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To Get to the Other Side

A journey through Europe and its anarchist movements

Bandits and Arsonists

After World War II, Greece was gripped by a civil war that pitted the communists against the conservatives.  With help from the CIA, a constitutional monarchy triumphed in 1949, outlawing the Communist Party, and preserving the Cold War spheres of influence.  With US complicity, the military and intelligence services of Greece did away with the pretense of democracy and installed a dictatorship that lasted until 1974, when student insurrections forced a change of government.  The anarchist movement grew in Greece througout the 80s, nourished by an anti-authoritarian culture that had fostered anticapitalist bandits and bankrobbers for over a century.  In the middle of the decade, the Anarchist Attack Groups formed in Athena, one of many groups to specialize in petrol-bombing police cars on a massive scale. Other groups robbed banks and attacked representatives of the state.  The Anti-State Struggle group shot dead the Public Prosecutor of Athena. In a subsequent gun battle with police in May, 1985, anarchists killed three cops, and they in turn shot to death Christos Tsoutsouvis.  On 17 November, 1985, police chased anarchists to their stronghold around Exarchia Square.  They shot 15-year-old anarchist, Michalis Kaltazas, in the back, killing him.  Outraged students occupied the University of Chemistry and the Polytechnic.  Riots, demonstrations, and occupations spread to many other cities.  Thirty-seven anarchists arrested in the occupation at the Chemistry University were brutally beaten, then jailed and fined.  In a wave of repression, police conducted house-to-house searches, arresting many anarchists.  Riot cops beat up anyone who looked different.

As a new tradition of anarchist struggle was being created, other social rebels continued an old tradition of anticapitalist banditry that would come to inspire the anarchists. Vasilis and Nikos Palaiokostas came from a poor family, but rather than becoming wage slaves, they started robbing banks.  They had great success throughout the ’80s, expropriating from the capitalists, getting away in stolen cars, and giving much of their money to the impoverished communities that supported and sheltered them.  Despite the huge quantities of cash that passed through their hands, they did not adopt a bourgeois lifestyle nor take to wearing nice clothes and driving fancy cars.

In 1988 Nikos was caught and imprisoned, but his brother rescued him a few days later.  In 1990 Nikos was arrested again, and Vasilis was subsequently arrested with a comrade while trying to break his brother out a second time.  However, at the end of the same year, Nikos escaped from Korydallos prison under cover of a major uprising, and Vasilis soon escaped from Halkida prison and went back to robbing banks with his brother.  Four years later they kidnapped a factory owner for the ransom money.  Police caught up with Vasilis on Corfu the next year, but he managed to elude them.  Eventually Vasilis was arrested, but Nikos bust him out of Korydallos prison with a helicopter in 2003.  Not long after that, after 16 years on the run, Nikos was finally arrested again when he had the bad luck to get in a car accident.

While preparing to return the favor and spring his brother out of prison, Vasilis was caught along with two other anarchists—Polikarpos Georgiadis and Vagelis Hrisohoides. The three of them had kidnapped Georgos Mylonas, the president of an employer’s union who had justified ongoing structural adjustments in Greece, saying that the workers simply needed to tighten their belts and work harder.  So the anarchists tightened Mylonas’ belt a bit, demanding a ten million euro ransom, which his wife duly paid.  Police think the money was intended for the upcoming jail break.  They were able to apprehend the three anarchists because the fourth member of their group took off with a share of the cash and starting throwing it around in Crete.  He was detained and squealed out the location of the others.  When police captured Vasilis, Polikarpos, and Vagelis, they also found an impressive cache of weapons and explosives.

Vasilis had met Polikarpos in prison in 2004, where the latter was waiting trial for an attempted arson against a private security company.  Polikarpos and Vagelis were described as “dear comrades in the anarchist scene since many years who have been very active.”  After their arrests, many anarchists in other countries, and even a few in Greece, refused to support them, feeling moral disgust with the tactic of kidnapping.  From prison, Polikarpos wrote:

“a handful of capitalists have organized a criminal gang and kidnapped proletarians demanding for ransoms their working power, the commercialization of human activity, their time—that transforms into money, even their whole existence. Wage slavery is a permanent crime against human dignity. It’s not just because of the usual casualties of work “accidents” in the class war. It’s not just because of the dead, wounded and amputated people of the work “accidents,” but also because of the diseases related to the working environment and space. It’s not just because of the strawberry fields, which show us we’ve never escaped the time of slavery. It’s not just because of the sacrificed workers—locals and immigrants, expensive and cheap labor—at the altar of every “American dream” or “Greek miracle.”

It is the existence itself of waged work that constitutes the permanent crime! And the criminals, the kidnappers and the blackmailers are all the Mylonas’s of this world.

[...]

Comrades! Life is short. If we live, we live to step on the heads of bosses and their slaves.

For anarchy and communism!”

Burning police car

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