Times Magazine, January 15, 2006, p. 16).
The issue of terrorism has become common with reference to radical political action both outside and within the United States. In regard to Greece, especially as the Olympic Games of 2004 were approaching, terrorism became the primary concern of the U.S. government, which sought nominally to protect its athletic delegations but in essence to promote and protect its financial and corporate interests. Of the urban guerrilla groups operating in Europe, none has created more consternation for the U.S. State Department than 17N, not only because it has assassinated a number of American citizens and dignitaries but also because in 2002 it was still the longest-existing urban guerrilla organization in Europe. It was on account of 17N's actions, specifically the assassination in 1975 of Richard Welch, chief of the CIA station in Athens and “a brilliant Harvard-educated classicist” (according to the Arlington National Cemetery Web site), that the U.S. government criminalized the public disclosure of the names of covert CIA agents . If the assassination of Richard Welch inaugurated 17N as an urban guerrilla group, the assassination of British military attaché Brig. Stephen Saunders on June 9, 2000, sealed its demise. British intelligence landed in Greece for the first time since 1947 and joined forces with the U.S. security units already in place, demanding the apprehension of the group and its swift bringing to justice. The symbolism could not have been clearer. Once again, the British and the Americans were taking over from a Greek liberal government in policing the political landscape, again with the total acquiescence of that government. Only things were a bit different this time around: 17N was a marginal political group trying to be the conscience of a country that had lost its political edge. And 17N had only marginal public support.
The dismantling of 17N has reopened a public discussion in Greece regarding a slew of old, controversial questions: the relationship of this group to the traditional Left; the relationship of the traditional Left to armed struggle, self-defense, and terrorism; the relationship of political and social memory, as experienced by the members of 17N, to their affiliation with the Left. The relationship 17N claimed with the historical past of the Left in Greece can help us to understand how the translation of history and historical experience into violent political action takes place.
The experience of the civil war has often been credited as the location in which the ideologies that animated the actions of 17N developed. The effects of such an experience are felt and lived for generations, and it is to them that 17N spoke. The thread that 17N spun between its actions, the legacy of the Nazi occupation and its collaborators, the Resistance movement, the civil war, and the Greek junta can be translated into other, homologous narratives, located in other histories, that have animated armed or otherwise violent action in the context of what we have come to accept as liberal democracies.
But these connections are not made only by 17N. At the height of the first trial of 17N, when testimony was being heard about the assassination of Pavlos Bakoyiannis—the son-in-law of the leader of the Right-wing party New Democracy and a politician in his own right, who had been trying to bring about a rapprochement between the Right and the Left—I was discussing the case with my parents in the presence of some old family friends. As I was complaining about the travesty of justice during the trial, my father, mistaking my consternation over the juridical process for support for the members of the organization, lashed out in a manner that I had not seen him use in over twenty years.
“Why did they kill Bakoyiannis?” he asked.
I said I did not know; I only knew what they had said about this particular case in their circular at the time, something that was theoretically and conceptually nebulous enough not to give a recognizable reason.
“They are no different from OPLA,” my father continued. “Why did OPLA kill Maratos in '44?” he asked.
Again, I said that I had no idea why OPLA had killed Maratos. To me, Iason Maratos was just a name on a street sign on the way to my English class. I had wondered about it, but had never asked anyone. I always assumed that it had to do with the Maratos house standing at the end of the street. I promised my father that I would check in the Archives of Social History (the ASKI) to see if anything appeared there.
My father was dismissive. “You won't find anything anywhere,” he said. “They came and picked him up and killed him, and that's how our leventes [“brave lad,” used here sarcastically] ended up in Averof.”
This was the first time that I heard how my uncle Stéphanos had ended up on death row. I asked what the connection was.
“He was one of those who picked up Maratos,” my father said, “and they tried him, sent him to Averof, but his father paid one hundred and thirty gold pounds to commute the sentence to life, and that's how he ended up in Yáros.” This, now, made sense. He was sent to Yáros because he was too young for military service but was a convicted murderer and member of OPLA and the Party. I asked how he left Yáros, only to be told that his class was called to military service. He was transferred to Makrónisos, and from there to Grammos. The part that only those who had signed dēlôseis could be sent to Grammos was left out of this narrative.
