This text was published along with other interviews with Greek radical groups in a book about the Greek radical movement. The book was published in Chile, in 2023.
The political history of Greece is full of turbulent periods, periods of crises, wars (civil and non-civil wars) and coups. Within this history, the long tradition of political prisoners in the contemporary history of the Greek state was created.
In the post-war period, both during and after the end of the civil war that followed the German occupation, the defeat of the forces of the mainly communist left and the corresponding victory of the Right and the Centre filled the prisons, both inland and on remote barren islands, with thousands of communist political prisoners. The central body of the movement at the time, the (then illegal) Communist Party of Greece (CPG), was also the body that in one way or another attempted to support the community of political prisoners. With the end of the military dictatorship (1967-1974),during which the prisons were again filled with political prisoners from the Left, the euphemistically named ‘first Greek democracy’ began to be built in Greece. Most political prisoners are released, the CPG is legitimised and political action begins to be conducted in a less authoritarian and more tolerant environment. At the same time, the conservative right-wing government that succeeds the dictatorship on the one hand and the increasingly impetuous movements of all kinds on the other create an explosive mixture.The diverse struggles of that period were met with strong repression, and political prisoners began to be sent to prison again.
At that time, around the end of the 70s, parts of the anti-authoritarian milieu and the extreme left created the first groups and structures of solidarity with prisoners, attempting to break down the barriers between political and militant penal prisoners, raising broader issues of “correction” and opposition to the institution of imprisonment. It is in these movements of that era that the matrix of the post-dictatorship history of the movement of solidarity with imprisoned militants can be found. A tradition that in various ways continues to this day and of which the Solidarity Fund is a part of. This is not the place where a detailed record (which does exist and can be sought as a source) of the processes and results of the action of those people can be made, but indicatively it is worth mentioning the magazine “Of the prison” published in the period 1979/1980, which is the first stable structure of solidarity, as a “voice” of the prisoners to the outside world. The 80s and 90s pass with the same people as the core of a much wider movement circle, coming from the anti-authoritarian milieu and the Left, to raise the issues of prisons and political prisoners, with mobilizations, propaganda and the creation of structures, assemblies, networks, committees, etc. that systematically dealt with these issues.
The 2000s brings, through specific political-social processes, the anti-authoritarian/anarchist milieu to the political forefront, more intensely than ever before. A turning point for the relationship between the anarchist milieu, as we know it today, and the issues of political prisoners and solidarity with them, was the period of the arrests of the revolutionary armed organisation 17th November (17N) in the summer of 2002. In a situation where most of the Left avoided involvement, most parts of the anarchist milieu came forward – despite their political distance from the Leninist Left to which 17N largely belonged – to take to the streets and confront politically and materially the state repression and the ideological war against armed struggle. Solidarity assemblies are formed, while at the same time more and more anarchists end up being persecuted or even imprisoned for various reasons. The movement’s counter-state violence actions intensified greatly and in the years that followed the repression was particularly intense in targeting anarchists. Other assemblies in solidarity with the political prisoners are created, publications are issued and even radio stations are set up to give them a voice. This was followed by the December 2008 uprising. Since then and for several years afterwards, many anarchist prisoners end up in prisons all over the country. Somewhere around that time, in 2010, the solidarity fund was created.
Today, the part of solidarity with political prisoners is still one of the main fields of action of the anti-authoritarian milieu. Many assemblies are created to support the various political persecution “cases” that arise, others are created on the occasion of a hunger strike or a separate struggle inside the prisons, while there are also stable open assemblies of solidarity with imprisoned and persecuted militants. What differentiates the fund from all other assemblies is mainly the element of constant monthly financial support for the militants inside the prison walls. Otherwise, the fund is also a part of the broader tapestry of the movement of solidarity with political prisoners and opposition to the institution of prison, which is now deeply rooted in the political tradition of Greece.
The Solidarity Fund was established in 2010 in a situation, where on the one hand a hard capitalist restructuring was carried out under the guise of the economic crisis and on the other hand the radical part of the society, having very recent memories from the experience of the social revolt of December ’08, was in a boom of activities, expressing the genuine and spontaneous social rage. In those given circumstances, the systemic restructuring entailed the upgrade of repression and the (further) legislative protection of the privileged, while the activity of all struggling parts of the society produced a multiple aggression. Ranging from the vigorous workers’ solidarity, the massive clashes, the occupations of buildings and public spaces, the collective direct actions, to the armed revolutionary actions. It is a fact that there was an upgrade of domestic revolutionary action, from militant parts of the movement and counting up to decades of action and hundreds of attacks against police, state and capital by revolutionary organizations such as the Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei., Revolutionary Struggle and 17 November, as well as by numerous attacks undertaken by individual groups with different signatures each time.
