Fighting Organized Crime and Terrorism for Security and Stability in the Balkans

By
Michalis Chrysochoidis

The following was excerpted from remarks made by the minister on September 7, 2000, at a Policy Forum in Washington organized by the Western Policy Center.

October 2000 - Often referred to as the Powder Keg of Europe, the Balkans were most dramatically affected by the fall of the Berlin Wall, and they continue to be dangerously volatile in their path to stability and security. Zealous nationalism, ethnic cleansing, and struggles for independence characterized the first encounters with the sudden new world order.
As Balkan governments began to get a semblance of order back into their societies, the threats rapidly began to change in nature. Organized crime began to appear in transnational prototypes: drug and weapons trafficking, illegal immigration, money laundering, contraband, and terrorist acts, to name a few.

These developments highlight a contemporary reality of our globalized world: simply said, security issues, and by extension stability, transcend national borders. They are clearly transnational concerns.

As a result of the unique position in which Greece finds itself, both as an Atlantic-European country and a Balkan state, its policies toward the region have been guided by three overriding objectives: promoting stability, security, and democracy. Moreover, Greek policies, as well as the collective European Union policies, should be inclusive rather than exclusive and should aspire to a comprehensive regional vision with regional goals.

Greek security is directly linked to the stability and security of the region as a whole. Thus, Greece has taken a number of initiatives within the European Union and through the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe. It has constructively participated in the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative (SECI). It has worked closely with its European Union partners, the United Nations, and the United States on all issues pertaining to rebuilding a strong Balkan peninsula, emphasizing the need to formulate policies that strengthen democratic institutions, further economic reconstruction, and promote social development. Necessary to long-term stability is the need to maintain the territorial integrity and the respect for the borders of the Balkan states.

Finally, the incentive of prospective EU membership should be made available to the governments and peoples of these states. This would strengthen the region's European orientation and offer the tools needed to build a region with rights and obligations. Greece serves as a role model in the region. It is in Greece's national interest, as it is also in the larger multinational interest, that a stable, multicultural, democratic, and prosperous European Balkans be achieved.

However, there are still looming dangers. Economic recession, deficient democratic institutions, and a sense of insecurity in the region have sown the seeds of crime. One of the most serious threats in the Balkan peninsula is instability that can be triggered by organized crime. In this sense, being part of the Balkans has not worked to Greece's advantage in that it has placed it in jeopardy of the spillover. Indeed, crime had increased dramatically. And, while Greece still boasted the lowest levels of crime within Europe and had been quite successful in resolving crimes, reforms and modernization within Greece's law enforcement infrastructure were necessary and prudent.

The reorganization of the Greek police force has strengthened the capacity and capability of its effectiveness. It has led to a significant reduction in overall crime, including large seizures of narcotics and weapons. Additionally, cooperation has been intensified with each of Greece's neighbors, as well as the larger international community. One of the most recent successes involved a five-nation sting operation, which led to the seizure of four tons of cocaine and the arrest of wanted drug dealers.

Greece is involved in a series of bilateral and trilateral meetings with states such as Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Italy, displaying collective political will and commitment to cooperate on issues of law and order. Efforts include education and training, and sharing know-how and technology.

Greece has been working closely with the Albanian government on various types of assistance. It provides logistical support and equipment ranging from armored transport vehicles and patrol cars to computers and bulletproof vests. It has also offered successful forms of training and shared know-how on matters such as investigating economic crimes, detonating explosives safely, and cracking down on police corruption.

All these endeavors, in their diversity, proved to be valuable, constructive, and beneficial. As a result, Greece has brought a more comprehensive proposal to the Stability Pact, involving the training of a combined Balkan police force. The proposal has been adopted and will be launched soon.

It is a top priority that the cancer of organized crime be contained and not be allowed to spread any further. Greece is discussing proposals with its regional neighbors and is also discussing initiatives with its European partners. There is nothing more imperative for regional security in southeastern Europe. Organized crime is one of the most destabilizing threats to the entire region, the impact of which will not stop at the outer borders of the Balkan states. It is an issue that must concern everyone.

