Greece’s Modern History of Terrorism and Global Youth Unemployment

Modern Greece has a long history of underground political movements. The Filiki Eteria (Friendly Society) a secret organization in the early 19th century, acted as the catalysts for the successful Greek War of Independence in 1821 against the Ottoman Empire. They mustered support for Greek independence abroad and encouraged dissent across the Greek countryside. Sadly, the similarities between Greece’s modern underground politicians and Greek heroes Alexander Ypsilantis and Theodoros Kolokotronis end in that they both operated, at least initially, out of the public eye.
Ever since the 1970s there has been, with periodic lulls and eruptions, rather consistent domestic terrorism in Greece. The dominant perpetrators of this violence were the Marxist Revolutionaries, November 17 – named after the last day of a 1973 student protest against the Greek Military Junta. Beginning in 1975, with the assassination of the C.I.A.’s station chief Richard Welch, N17 went on to assassinate 23 people until they were put on trial and effectively disbanded after a botched bombing attempt in 2002. Their primary targets were Anglo-American, Turkish and Greek, and their final successful assassination target was British Defense Attaché Stephen Saunders in the summer of 2000, when I was finishing my 2nd grade at the American Community School in Athens. Despite the high profile of their targets and the tireless efforts of Greek and international authorities, November 17 was able to remain in operation for nearly 30 years, thanks to effective organization and strong leadership. They committed numerous atrocities and incited fear amongst Greeks and the international community in Greece’s two cities, Athens and Thessaloniki. But they always maintained a political stance: they were anti-Imperialist and anti-Capitalist Marxist revolutionaries. Though their actions were reprehensible, their targets were consistent with a prescribed ideology that was coherent.
After their dissolution in 2002, Greece enjoyed a period of relative domestic peace. This peace was occasionally interrupted by the actions of the Marxist Revolutionary Struggle (EA), most famous for their failed rocket attack on the US Embassy, but who never reached the same level of fear that existed at the height of N17’s reign. In 2008, largely due to the global financial crisis and Greece’s intricate role in it, political violence returned to its prominent role in Greek life. Large groups of unemployed, undereducated, angry youth flocked to a variety of rallying cries, one of which was the Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei (SPF). What the SPF lacks in its organization and structure it makes up for in its unpredictability. Unlike its Marxist predecessors the SPF is a militant anarchist organization, with strong nihilist ideology, and is almost exclusively comprised of youth, with little to no experienced leadership. After sporadic domestic attacks, SPF rose to international prominence on November 1, 2010 when they sent out 14 non-deadly incendiary bombs to the embassies of Mexico, Switzerland, Chile, Belgium, Bulgaria, Russia, Germany and France, the offices of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French PM Nicolas Sarkozy, Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, Europol, Eurojust and the European Court. Aside from the burnt fingers of an unsuspecting courier, SPF’s coordinated attack failed miserably, lacking any discernable ideological purpose and reflecting childish ineffectiveness. However, the unpredictability of the group makes it a curious prospect for law enforcement officials as their organization seems to be grounded in solidarity with anarchists around the world rather than any strict domestic hierarchy.
On January 17, nine members of the SPF underwent trial for their involvement in the November 1 plot. This may greatly hinder whatever progress SPF had made in the last two years but it will certainly not be the end of violent youth protest in Greece. In fact, as the Parisian riots and other such events have shown, impressionable youths turning to violence around the world may very well be a long lasting residuary effect of the global economic recession. As global youth unemployment reaches record highs and young people are sent into the workforce with skills they don’t have for jobs that don’t exist, one has to wonder how long it will be before SPF, and similar groups, are able to organize and coordinate a successful attack on a larger scale.

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