Bruce Hoffman

Before You Pack . . .

When British Prime Minister Winston Churchill returned from an emergency visit to Greece in December 1944, he described politics in that country to the House of Commons thus:

The House must not suppose that in these foreign lands, matters are settled as they would be here in England . . . . If I had driven the Deputy Prime Minister out to die in the snow, if the Minister of Labour had kept the Foreign Secretary in exile for a great many years, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had shot at, and wounded, the Secretary of State for War . . . if we, who sit here together, had back-bitten and double-crossed each other while pretending to work together . . . . and had all set ideologies, slogans or labels in front of comprehension, comradeship and duty, we should certainly, to put at the mildest, have come to a General Election much sooner than is now likely.

Reading this quote in Brian Urquhart’s thoughtful review of Max Hastings’s new book, Winston’s War: Churchill, 1940-1945, in the current issue of the New York Review of Books, I wondered how Greece, beset by perhaps the worst economic crisis in its history, both was faring and whether or not anything had changed in the past sixty years? According to the British Sunday newspaper, The Observer, "Security forces fear wave of terror as austerity programe provokes strikes, protests, violence——and assassination,” the answers respectively appear to be not terribly well and no.

"Tourists should learn that Greece is no longer a safe haven of capitalism," a new terrorist group calling itself the Sect of Revolutionaries recently declared. It is hard to dimiss the threat when the group has already proven that it is deadly serious. On 19 July, members of the group gunned down investigative journalist, Sokratis Giolas, outside his Athenian homeand in front of his pregnant wife. "We intend to turn [Greece] into a war zone of revolutionary activity,” the group’s communiqué taking credit for the murder continued, “with arson, sabotage, violent demonstrations, bombings and assassinations, and not a country that is a destination for holidays and pleasure." Driving home the point, the group ominously boasted that "Our guns are full and they are ready to speakalongside a photograph of AK-47 assault rifles, semi-automatic pistols and an especially menacing looking pair of brass knuckles.

Greece of course has a long history of terrorism and attendant savagery. An estimated 158,000 persons were killed during the Greek civil war that followed World War II. The escalating fratricidal violence between royalists and communists prompted the United States in 1947 to declare the famous “Truman Doctrine,” promising aid to countries resisting communist expansion. Between 1975 and 2002 the Revolutionary Organization 17 November, one of Europe’s most enduring Marxist urban terrorist movements, murdered twenty-three persons, including the CIA station chief, Richard Welch; U.S. Navy defense attaché, Captain William Nordeen; and, U.S. Air Force Sergeant Ronald O. Stewart. November 17 was finally dismantled after it assassinated the British military attaché, Brigadier Stephen Saunders, in June 2000. Detectives from London’s Scotland Yard were dispatched to assist their Greek counterparts in the crime’s investigation and contributed significantly to the chain of events that resulted in the mass arrests that finally extinguished the group two years later.

A Greek security expert described his country as akin to a Petri dish of homegrown terrorism. “It’s very unpredictable and tourists should be vigilant,” he advised, predicting more unrestand violenceahead.