I tried to find out anything I could about the Maratos case, to no avail. Several months later, around Christmas 2003, I saw an announcement in the newspaper for a book called Ho Kokkinos Stavros (The Red Cross), written by Georges Maratos. I looked for it, but it did not come out for a few more months. I tried to find Maratos himself in the meantime, although I was not really sure what I could tell him in the event that I found him. As soon as the book came out, I read it in one sitting. My uncle Stéphanos's name was nowhere to be found, but the name of my other uncle, the later chief of police, appeared prominently in the book; it was he who had found the OPLA executioners and had brought young Georges Maratos to the police station, first to identify the body of his father and then to identify the main executioner. At least now I had something to go by. I called my uncle and asked about Stéphanos.
“I am not sure that he was part of that operation,” he said to me. “But be careful. Scripta manet.”
I asked my father about it. He shrugged, saying, “What are you trying to do, now? Leave it alone. The fact is that they are both dead now, just like Bakoyiannis.”
These narrativized connections constitute nodal points around which the memory of corporeal and psychological trauma organizes the articulation of historical experience and thus a conceptual platform for understanding violence against the state. If 17N produced a narrative genealogy of affinities with the revolutionary and emancipatory gestures of contemporary Greek history, this gesture did not go unnoticed by its critics, again with a twist. This twist recognizes the dialectical texture of revolution, the fact that, for every enlightening, emancipatory, and democratic gesture that it makes, there is another one, dark, oppressive, and murderous. The trial of 17N started in spring 2004 and brought to the fore the deep uneasiness in Greece about political violence.
“We didn't need this,” an older friend, Popi, said about 17N. “Imagine, we have been in turmoil all our lives, it's enough.”
“Did people feel safe or unsafe with 17N around?” I asked.
Another friend, Evi, responded to that. “When they were caught, I was talking with a neighbor here. I said that, finally, they had been caught, and she said to me that she never felt unsafe with 17N around. Imagine that!”
I could very well imagine that, because I had never felt unsafe with 17N around, and I said so. I said that I never felt that I would be harmed in any way. “Even after the Axarlian case?” Evi challenged.
Thanos Axarlian was a twenty-year-old man, the only untargeted victim of 17N, who was killed by rocket shrapnel when 17N tried, unsuccessfully, to assassinate the minister of finance in a busy downtown street in 1992. The truth is that even after the Axarlian case I did not feel particularly unsafe. I live in New York City, after all, and in 1992 New York City was not exactly peaceful, either. It seems that Evi's position, though, was not very prevalent, especially among Athenians. Some of them even felt an affinity with 17N's pursuit of reckless industrialists, torturers who had escaped justice, and irresponsible newspapermen with deep connections to the political establishment and the capitalist structure of the country.
Things changed, however, when 17N started targeting people whose political significance was not easily apparent or, even more disturbingly, the choice of whom belied a significant turn toward nationalism and isolationism in 17N ideology. One of those people was Bakoyiannis. This particular case created the greatest consternation, as no one could quite understand the importance that 17N placed on the possibility of such a rapprochement.
During the trial in 2004—a trial that, by all accounts, was a parody of justice, reminiscent of the trials of the Left during the 1950s, I was invited to dinner at the house of some old friends of my parents. Other people were there, too, some of whom I had not seen in many years, some of whom I did not know, and some long-time neighbors who had known the family for generations. The discussion inevitably turned to the trial, as we were watching interviews with Xeros's parents. One of those old friends, Anastasia, talked back to the television, addressing the father of Xeros, an old priest. “Yeah, and what happened to all the money that you made, and the villas that you built, you goat-priest [tragópapa],” she said.
During the trial of 17N, when asked what could possibly count as political motives for the actions of the organization, one of the witnesses for the defense, Giorgos Karabeliás, a book publisher in his late sixties, turned to the public prosecutor and asked: “Do you see how thick my glasses are and that I am almost blind? Do you know why I have almost lost my eyesight?”
