Introduction of Greek Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis
By John Sitilides, Executive Director
Mr. Minister, Ambassador Burns, Ambassador Philon, Ambassador Kozakou-Marcoullis, distinguished guests, colleagues, and ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the Western Policy Center, I would like to welcome you to today?s Policy Forum, featuring the Public Order Minister of the Hellenic Republic, Mr. Michalis Chrysochoidis. I would also like to thank my colleagues at the center for organizing today?s program.
Minister Chrysochoidis is in Washington to sign a bilateral police cooperation memorandum with Attorney General Janet Reno, at a Justice Department ceremony tomorrow morning. 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 twenty-five years. Its members have murdered at least another 17 individuals, including Greek citizens, Greek business leaders, and foreign diplomats, including Britain?s Defense Attach? 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 towards 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 Greece 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 U.S.-Greek cooperative efforts 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 are learning right now in Sydney. Greece?s geographic proximity to major terrorist centers in the Middle East and northern 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 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. 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, then 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.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce to you, the Minister of Public Order of the Hellenic Republic, Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis.
Remarks by Mr. Michalis Chrysochoidis, Minister of Public Order of the Hellenic Republic
Mr. Sitilides, thank you very much for your kind introduction. I, in turn, would like to thank you and the Western Policy Center for giving me this opportunity to speak to such a prominent audience on issues that are of concern to both sides of the Atlantic. I am aware of the very limited time that we have, and will try to keep my comments concise and to the point, in order to allow more time for our question and answer period.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Often referred to as the Powder Keg of Europe, the Balkans were the 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 abstract 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 rings and trafficking, illegal immigrants, money laundering, contraband, weapons, and terrorist acts only to name a few. These developments highlight a contemporary reality of our globalized world. Simply said, security issues, and by extension stability, transcends national borders. It is clearly a transnational concern.
As a result of the unique position Greece finds itself in, both as an Atlantic-European country but also a Balkan state, our policies towards the region have been guided by three overriding objectives: promoting stability, security and democracy. Moreover, we believe that our policies, as well as the collective EU policies, should be inclusive rather than exclusive, and 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. To these ends, Greece has taken a number of initiatives within the European Union as well as through the Stability Pact. We have constructively participated in the SECI program for southeastern Europe. We work closely with our EU partners, the United Nations, and our American allies on all issues pertaining to rebuilding a strong Balkan peninsula, emphasizing the need to formulate policies that strengthen democratic institutions, economic reconstruction, and promote social development. Necessary to long-term stability is the need to maintain the territorial integrity and respect for the borders of the Balkan states.
Finally, we believe that an incentive should be given to the governments and peoples of these states, and that is, the prospect of EU membership. By strengthening the region?s European orientation, we offer the tools needed to build a region with rights and obligations. Greece serves as a role model in the region. We are committed to the obligations this entails. It is in our national interest, as it is also in our common interest, that we achieve this stable, multicultural, democratic, and prosperous European Balkans.
With all this said and done, however, there are still looming dangers. Economic recession, deficient democratic institutions and a general sense of insecurity in the region have sown the seeds of crime, especially organized crime as I noted earlier. One of the most serious threats in the Balkan Peninsula at this time is instability that can be triggered by organized crime. In this sense, being a part of the Balkans has not worked to our advantage in that it has placed Greece in jeopardy of the spill over. Indeed, crime had increased. And while Greece still boasts the lowest levels of crime within all of Europe, and has been quite successful in resolving crimes, we still believed that reforms and modernization within our own infrastructure was necessary and prudent. .
We already have seen that the reorganization of the police force has strengthened the capacity and capability of our effectiveness. It has led to a significant reduction in overall crime, to include large seizures of narcotics as well as weapons.
Additionally, we have intensified our cooperation and joint efforts with each of our neighbors, as well as the larger international community. One of the most recent successes was that of a five-nation sting operation, which led to the seizure of four tons of cocaine and the arrest of wanted drug dealers.
We are involved with a series of bilateral and trilateral meetings with states such as Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Italy, displaying our collective political will and commitment to cooperate and collaborate on issues of law and order. Our efforts involve matters such as education and training, sharing know how and technology, only to mention a few. As a matter of fact, we have been closely working with the Albanian government on a very large range of types of assistance.