In the face of all this and because of them, the state shields itself and hardens its stance with new legislation that, among other things, tightens penalties for offences related to revolutionary action, always in full alignment with European directives and guidelines. All of the above inevitably led to arose the issue of the dozens of political prisoners. Due to the upgrade of the “anti-terrorist” laws and the judiciary-repression complex mechanisms, but also due to the escalation of the revolutionary action itself, these political prisoners were now facing severe and/or lengthy sentences. This created a novel situation for the majority of the radical part of the society since the fall of the military dictatorship (1974). The main characteristic features of this situation appeared to be its severity and duration. In this exact context the Solidarity Fund was established, setting as its initial target the consistent and constant support of those prosecuted or imprisoned for their subversive actions and their participation in the social struggles.
The solidarity fund is indeed a nationwide structure. In the 13 years of its operation, cities other than Athens, where it was first created, have joined it, some for a longer and others for a shorter period of time. In general, the strategy and desire of the Fund’s structure is to create assemblies in as many cities of the country as possible so that the structure has a natural presence and grounding in larger and larger parts of the territory. Currently, the Fund consists of two assemblies in two different cities, Athens and Thessaloniki.
The structure operates through regular, publicly invited open assemblies, i.e. it is an open to all structure and not a closed political group. The way the two -at the moment- different assemblies of the structure are organised, operated and coordinated is based first of all on some very basic political agreements, which are also reflected in a statutory text, but mainly on nationwide assemblies held at regular intervals. At these assemblies, which are held interchangeably in Athens and Thessaloniki, the agreements are updated, and disagreements and any problems of organisation, communication and coordination are raised, discussed and – usually – resolved in terms of horizontality and parity. It is here, at the national assemblies, that the basic plans of the structure are drawn up regarding the organisation of actions that will generate the large sums needed each year for the uninterrupted material support of political prisoners with a fixed amount each month, but which will also strengthen the political support component. Following these basic plans, each assembly, largely autonomously, implements its own actions. Obviously, between the national assemblies, communication is constant and direct when necessary, using all available means of communication.
The activities of the structure, those that generate the necessary “income”, beyond the purely political forms of intervention through texts, presence in courts, protests and demonstrations, mainly concern publications, book presentations, book fairs, concerts, etc. These actions are organised autonomously by each assembly and the money ends up in our common fund. However, a significant part of the material support of the structure and by extension of the political prisoners comes from direct contributions of individuals and associations from all over Greece and many countries abroad. These groups and people communicate, either in person or through correspondence, with the structure and support it materially to a very significant degree. It is worth mentioning the circumstances of the pandemic and the restrictions associated with it, during which the Solidarity Fund was de facto unable to carry out any action or event that would have generated money. At this juncture, it was the people of the movement who, without mediation and with great fervour, kept the fund in operation, at least as far as the material support of imprisoned comrades is concerned.
To begin with, it is important to understand that Greece is a relatively newly established national state that is two hundred years old and has emerged from the decline and destabilization of the then Ottoman Empire with the intervention of the European colonial powers of the time. In the turbulent history of these two hundred years or so, there was a decade of fierce internal unrest between the forces of the Communist Party of Greece and the reactionary forces. From the liberation of Greek territory from the Nazis onwards (1945) an incredibly intense regime of exclusion was formed against mainly the communists but also against anything that was not “national” with all the arbitrariness that this could imply. Executions, exile, prisons, torture, certification of social beliefs, social exclusion were the methods of the regime of exception for about thirty years, that is, until the transition from the seven-year dictatorship (1967-1974) to the parliamentary democracy that lasts until today.
From then until now, the resistance revolutionary action has never ceased. Especially in the first years of the political transition of the state form from military dictatorship to parliamentary democracy, revolutionary dynamics were expressed by groups and organisations that did not accept the peaceful transition to “democracy” and the peaceful coexistence with the decades-long executioners and torturers of thousands of leftist militants. The regime responded by activating all the mechanisms of defamation against them but also by shielding itself legally with the so-called terror laws.
Not to bore you with too much information, there have been many successive amendments to this legislation and many attempts to generalise its application. Some typical cases of this period are the persecution of militants after the armed confrontation in Renti in October 1977 in which the city guerrilla Christos Kasimis died, in May 1985 after the armed clash in Gyzi in which the city guerrilla Christos Tsouchouvis died and in 1987 after the special anti-terrorist operation in Kologreza in which the guerrilla Michalis Prekas died.