“Because you are poor and you can't afford a good ophthalmologist,” the prosecutor replied.
“No,” he said, “it's because when I was born the obstetrician made a mistake that almost cost me my eyesight. But no one prosecuted him, and he knew that he wouldn't be prosecuted. So he went on delivering more children, without any fear or concern that someone might actually demand justice.”
In this short exchange, what is being debated is not the eyesight of the publisher but rather conditions of social injustice and corruption that existed in Greece more than sixty years ago and that, in the eyes of the witness (so to speak), made resistance to the state not only legitimate but morally imperative.
The liberal Enlightenment state, having abandoned the mandate on which it was formed—namely, universal education, health care, liberty, and justice (we won't even touch upon the proverbial “pursuit of happiness”)—needs to justify its continued existence at the level of protecting its citizens from “danger.” Sometimes this danger is construed as external, other times as internal, yet other times as both.
What are the parameters that make a state categorize a portion of its citizens as “dangerous and suspicious,” and what are the long-term effects of this categorization in the ways that a specific society comes to understand itself as a cultural and political entity? An examination of the role of history in the organization of everyday lived experience will point us toward a possible response to this question and will help us to elucidate the intimate but nebulous relationship between political action, political ideology, and social memory as they affect the everyday lives of citizens. Through such an examination, we can understand schematically the ways in which the experience of history, even when seemingly forgotten, organizes the ways people respond to their current lived realities, as these register “on their very bodies,” as the example of the publisher Karabeliás shows. Thus, it also means to recognize and acknowledge the modes in which the experience of the body becomes translated into the experience of history through the collectivization of the memory of persecution (of going underground, of torture, of exile).
Medical metaphors have been in use since the 1930s to convey the notion that political dissidence is a (social) disease and political dissidents are infected with it, so that the intervention of a physician (a noninfected politician) capable of curing the disease becomes imperative. They were extensively employed during the civil war and the dictatorship (when the whole country was deemed in dire need of being placed in a cast). Even recently, ex–prime minister Kostas Simitis declared that the country was ill and that he was the physician willing to provide a cure. All this, of course, presupposes and demands that citizens will entrust themselves to their state as one trusts one's physician. This provides us with a wider dimension for understanding the management of what Poulantzas has called “antinational” elements: the intimate relationship between political and medical discourses, whereby medical metaphors legitimate political intervention by the state under the premise of safeguarding the political body from elements that are foreign and extraneous to it and dangerous for its existence.
What is the role of violence in this? To remember Huey P. Newton, “existence is violent,” so even the mere presence of citizens can be extrapolated into a violent act. But before we start addressing the question of violence, it might be instructive to think about the various discourses of “peaceful resistance.” Martin Luther King and Gandhi come to mind, of course, although the pacifism of both has been questioned, and, as Sally Bermanzohn et al. (2002) have shown, it has colonized Martin Luther King's image, whitewashing (so to speak) his more activist and violent past.
2002. Violence and Politics: Globalization's Paradox., ed. Sally Avery Bermanzohn, and Mark Ungar, and Kenton Worcester London: Routledge.
The case of 17N makes painfully apparent the deep anthropological aporia of disclosure, since it brings to the level of consciousness of the ethnographer (but also into the sphere of conscience, hence that of deontology and ethics) the fundamental epistemological difficulty of our discipline: To disclose or not? To tell or not? And if to tell, to tell what? Sherry Ortner, writing on the difficulties encountered by ethnographers working on resistance, warns against a number of pitfalls that need to be avoided in resistance studies, one being “sanitizing politics” rather than preserving the danger that politics poses (1995: 177), another being “thinning culture” rather than thickening description (181). These warnings aim to further problematize an area of ethnographic research that is already heavy with its own moral and ethical aporias.