A subject that is linked in many ways to organized crime is the matter of terrorism. It is certainly the highest priority not only of the Greek Ministry of Public Order, but also of the Greek government.

Many are familiar with the issue of terrorism in Greece, including the history of the terrorist group known as November 17 and its most recent victim, British Defense Attaché Brigadier Stephen Saunders. Many are also aware of the recent State Department report on terrorism and the report mandated by Congress to the National Commission on Terrorism. In both reports, Greece was very negatively depicted. The reports were unduly harsh. In many ways, they were exaggerations. One cannot say that there is no "terrorism problem" in Greece or that the problem that exists is not serious, but I ask that you hear me out on this subject.

Twenty-five years ago, a year after the fall of the military dictatorship in Greece, November 17 made its first appearance with the assassination of Richard Welch of the United States Embassy. In the immediate post-junta period, the collective psychology of the Greek people was, on the one hand, that of fear, stemming from the numbness still felt from so many years of oppression and, on the other hand, that of anger toward an American government that colluded with and supported their tormentors.

As the collective psychology began to feel assured that democracy and the rule of law had returned, the once-bottled sense of resentment and suspicion felt toward the American government began to grow. During the years that followed, November 17 hit sporadically. Its targets were never arbitrary or massive. Innocent bystanders were not victims. The shock of each terrorist hit would die out as fast as it had struck. In this sense, Greek governments during those years had never felt a real sense of urgency to effectively tackle the issue of terrorism. That state of mind does not exist today.

Greece, today, does not have a quantitative terrorist problem. Instead, the problems it faces are qualitative in nature. There are objective difficulties in penetrating and breaking a small, closed clandestine organization. It is even more difficult to do so when the organization does not engage in arbitrary, mass terrorist acts but, rather, seeks selective and specific targets. As such, in the past few years, Greek alarm and concern have grown.

The culminating effect of Brigadier Saunders' assassination was to create the full and conscious awareness in the Greek mind that terrorism was compromising Greek national interests and had seriously damaged the nation's external image. Moreover, the Greek people could not accept the human side of the Saunders family's grief and expressed their outrage at the murder. This has now been translated into action.

Public dialogue spontaneously continued for weeks after the murder, something that had been conspicuously missing in previous incidents and years. The print media had weeks of articles and editorials, and the mass media aired a number of talk shows on the issue. There was, and is, a visible difference. The Greek government and Greek society are intentionally keeping this dialogue alive with a public information campaign.

Furthermore, necessary and difficult decisions, including the following, have been made so that efforts to combat terrorism will be more effective:

Awards have been substantially increased to $4.2 million for any information that may lead to arrests or the dismantling of November 17.

Two confidential hotlines have been created for citizens wishing to remain anonymous while calling with information that could assist in investigations.

A comprehensive proposal for the effective handling of terrorism, based on a three-pronged strategy of law enforcement, investigations, and communication policy, is now being implemented.

The Ministry of Justice has prepared legislation to be presented in parliament in October harmonizing Greek laws with those of European countries. Changes include the right to try terrorists in a non-jury special high court, a witness protection program, and the creation of undercover police squads.

There have been major changes within the Ministry of Public Order's Counter-Terrorist Unit. One of the most important is the creation of an independent Intelligence Unit made up of 80 officers.

All of these measures will make a qualitative difference in Greece's counter-terrorism efforts. There is no longer any going back or falling between the cracks. Greece feels the urgency and sees the dangers. Greece is, and has been, the ultimate victim of terrorism, and it is determined to make all of the changes necessary to ensure an institutionalized infrastructure capable of combating terrorism effectively.

Introduction of Greek Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis at Policy Forum

By John Sitilides Executive Director, Western Policy Center

The following introductory remarks were made by Mr. Sitilides on September 7, 2000, at a Policy Forum in Washington organized by the Western Policy Center.

Minister Chrysochoidis is in Washington to sign a bilateral police cooperation memorandum with Attorney General Janet Reno at a Justice Department ceremony.

