A before and after shot of 20-year-old Nikolaos Romanos released to the media by Greek police.
About a week ago, a group of eight people armed with AK-47s attempted to rob a bank and a post office in the Greek town of Velventos. After being chased halfway across the northern Greek province of Macedonia and kidnapping a 27-year-old doctor along the way, four of them finally found themselves blockaded by police in a narrow street in the city of Veroia. This is where Nikolaos Romanos, aged 20, Andreas-Dimitris Bourzoukos, 24, Yiannis Michailidis, 25, and Dimitris Politis, 24, surrendered.
In a pair of statements that they later released from prison, the anarchists made it clear that their motives were not personal, but that they considered bank robberies to be part of their struggle against the state. It is also worth noting that while they were being pursued, they didn't use their weapons or harm their hostage. Which doesn't make them saints, obviously—they're bank-robbing anarchists armed with AK-47s—but the police ended up torturing them so badly that now NGOs like Amnesty and some sections of the Greek media are willing to hold them up as victims of foul play.
What's more, the pictures of the anarchists that the Greek police distributed to the press had been sloppily photoshopped in a hasty attempt to hide the obvious bruises and wounds on their faces.
The police have tried to deflect the outrage headed their way by saying that the anarchists sustained their injuries after violently resisting arrest. They also say that a police officer was hurt on that narrow street in Veroia, both claims which are contradicted by several testimonies about the peaceful surrender of the four robbers. (Maybe it's worth sparing a thought at this point for the hostage too, who, according to the imprisoned anarchists' latest statement, was also mistakenly beaten by police at the scene of the arrest.)
The Greek authorities have previously been accused of treating nonfacist political prisoners unfairly and having double standards. When it's immigrants, protesters, or striking workers, the state's disregard for human rights is astounding. Meanwhile, as fascist thugs kill immigrants in the streets, members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party get protection. No humiliating pictures of them looking sorry for themselves in police custody are ever released as tacit warnings to other fascists, and their trials seem, from the outside at least, to be fairly executed.
The aspect of the story that's most shocked the Greek public is the social profile of the four anarchists: All of them are 25 years old or younger, and they all hail from upper-middle-class families and have attended the country's finest private schools. But another thing they have in common is that they were all radicalized by the 2008 riots that followed the killing of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos by a policeman in Exarcheia. The youngest among them—the 20-year-old Nikolaos Romanos—was a close friend of Grigoropoulos and a witness to his murder.
For Greece's conservative mainstream, the four are the faces of a new generation of terrorists, the one succeeding the marginal left-wing guerrilla groups that fought the rule of the military dictatorship from 1974. In 2002 the main group among those, the Revolutionary Organisation 17 November—who assassinated 23 people in 103 attacks from 1975 to 1998—was captured, dealt with by the authorities, and the phenomenon was significantly reduced.
From an anarchist's point of view, these kids are revolutionaries, upholders of a long-standing European tradition that has championed freedom and humanitarian laws. With large parts of the Greek population living in poverty and the government adopting the far-right agenda, their cause takes on a romantic nature for some.
The December 2008 riots, and the tension that followed them, led to the resurgence of a certain kind of progressive urban guerrilla, one who borrows from the anarchists of the 70s and the 80s but is simultaneously a product of his own times. While the European anarchist of the mid-to-late 20th century was mostly of Marxist orientation, operating in complete secrecy with specific targets, the new wave of guerrilla operates in national networks within larger international networks, uses a range of methods, and doesn't solely target politicians—most of the time, it's property rather than people who are attacked (see the spate of firebombings of banks and police stations).
Typical among those groups is the Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei. So far, more than 30 young people have been accused of membership and arrested and jailed under Greek anti-terrorist laws. Police believe that two of the four young men arrested in Velventos belong to this group, which has its roots in Sergey Nyechayev's 19th century theories of nihilism and anarcho-individualism and whose autonomous cells have carried out over 200 terrorist acts since 2008.
Three of the parents of the alleged CFN members arrested at Velventos talked to me on the condition of anonymity, in an interview conducted together with Ef.Syn, a newly formed, cooperatively run Greek national newspaper. We met in a cafe in Syntagma Square, right next to the parliament building.
VICE: What are your thoughts on the charges leveled against your children?
Anonymous Parent #1: They followed their ideas with consistency, they moved to actions from words against the system. Despite the pain we're suffering, we're standing by their side.
Anonymous Parent #2: We've come to understand and absolve what they did, along with their ideas as a moral way of standing against a corrupt and rotten system. It's one we're also trying to change, but with different means, like voting.
If we cannot change things in the traditional manner, do you think your children's method is effective?
Anonymous Parent #1: We too try to understand that they only exercised what they call "practical resistance"—they're anarchists of action. They call them terrorists, but they see themselves as freedom fighters.
Anonymous Parent #3: They have felt what state violence means and they lost their faith to the justice system provided by the state.
What about the usage of guns?
Anonymous Parent #1: They never used them for anything other than to threaten their enemies. Even during the last robbery, they made sure that nobody was hurt.
Anonymous Parent #2: A lot has been said about their social status—that they're coming from middle-class families. He or she who is deprived is struggling for justice, but he or she who is not, is fighting for freedom. Our children grew up with the principles that they should show solidarity with the weaker parts of society.
In that context, is every act of violence in some way symbolic?
Anonymous Parent #2: Let's say it's an inflammatory speech, a fiery one. Every action was followed by a proclamation. Even when they engaged in something extreme like the bombing of a bank, they always warned people to stay away. The police were always late to react.
To be fair, the young anarchists of Greece have been warning the police that it would come to this for a while now—such as when they assumed responsibility for the bombing of the house of PASOK MP Mimis Androulakis, a proponent of Greece's traditional left wing, in 2009:
“It all started a few years ago, but peaked during the events of December 2008. People young in age—some still in high school—unintegrated and lacking a formal political project, disrespectful and violent because of the violence they saw in hypocrisy and loneliness, people who want everything and want it now, people who say 'no future' and look at every kind of axiom with contempt, people with contradictions, who—however—did something with these contradictions... firebombs in a protest... brochures on the street... arson through the night.”
One of the reasons the Greek police gave for photoshopping out the young anarchists' injuries was that they wanted the public to remember their faces. It doesn't seem likely that Greece will forget them in a hurry.
Follow Matthaios on Twitter: @tsimitakis
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Topics: Greece, anarchists, anarchy, Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei, arrests, left-wing terror, terrorism, police, interview, Torture, Photoshop, Dimitris Politis, Nikolaos Romanos, Andreas-Dimitris Bourzoukos, Yiannis Michailidis