For example, we provide logistical support and equipment ranging from armored transport vehicles and patrol cars to computers and bulletproof vests. We have offered successful forms of training and shared know-how, in such matters as the techniques of how to investigate economic crimes or how to detonate explosions safely. A very important and satisfying training effort was one that addressed the issue of police corruption and methods on how to crackdown on it.
All these endeavors, in all their diversity, proved to be extremely valuable, constructive, and beneficial to all involved. So much so, that we brought a more comprehensive proposal to the Stability Pact. This Greek initiative, which will be the training of a combined Balkan police force, was adopted and will be launched soon.
It is a top priority that this cancer be contained so as not to be allowed to spread any further. We are discussing proposals with our regional neighbors, as we are also discussing initiatives with our European partners. There is nothing more imperative for our regional security; 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 us all.
At this point, I would like to turn to a subject matter that is linked in many ways to that of organized crime, and that certainly is the most highest priority of not only my ministry of public order, but also of the Greek government; the matter of terrorism.
Many of you are familiar with the issue of terrorism in my country. Some of you are even well read on the history of the terrorist group known as ?November 17? as well as its most recent victim British Defense Attach?, Brigadier Stephen Saunders. I also assume that you are aware of the recent State Department report on terrorism as well as the report mandated by Congress to the National Commission on Terrorism where in both reports Greece was very negatively depicted.
I don?t have to tell you that I believe that the reports were unduly harsh. Nor do I have to tell you that in many ways they were exaggerations. I will not tell you that there is no ?terrorism problem? in Greece or that the problem that exists is not serious. But I will ask that you hear me out in what I am going to say on this subject today.
Twenty-five years ago, a year after the fall of the military dictatorship, ?November 17? made its first appearance in the assassination of Richard Welch of the U.S. Embassy. Immediate post junta, 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, towards an American government that colluded 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. Through those following years, ?November 17? hit sporadically; their targets were never arbitrary or massive. Innocent by-standers 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 same 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 we face are qualitative in nature. By this I mean that there are objective difficulties in penetrating and breaking a small, closed clandestine organization. It is even more difficult to do so when this same organization does not engage in arbitrary, mass terrorist acts, but rather it uses selective and specific targets. As such, in the past few years our alarm and concern has grown. The culminating effect of Brigadier Stephen Saunders' assassination was to create the full awareness, a conscious awareness, in the Greek mind, that terrorism was compromising Greek national interests and 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 in the murder. How has all this translated into action?
Public dialogue spontaneously continued for weeks after the murder, something that had been conspicuously missing in previous incidents and years. The printed press had weeks of articles and editorials, and the mass media had numbers of talk shows on the issue. There was and is a visible difference. We are intentionally keeping this dialogue alive with a public information campaign.
Furthermore, necessary and difficult decisions have been made such that our efforts to combat terrorism will be more effective. Such decisions include:
The substantial increase of awards to $ 4,2 million for any information that may lead to arrests or dismantling of "November 17"
Second, we created two confidential hotlines for citizens wishing to remain anonymous, may call with information that could assist in our investigations.
Third, a comprehensive strategy proposal for the effective handling of terrorism was written based on a three-axle strategy: Law Enforcement, Investigations, and Communication policy. This policy is now being implemented.
Fourth, the Ministry of Justice has prepared a bill to be presented in Parliament next month reforming our laws so that they come closer to that of our European partners. Changes in this bill include the right to try terrorists in a non-jury special high court, a witness protection program, and the creation of undercover police squads.
Finally, there have been major changes within the Ministry of Public Order?s Counter-terrorist Unit, one of the most important ones being creation of an independent Intelligence Unit made up of 80 officers.
All these measures will make a qualitative difference in our counter-terrorist efforts. There is no going back or falling between the cracks anymore. We feel the urgency. We see the dangers. Greece is, and has been, the ultimate victim of terrorism. We are determined to make all the changes necessary to ensure an institutionalized infrastructure capable of combating terrorism effectively.
I have only presented a nutshell of the issues, and probably have surpassed the time limit I had. On the other hand, I hope that I have said enough to prompt any questions you may have that will allow me to elaborate more specifically.