The saga of Christodoulos Xiros, the convicted hitman of November 17, skipping out on family leave granted while serving six life sentences illustrates just how far Greece has to go to re-establish a viable political system.
For part of my career in the United States Government, I participated in the pursuit of November 17th, which we had labeled (wrongly) at the time as the “most effective terrorist organization in the world.” I have concluded we failed to catch them because we believed that November 17 was an efficient political terrorist group and not the criminal gang that we discovered once we caught them.
The founders of November 17, who began as intellectuals and elite academics, morphed into a lucrative criminal gang joining forces with ordinary criminals. We had accused then-premier Andreas Papandreou and PASOK of protecting them.
In fact, November 17 enjoyed a broader immunity granted by the corrosive effect of the PASOK ethos which corrupted the entire Greek political class, created the business oligarchs, corrupted youth, undermined a good educational system, turned journalists into paid hacks and destroyed the Greek law and order system. The last sin can claim credit for being the worst.
Prior to 1984, Greece had two highly effective police forces with overlapping jurisdictions: the Chorofilaki ( Gendarmerie) copied from France and the Astynomia Poleon, inspired by the City of London Police. Both enjoyed excellent reputations for efficiency and, despite the phantasmagoric leftist propaganda, had a higher regard for human rights than the LAPD, for one.
PASOK and Papandreou, and other politicians, decided to undermine law and order early in the game. The politicians, who regained power after the dictatorship fell in 1974, feared the Army too much so they took revenge on the police, which in fact had little role in the repression of the Colonels. Papandreou combined the two bodies, politicized their leadership and emasculated their authority.
Despite the best efforts of Greek politicians to undermine the police, we met many very good and dedicated Greek cops in our State Department counter-terrorism training programs. The Greek government tried to send us bums related to politicians. We weeded them out and, twisted arms and put conditions on candidates for training. The Greek government would then punish the good one, transferring them on return out of the counter-terrorism squad.
Greek narcotics cops on State Department training programs told us stories of catching Kolonaki society doctors in the act only to see them back in their clinics the following day, having been sprung by some member of parliament. Greek policemen knew that if they used their firearms, even in self-defense, the politicians would throw them under the bus.
The emasculation of the police force hit its low under the ostensibly “conservative” government of Kostas Karamanlis in 2008. His government preemptively blamed a cop for a shooting that provoked the worst riots in modern Greek history and then ordered the police to stand down and let thugs burn down half of Athens.
PASOK also undermined the Greek courts. The Papandreou government bankrupted and then nationalized major Greek industries currying favor with corrupt union leaders and milking them for the politicians. To cover up their illegal practices, PASOK packed the courts with sympathetic leftist judges.
As an unintended consequence, these same judges presided over the trials of accused terrorists. Leftist Greek journalists piled on, publishing the home addresses of judges and jurors trying accused terrorists. Some papers even published the names and pictures of family members of judges and jury members.
In the end, the November 17 murders became intolerable even to the politicians as they began to kill among the elite and not just from foreign diplomats and policemen. That, combined with the advent of the 2004 Olympics and massive European and American pressure, forced the reorganization and strengthening of the anti-terrorist police units finally bringing November 17 to justice.
The roundup of November 17’s leadership in 2002 also answered the question of whether November 17 could be called a criminal gang or a revolutionary terrorist organization. In the counter-terrorism world we had an adage that said: “Criminals facing interrogation will always deny their own guilt but betray their comrades; terrorists will take pride in their actions but never betray their comrades.”
Police arrested Christodoulos’ brother, Savas Xiros, after a bomb blew up prematurely. In return for a plea deal from a smart prosecutor, Savas sang his head off, betraying his brother and everyone else in the gang! An airtight case led to six consecutive life sentences for Christodoulos.
Last month we discovered that this hired murderer failed to return from his Christmas “vacation” awarded by a sympathetic judge over the objections of the police and prosecutors. Christodoulos’ lawyer had the gall to state that his client had “unfinished business.”
Repairing the broken law enforcement and judicial system should take the first priority. Economies function well only with a good system of law and order. The public must trust the police enforce order and investigate crimes and the courts to fairly and consistently adjudicate guild and punishment. Without that confidence, society and economy cannot prosper.
We should credit Golden Dawn’s rise primarily to the destruction of Greece’s once respected system of law and order and less to any strong anti-immigrant feelings among Greek voters.