Edward Said, in his thoughtful interrogation of anthropology as a discipline, opens this painful sore when he brings to our attention the tensions present in Richard Price's and James Scott's work on ritual in secret societies and peasant strategies of resistance, respectively. Price reflects thoroughly and genuinely on whether to publish details of secret ceremonies entrusted to him, and Scott discusses “foot-dragging” by peasants as a strategy of resistance to authority. Said comments appreciatively on the wrenching questions articulated by Price and Scott concerning “publication of information that gains its symbolic power in part by being secret” (Price quoted in Said 2000 : 310) or reading peasant comportment of “footdragging, lateness, unpredictability, non-communication” (Said about Scott, ibid.: 310) as passive resistance to the authority of a distant and demanding state. He identifies it as a political problem, which positions the anthropologist in front of the “theoretical paradoxes and aporias faced by anthropology” (ibid.).
I have wrestled over what to do with nonpublic information about 17N and have decided to address only what is publicly known and transmitted by and about the organization. For an account of the organization (prior to its dismantling) see Kassimeris 2001; see also the published communiqués by the organization in Anonymous 2002. For a view of 17N that reproduces the arguments made by the Greek state, the U.S. State Department, and Scotland Yard, see Papachelas and Telloglou 2002; for a critique of Papahelas and Telloglou, see Grivas 2003. See also Anonymous (n.d.b) for an attempt to show that Alexandros Yiotopoulos was not the leader of 17N and that his trial was predetermined and politically expedient, in an effort to effect his release.
“Plamegate” probably would not have happened without this initial assassination by 17N. Plamegate was one of the many political scandals of the George W. Bush administration. Members of Bush's close circle (by all accounts Vice President Dick Cheney) disclosed the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame in retribution for Plame's husband, Richard Wilson, having exposed the administration's lies regarding the acquisition of yellowcake by Iraq from Nigeria to produce nuclear and chemical weapons.
The established opinion is that disclosing names of CIA agents was criminalized in the wake of the Welch assassination, given the publication of names of CIA agents in Agee 1975. This position has been claimed by the legal expert Floyd Abrams during an event at Columbia University. Abrams (or George H. W. Bush, for that matter) does not refer to Agee's 1975 book, which does not mention Welch's name at all, but rather to a list of names of CIA agents that Agee published in 1975, in an issue of the magazine that he had founded, CounterSpy. This did include Welch's name but had him still stationed in Peru (where he was stationed before his transfer to Athens). In his 1987 On the Run (132), Agee notes that Welch's name had already been published in 1968 in an East German book by Julius Mader, under the title Who Is Who in the CIA, and that it was published again in November 1975 in the Athens Anglophone daily Athens News. Agee further mentions that Welch's cover had been exposed a number of times before the CounterSpy article “by Mader in 1968, [the] Peruvians in 1974, and CounterSpy and the Athens News in '75—and who knows how many other times in between” (1975: 133), so that its inclusion in CounterSpy was not the first disclosure. On a certain level, all this discussion about the publication of Welch's name concerns only the CIA and the U.S. Intelligence Identities Protection Act introduced by then CIA Chief George H. W. Bush and passed into law. It has very little to do though with the Welch assassination.
A close look at the transcripts of the 17N trial shows that 17N itself stated very clearly that they never knew of (let alone looked at) CounterSpy or the Athens News. What 17N has said is that they followed their targets around and established their identity. The identity of Richard Welch was widely known in Greece in 1975 and did not require any special research, all the more so since the CIA used the same house as the CIA station chief's residence (Agee 1987: 133). What might not have been known in Greece at the time is that Welch had been stationed in Greece before, in 1951, before being transferred to Cyprus from 1960 to 1964, Guatemala from 1966 to 1967, Guyana from 1967 to 1969, and Peru from 1972 to 1973.
Stephen Saunders was assassinated on the assumption that he was responsible for coordinating NATO attacks on Kosovo, an allegation that has been denied by Great Britain but sustained by 17N in subsequent communiqués. Saunders's assassination took place the day before a UN Security Council meeting that was to mark the end of the first year of the UN action in Kosovo.
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This becomes clear not only in the speeches delivered by Metaxas but also later, during the period when the camps were in full operation, in the speeches delivered by the military commanders of the camps and the politicians who supported them.
Gandhi, for instance, had requested that the Indians in South Africa be allowed to enlist and fight on the side of the British during the Boer War, a request that was summarily dismissed by the British.