Greece: Political Prisoners Pt. 2 – Targeting of Anarchists & Autonomous Groups

Athens, Greece – While state repression in Greece is thousands of years old, modern Greek state repression has its roots in anti-communist and anti-anarchist policies from the 1920s, the World War II U.S.-imposed Marshall Plan, and a seven-year military dictatorship that ended in 1974. With the recent high-profile cases of political prisoners Tasos Theofilou and Irianna in Greece, Unicorn Riot is taking a deeper look into the repression that anarchists and anti-authoritarians have faced in Greece.

In part 2 of our feature on political prisoners in Greece, we continue hearing from Greek activist and writer Panagiotis Koustas, who joins us to discuss some important history on the targeting of anarchists, anti-authoritarians, and autonomous groups in Greece.

For more information on the targeting of Tasos and Irianna, read Political Prisoners Pt. 1 – Tasos Freed & Irianna Jailed (Τάσος & Ηριάννα) and Political Prisoners Pt. 3 – Criminalized by Association



In the 1920s and 30s, Greek authorities created policies and laws to repress political dissenters, who were mostly communists, anarchists, and union members. These laws put a lot of people in prison, allowed the use of torture, used exile (ektopismos) to prison camps on islands, and created political re-education programs. One of the root tools of repression was the 1871 Law Concerning Brigandage and the Prosecution of Their Relatives, which allowed for the death penalty of alleged ‘brigands’ and the exiling of their relatives. (Brigands are people who are part of organized groups of robbers in the forest or mountains)

In 1924, the 1871 law was reinvigorated when the Papanastasiou government created the Committees of Public Security to administer ektopismos (the exiling of individuals). The Pangalos dictatorship (1925-26) then amended the 1871 law to specify communist persecution. In 1929, two years after anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti were executed in the United States, famed liberal-democratic and Greek stateman Eleftherios Venizelos introduced Law 4229/1929, which is known as Idionymon (or “special illegal act”). The Idionymon paved the way for the expanded government targeting of a growing communist and anarchist movement in the 1930s.

Members of the Venizelos (center) government at the Parliament (Middle Three: Andreas Michalakopoulos, Eleftherios Venizelos, Themistoklis Sofoulis) – (1930) (Photo via OpenArchives)

As Neni Panourgiá said in her book, ‘Dangerous Citizens: The Greek Left and the Terror of the State‘, the Idionymondecreed that those ideas that have at their basis the violent overturn of the political system constitute a danger” and that this also applied to “nonviolent means, such as the development, dissemination, and application of theories and ideas“. The crime of having different theories and ideas and applying them to one’s life or political organizing was then punishable by imprisonment and/or exile.

When the fascist dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas took over Greece in 1936, the Special Security branch of the police was created to manage communists and the use of the Idionymon was normalized. Camps across the islands of Greece were built to house the ektopismos, exiled political prisoners.

Fascist dictator Ioannis Metaxas walks through soldiers giving the Roman Salute (‘Sig Heil’ in German) – (Photo via Metaxas Project)

These laws didn’t soley affect those on the margins of society; several of the creators, or backers, of the Idionymon were also affected. Andreas Michalakopolous, a longtime politician with the Liberal Party and short-time Prime Minister in 1924, was sent into exile by Metaxas, using the Idionymon, where he died in 1938. Some say he was tortured to death.

Bottom: Andreas Michalakopoulos and Theodoros Tourkovasilis – Middle: Ioannis Metaxas – (1928) (Photo via OpenArchives)

The camps were widely used in the years of dictatorship, civil war, and anti-communist fervor that was funded by the United States. In the 1940s and 1950s, Greece was ravaged by an Italian invasion, a Nazi occupation, a civil war in which monarchists fought communists, and the forced Marshall Plan through the Truman Doctrine (anti-Soviet/communist foreign policy created by U.S. President Harry Truman).

Tying the past into the present, anarcho-communist political prisoner Tasos Theofilou gets specific about the “political context insofar as it affects and explains” his own “persecution,” implicating the United States for introducing the policy package that intermixed the Ministry of Public Order and the Ministry of Justice to create Greece’s “Law and Order” doctrine. In a small excerpt from an extensive court plea found via independent Greek media, OmniaTV, Tasos says:

“My persecution has been part of a comprehensive effort of the domestic political personnel to introduce, implement and enforce the “Law and Order” doctrine over the past two and a half decades, but with a particular emphasis and intensified implementation during 2009-2015. It is a repressive doctrine, a doctrine that concerns both the Ministry of Public Order and the Ministry of Justice, promoting a relationship of interdependence among them and was introduced by the Greek governments as a policy package from the United States. Besides, the ever-poor and dependent Greek state is even obliged to import its domestic legislation from the US and since 1947 Greece has been practicing and implementing within its Truman Laws of Justice in the context of the anti-communist campaign and the attempt to justify the benevolent … The anti-crime rhetoric, exaggerated and disproportionate in relation to reality, was initiated at the beginning of the ’90s during a shift to the neoliberal model, carried through by the Mitsotakis and Simitis administrations. The law and order doctrine was enforced gradually. We had our first taste before the Olympic Games in Athens, when the first anti-terrorism law came into force, but a more intense, a more concrete effort to enforce this law followed the revolt of December 2008.” – Tasos Theofilou

Watch Thousands March for Political Prisoner Tasos Theofilou in Athens, Greece


The targeting and repression of ‘leftists’ by Greek authorities is not a surprising conclusion, given that the creators of the “National” Army, “National” Police, and Secret Services were Nazi collaborators. And “in today’s political scene in Greece there are Members of the Parliament [whose] families were linked [to] crimes during the Junta, the Civil War or the Nazi Occupation,” as Koustas says.

Greece has a very long tradition in framing anarchists with charges that are fictional, and most of the times very badly written charges by police officers that are horrible fiction writers … autonomous, or anarchist groups” have been clearly targeted by Greek state authorities since the fall of the military junta and reinstatement of democracy in Greece in 1974, and Tasos’s case is another clear example of this, says Koustas.

“Tasos declares himself as an anarchist/communist. And it is absolutely clear that he [Tasos] has been targeted for that identity for anyone who can read a simple legal document, like the charges’ sheet.” – Panagiotis Koustas

Tasos Theofilou smiles for the camera while being taken to court

Koustas spoke about the recent history of the State targeting autonomous groups and individuals, police crackdowns, and the use of the word “terrorist” to describe anarchists, anti-authoritarians, and others on the so-called ‘left’:

“Greece has a very long tradition in framing anarchists with charges that are fictional, and most of the times very badly written charges by police officers that are horrible fiction writers. That phenomenon starts right after the reinstatement of democracy in 1974. The Junta is gone, and there is a broader movement that fought against it, trying to express itself in the new situation. So, there are a lot of people that form autonomous or anarchist groups, mostly in or around the universities, that in that period are in the heart of the Greek cities.

Greek students during Polytechnic uprising of 1973

Of course, that radical approach is completely against the traditional political forces that rule the mainstream politics, even the Left ones. The establishment deals with these groups that define “normality” through police crackdowns or by promoting “safe” Left parties. That is one of the many reasons that the Greek Communist Party is no longer illegal in Greece as they were during that period. An illegal KKE (Greek Communist Party) would have been a great risk. The link with the radical groups needs to be broken quickly in order for the newly-elect Parliament to produce some stability in a troubled society.

There is something worth mentioning here, a sense of great injustice in the hearts of the Greek people that is very difficult to be understood outside Greece. After WWII and the Civil War, the State used the people that were collaborating with the Nazis to form the “National” Army, “National” Police and Secret Services. The same thing happened after the Junta, the State passed a law declaring that if you were a public servant that worked for the Junta, your crime was “momentarily” -although you were serving them for 7 years [1967-74]- and there will be no punishment. This law led to a handful of trials to the tip of the iceberg only, and there were people that had to prove their torture from specific military and police officers in order to get them to court. Even in today’s political scene in Greece there are Members of the Parliament that their families were linked in crimes during the Junta, the Civil War or the Nazi Occupation and they are not elected on the Golden Dawn ticket.

AMX 30 Tank sent by the government of the military junta into the gates of Athens Polytechnic University on November 17, 1973 (24 civilians were killed)

Anyway, all these years there is a constant flow of people targeted as “terrorists”, and they come from this radical space of far-leftish, autonomous, or anarchist groups. There is not a single day in all this period that the Greek prisons are political prisoners’ free, although the Greek state denies it. There is also a great political speculation on “terrorism” issues. The overall number of terrorism victims in Greece from 1974 to today is less than the Timothy McVeigh bombing in Oklahoma, Breivik’s attack in Norway, or sometimes single day tolls in Iraq or Somalia. But there is still a great deal of political influence on the issue and a lot of state money going to counter-terrorist actions as well. So, it’s not really a question if Syriza (+Anel) government is better or worse in this. As long as we don’t deal with the roots of the issue, the State will attack this “specific type of targeted people” to gain something out of it, i.e., political influence, money for the anti-terrorist police forces, personal glory for officers, you name it.

Trouble is that when you get these type of benefits from an “enemy group within the state” you have to invent it if it doesn’t exist to keep the business running. And after the “old terrorism” crackdown (meaning the arrests of the 17N members in 2002-04) there was a lack of “enemies of the society”. That’s why, right after Alexis Grigoropoulos’ murder in 2008, the riots that followed his execution and on the same night of his killing, a “great” Greek journalist “warned” from a major private TV station that “we are going to face a new wave and type of terrorism”. And guess what? He was proved right.” – Panagiotis Koustas

Alexis Grigoropoulos was 15 when killed by Greek policeman Epaminondas Korkoneas in Exarcheia, Athens on December 6, 2008 – riots rocked Greece for weeks afterwards (PDF)

In another excerpt from Tasos Theofilou, he talks about how the anarchist movement shapes “history and political reality, by being alive and active in every social and political struggle“:

“Since the restoration of democracy in 1974, the anarchist movement, despite its limited potential on account of the small number of participants, and despite the fact that it doesn’t possess and doesn’t want to hold any position of power, it nevertheless constitutes a factor in shaping history and political reality, by being alive and active in every social and political struggle. A political movement that actually draws its strength from the fairness of the struggle and the selflessness of its comrades. The relations of solidarity that give it that power, were relationships that the counter-terrorism unit sought to test by criminalizing even their friendly, personal, fellow and family dimension. Young, excluded, unemployed, students, workers take their lives in their hands and become politically organized.” – Tasos Theofilou


The cases of Tasos and Irianna both involved accusations of membership with Conspiracy of Cells of Fire (CCF) an urban guerilla anarchist / state-banned “terrorist group”. In closing out with Koustas, we asked him if he could elaborate on the support and viewpoint of the Greek citizens towards the CCF during its time of actions and right now and he expounded on that, the criminalization of young people, and the generation gap and the role the media plays in shaping the narrative:

“Well, it is a tough question but also a very good one. No one can claim that CCF has the kind of broader support 17N had for a lot of years. In Tasos case, there was a witness analyzing the big differences between anarcho-communism and the nihilistic approach CCF seems to promote, mostly through their texts. What is clear to me, but I can’t project my views to the Greek Society since my views are quite marginal, is that we talk about young people that faced the worst revenge a State can bring upon them. Not only with the continuous trials on the same offenses that were split up again and again, but also with this criminalization of every kind of support to them. In my eyes, the State tried hard to “make an example” of them. A very violent and ruthless example that has affected a very broad range of people. Greek citizens don’t really know who is and who isn’t a CCF member, what they start to feel is that there is something wrong with these trials and the anti-terrorist squad “labeling” terrorist anyone without any clue at all and putting him or her in a kind of Guantanamo situation for many years. The mainstream media is also a big issue for the way they cover all this stuff. There is a great generation gap between older people and the people who experienced the Alexis Grigoropoulos’ murder first hand. And the media are making that gap deeper in every case. If you add the political speculation over that, you get a rather stinky mixture.” – Panagiotis Koustas

For those in the U.S.A., that “stinky mixture” that Koustas spoke of is a cycle worth watching unfold, with parallels from Greek state repression to the criminilization of dissent in the USA. The Greek Special Forces and Anti-Terrorist units, who are trained by the FBI, continue to target those who have opposing political viewpoints in similar fashions and utilize media narratives to further stigmatize these groups.

Graffiti fills the outer walls of Polytechnic University

Compounding the state repression is the ongoing threat of eviction of some of the 40 or so squats that are in the Exarcheia area of Athens. A large majority of these squats are buildings that are taken over and managed rent-free by self-organized groups of anarchists and other anti-authoritarians. A multitude of functions are served by the squats, including, but not limited to: radical gathering spaces, free kitchens, free housing, asylum for refugees, free health clinics, DIY spaces, clubs, bars, theaters, and more.

Notara 26, a self-organized squat for refugees and migrants in Exarcheia

Continued gentrification throughout the city center of Athens’ is pushing its way to Exarcheia. Locals spoke with Unicorn Riot about officials planning a train station in Exarcheia Square in the next five years. If this is the case, that would mean the closing of the square for years to do construction and if that happens, and local anti-authoritarians have already begun discussing the defense of Exarcheia to defend its autonomy.

There are a multitude of other political court cases to continue to follow in Athens, Greece, one of them being the upcoming court dates of militant group Revolutionary Struggle and another is the ongoing trial of fascist group Golden Dawn. In Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, as Koustas told us in part 1, “in October, we expect a big trial in Thessaloniki for the Anti-Gold Mining Movement [skouries], where people are treated like terrorists just because they are trying to protect their land, their air and their water resources.” And in the fall Irianna and Perikles will have their chance at an appeal.

Disclosure: Andreas Michalakopoulos is the first cousin, thrice removed of author Niko Georgiades

Read part three: Criminalized by Association

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