But the peak of the practical enforcement of anti-terrorist legislation in Greece was mainly in the 20-year period 2002-2022, a period when the state managed to strike down many armed revolutionary organisations and create a huge industry of persecution and long-term imprisonment of dozens of people, their acquaintances, friends and even relatives. It was there that it became clear how very dangerous in practice such vague legislation is, with which anyone can be persecuted at any time.
One of the most emblematic figures of this twenty-year period, a person who is still experiencing the exempt status of the anti-terrorism legislation against him, is the communist city guerrilla Dimitris Koufontinas, who has taken political responsibility for his participation in the 17 November organisation.
The last update of the anti-terrorism legislation in its entirety was made with the revision of the Criminal Code in 2019 by the then SYRIZA government. The basic definition of terrorism in Greek law is directly related to the abstract concept of “endangerment”, namely “endangering public order under circumstances or in such a manner or to such an extent as to cause serious danger to the country or to an international organization and with the purpose of seriously intimidating a population or unlawfully compelling a public authority or an international organization to perform or refrain from performing any act or to seriously harm or destroy fundamental constitutional, political or economic structures of a country or an international organisation”.
All offences under the Criminal Code if pursued under anti-terrorism legislation carry much heavier penalties and with the 2019 revision of terrorism, anyone who incites terrorist acts, trains others or provides any expertise in this regard, anyone who in any way or via the internet threatens, incites, or simply undertakes a trip to be trained in terrorism, whatever that means, can be prosecuted for terrorism. As you can imagine it is all deliberately vague, deliberately abstract and deliberately flexible so that the anti-terrorism fan can be opened and closed as the law enforcement agencies wish.
Finally, we note that recent revisions to the penal and prison codes also make it more difficult to serve the sentences imposed under the anti-terrorism law in terms of permits, beneficial sentence calculations and early parole.
Now a huge debate is opening up which has not been thoroughly and comprehensively discussed even within our own assembly process. It is certainly a multifactorial historical issue. But we can mention facts. The facts are that the left-wing state management of Syriza:
– continued to implement the anti-terrorism legislation (while it first denounced it when acting as opposition in the greek parliament)
-continued to apply an even more flexible exemption regime against political prisoners, especially those defending their participation in the guerilla armed struggle
-it took a massive hunger strike of several days by political prisoners to abolish the special C-type prisons
-bowed to pressure from the US embassy to deny leave to political prisoner and 17N member Dimitris Koufontinas, who had to go on two hunger strikes on the same issue
-repressed solidarity mobilizations to political prisoners on hunger strike, most notably the evacuation of a squat in 2015 and the arrest of comrades, as well as the 2018 solidarity rally at the Ministry of Justice for the rioters in Korydallos prison protesting the forcible transfer of a hunger striker.
More generally, towards the revolutionary movement as a whole, we could say that initially at least a more mildly repressive strategy was chosen, which could even be described as appeasing, but gradually this attitude began to change. Thus we had dozens of evacuations of political, housing or immigrant accommodation squats, while anti-monetary, anti-war and anti-state demonstrations gradually began to be severely struck on.
In general, we would say that in the first years there was a tactic of appeasement that began to get progressively harsher, reaching a peak of intensity in the last year of the government’s term of office. Obviously, this is not independent of the fact that SYRIZA is a typical example of a clear-cut social-democratic formation that for years was parasitically immersed in the movements, drawing from them the political capital for its rise to become a party in the central political scene and later a government. It is also a fact that the movements of the period remained dormant, immobilized, watching the governmental term of SYRIZA with embarrassment. The result were demassified struggles on the street level, a pervasive sense of defeat and resignation, and an internalisation of the doctrine that there is no alternative to passive acceptance of the situation.
The Solidarity Fund is currently not active in the fight against concentration camps, although there have been iniatives in the past years, mainly through book publications, that the fund has participated in and raised money for solidarity struggles with refugess and migrants.
The structure of the fund supports struggling people who are persecuted and imprisoned for their participation in social and class struggles, for their subversive action in the context of the multifaceted revolutionary struggle. It still supports comrades who were in prison accused of offenses that apparently are not directly related to social struggles but whose political identity and action clearly place them in the radical milieu.
The Solidarity Fund has the mission of providing financial,ethical and political support in case of criminal prosecution:
- Members of the broader anti-authoritarian movement who are persecuted for their political identity or action within the framework of the class political and social struggle.
- People who, without necessarily being active members of the competitive movement in Greece, are being prosecuted for the cause or occasion of political or social struggles that took place and in which they participated or are accused of participating, as long as these people are governed by political perceptions in favor of the class struggle, of social liberation, emancipation, equality, freedom, the struggle of those from below for their lives.