At the Western Policy Center, we believe this memorandum will provide the basis for enhanced U.S.-Greek cooperation and help secure the mutual security objectives of both countries. We also believe this visit affords Minister Chrysochoidis the opportunity to discuss his government's plans to combat domestic terrorism and promote a sound law enforcement framework in the Balkans.

Narcotics trafficking, gunrunning, money laundering, kidnapping women and children for prostitution, and organized racketeering are just some of the emerging criminal threats in the southern Balkans. Violent syndicates in Albania, Serbia, and Kosovo have been the most notorious to date. Left unchecked, this already powerful criminal class may constitute yet another threat to regional stabilization efforts, much like the ethnic conflicts and state-sponsored brutalities of the past decade.

That same threat is also directed at Greece. Criminals who can infiltrate Greece, which has porous borders with every European Union country, facilitate their access to more lucrative profit centers throughout Western Europe. As a result, Greece bears a singular burden of walling off its European allies and partners from this regional criminal menace.

Within its own borders, Greece is gradually recognizing the need to come to terms with a longstanding domestic security threat that is crippling its international image. The terrorist organization November 17, rooted in the anti-junta movement of the 1960s and 1970s, has murdered five American officials in the past 25 years. Its members have murdered at least another 18 individuals, including Greek business leaders and foreign diplomats, such as Britain's defense attaché this past June. Incredibly, not a single November 17 suspect has ever been apprehended for these murders during a quarter century of impunity.

Nonetheless, some in Greece feel that terrorism is not a serious issue but merely a foreign concoction. Fortunately for his country, Minister Chrysochoidis is a serious man on a serious mission. He has been tasked by his government to build an effective counter-terrorism program.

A look toward Greece's allies in Europe, where the people of Italy and Germany suffered at the hands of the Red Brigade and Baader Meinhof, is insightful. International cooperation was important. But it was the prioritized resources and commitments of the Italian and German governments to root out terrorism that ultimately put them on the road to victory over criminals who despise law and order, and disregard the value of life.

Now, Greece seems to be on the same road and, when it looks for assistance to combat terrorism, it will find willing partners in Europe and across the Atlantic. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou has already signed an agreement with Turkey to combine efforts against terrorism in southeastern Europe.

Scotland Yard is working shoulder-to-shoulder with the Greek police to find the killers of Brigadier Stephen Saunders. And cooperative efforts between the United States and Greece dating back to 1984 paved the way for this newest bilateral initiative. But, until there are arrests and convictions of terrorists, major U.S. companies will be reluctant to invest in Greece.

Such are the difficulties Greece encounters in enhancing its international image, especially in preparation for the 2004 Olympic games. The Olympics are the preeminent event of our globalized world, the focus of billions of television viewers worldwide, and a natural target for terrorists no matter the host country - as Americans learned in Atlanta and as Australians learned in Sydney.

Greece's proximity to major terrorist centers in the Middle East and north Africa, as well as to centers of emerging criminal enterprises in the Balkans, facilitates the ability of terrorists to plan attacks.

Minister Chrysochoidis' visit is a visible sign that the Greek government is committed to safeguarding its citizens, protecting diplomats assigned to Greece, stabilizing its dangerous neighborhood, and hosting an Olympiad in the true spirit of the Classical Greeks.

We trust that his visit to Washington will be fruitful and that the United States and Greece will continue on the path of cooperation and joint action against organized crime and terrorism for the sake of Greece, the Greek people, and all civilized nations. For, in the end, having a terrorism problem is not the issue; having an effective counter-terrorism program is. This is the task ahead for our speaker.
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Michalis Chrysochoidis was first elected to the Greek parliament in 1989, at the age of 34. He served as Deputy Minister of Commerce from 1994 to 1996 and as Deputy Minister of Development from 1996 to 1999. In February 1999, he was appointed Minister of Public Order with a principal assignment of dealing with growing criminal problems in Greece and the need to implement tougher counter-terrorism measures.
 

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant