Balkanalysis.com

Balkanalysis on Twitter

EU External Border Management and the Current Situation in Italy and Greece: an Overview

By Elisa Sguaitamatti

Migration is a defining issue for Europe and its institutions and it is likely to remain so for a long time. According to the International Organisation for Migration, as of 19 October 2016, 340,972 migrants have arrived in Europe since the beginning of 2016, either by land or by sea. If we take a closer look at the issue, we can certainly note different and various waves of migration, both in scale and in scope.

The first type of migration is due to safety and security reasons, and it mainly includes Middle East and North Africa, bringing an influx of refugees of mostly Muslim origin escaping from war-ravaged countries, unstable or failed states. Another form of migration is caused by a mix of economic and climate reasons, encompassing most of Africa. Millions are fleeing their homelands due to precarious political conditions or natural calamities such as drought and famine. By leaving the continent they are generating a slow but steady flow towards Europe.

The current debate suggests that we are facing unprecedented flows of migration. Although it is undeniable that we are experiencing a rare intensity in inflows in a very short span of time, the truth is that migration is – and has always been – a global and systemic phenomenon, hence it is nothing new especially in the case of European history.

Statistical Increases and Worsening Regional Conditions

What is striking and very different from the past is the involvement of many Central and Eastern EU Member States. All of them were caught off guard and therefore struggled to manage the emergency from the onset, which soon became a migration crisis. Moreover, a new aspect is the regional nature of migration routes. These entail entire regions of Southern Europe reached either by land (the Balkans and Turkey) or by sea (the Adriatic, Aegean and Mediterranean Seas).

Currently, it looks like numbers are increasing in absolute terms as mixed migratory flows continue relentlessly. Based on UNHCR data, nowadays 65.3 million people are forced from their homes, 21.3 million are refugees of whom over half is under the age of 18, plus another 10 million of individuals considered ‘stateless.’ Additionally, displaced populations experience other displacements owing to the deterioration of the quality of asylum and the incapacity of states to provide essential services. Figures are growing at a much faster pace because of the fragmentation and the derailment of the whole Middle Eastern and Sub-Saharan Africa region. In particular, in the Middle East we are witnessing an unprecedented number of simultaneous crises.

Terrorism Concerns

Another hot topic is that of terrorism which is nothing new but now, much more than in the past, poses a threat to security, to the values of democracy and the rights and freedom of all European citizens. The European Council recently declared that between 2009 and 2013 there were 1,010 attacks (either failed or successful) in EU Members States. As more migrants of Muslim origin come to Europe, the alarmism over potential attacks in European cities has skyrocketed, spreading fears that terrorists can be mistaken for migrants or refugees when disembarking in external border countries.

Also, the terrorism threat in Europe has been often linked to the failure of past integration and social inclusion policies targeting different cultural groups. In particular, Muslims of the second and third generation are experiencing an identity dilemma, as they feel they belong neither to their country of origin, nor can they identify with the European values of their adopted country. Therefore, in many analysts’ opinion, they resort to violence and terrorist acts as it is – in their eyes – the only way to take out their frustration and disappointment.

Recent To Secure EU External Borders at a European Level

As one of the main areas of focus for the EU to stay alive is its external borders, external action is a key component of the EU strategy to handle the migration challenge while the main drivers of flows are here to stay. The short term imperatives are saving lives, breaking the business of smugglers and controlling irregular flows. On the other hand, the long-term objective is to develop structural actions that help states better manage migration in all aspects rather than work on crisis situations.

Ever since June 2016, the EU has been working on a comprehensive multi-layered strategy to enhance security in Europe in the fight against terrorism and strengthening of external borders. In detail, a European coordination and cooperation plan aimed at improving shared border management and rescue operations at sea and in the main ports of the South Mediterranean. Secondly is a new international plan building on the European Agenda on Migration, namely the Partnership Framework, which includes the long-neglected African countries for the first time.

In this way, African partners are not only part of the problem but they can become part of the solution too, in the EU’s thinking. The goal is to frame relations through “compacts”, tailor-made deals. Finally, looking beyond the emergency relocation scheme, a further and thorough plan is needed to help external border states such as Italy and Greece. This refers to the support of EU agencies providing expertise, advice and physical backing too.

Moreover, the Commission called for the reinforcement of Europol’s counter-terrorism capabilities so that it will become an intelligence hub for dismantling criminal networks along the Southern Mediterranean route. Europol’s Operational Centre comprises operational teams from the European Counter Terrorism Centre, the Cybercrime Centre, the Migrant Smuggling Centre, as well as the Internet Referral Unit (IRU) and national liaison bureaus.

EU Actions and Efforts in the Mediterranean Sea

As far as rescue and emergency operations at sea are concerned, in 2016 the European Union has tripled its presence in the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea. The Frontex Operations Triton and Poseidon, as well as Operation Sophia, have saved over 400,000 lives since the beginning of 2015, and disrupted smugglers’ and traffickers’ networks. To further reinforce and enhance external border management, in September 2016 the EU Commission presented three innovative mechanisms. The first one is an accelerated process in handling rescue operations and identity and security checks thanks to the European Border and Coast Guard; then, for the longer term, the implementation of a EU Entry-Exit System and the European Travel Information and Authorisation System.

The European Border and Coast Guard

During the State of the Union Address in September 2016, EU Commission President Juncker stated that Europe will defend borders with the new European Border and Coast Guard, legally operational as of 6 October -just 9 months after the formal proposal- thanks to the common joint effort of Member States and EU institutions.

The decision to create a new EU border management agency came after the acknowledgement of the shortcomings of the former EU border agency, Frontex, which so far has limited its field of activity. Among these are the fragmentation of the effort, the lack of consistency in border control and resources as well as shortfalls in the staff. Frontex has always relied on Member States contributions and staff, and could only act for returns and border management operations after the formal request of a Member State. Despite all this, Frontex (in its new Agency form) is still crucial to restore border management, especially in Italy and Greece. At the moment 700 Frontex officers are deployed in Greece, 177 in Bulgaria, 514 in Italy and 152 in the Western Balkans.

On the other hand, the new agency will ensure shared management of EU external borders based on EU standards, proper identity and security checks, addressing emergencies in hotspots as well as carrying out monthly risk analyses and compulsory vulnerability assessments. The European Border and Coast Guard can count on a reserve pool of people and equipment. It will have, for the first time, rapid response capacity on a permanent footing – at least 1,500 border guards and technical equipment in order to deploy them in a timely manner. One important aspect of innovation is the fact that it will be tasked to intervene directly on the territory of a Member State, even without its request. It will have a mandate to envoy liaison officers and launch operation with neighbouring countries too.

In an effort to prevent and detect cross-border crime such as migrant smuggling, trafficking in human beings and terrorism, the Coast Guard will be also able to collect specific information -vehicle identification numbers, telephone numbers or ship identification numbers- to analyse migrant routes and methods. Precious information will be shared with the authorities of EU Member States and Europol, working closely to launch investigations.

The EU Entry-exit System

The EU entry-exit system (EES) was proposed by the Commission on 6 April 2016 even though it is likely to become fully operational only in 2020. This mechanism would improve the management of the external borders and reduce the amount of irregular immigration to Europe. Hence, it will directly contribute to the fight against terrorism and serious crime within the EU in two ways: dealing with visa oversharing and collecting particular figures, travel document and biometrics to register non-EU citizens having a 90-day permit for entering or exiting the Schengen area.

The European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS)

The European Travel Information and Authorisation System would offer a great deal of control over visa exempt travellers as it would be able to determine the eligibility of all visa-exempt third country nationals to travel to the Schengen area regularly based on pre-established criteria.

Operation Sophia/ EUNAVFOR Med in the Mediterranean Sea

As a consequence of the terrible migrant shipwreck off Libya in April 2015, the EU launched the European Union Naval Force Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR Med), also known as Operation Sophia, to conduct surveillance and interdict refugee smuggling routes in the Mediterranean. The military operation EUNAVFOR Med consists of three phases: surveillance and assessment of human smuggling and trafficking networks; search and diversion of suspicious vessels, finally the disposal of boats to stop traffickers and smugglers. More than 13,000 migrants have been rescued from the sea in the course of the Operation. In June 2016, the Council of the European Union extended Operation Sophia’s mandate by adding two tasks: the training of the Libyan coastguards and navy as well as the implementation of UN arms embargo on the high seas off the coast of Libya.

Recent European Initiatives with ‘Third Countries’: a New Partnership Framework

In June 2016, the Commission made a proposal for a new Partnership Framework aimed at deepening cooperation – for the first time – with non-EU member countries of origin, transit and destination. In the long term, this will mean adopting a concerted approach for investments in tackling the root causes of migration, and promoting sustainable development and stability. This of course entails a specific partnership with each third county as different are the political, economic and social contexts.

A key element of this Framework is the change of approach of the EU in addressing the migration issue by introducing the concept of “compacts”. These compacts are a political framework for guaranteed operational cooperation to develop a comprehensive partnership with third parties. It provides African states with instruments, tools and leverages in an effort to deliver clear and full commitment. The real novelty of the compact approach is that it bypasses the long technical negotiations that normally occur before a formal agreement and it offers a tailor-made delivery instead. As the understanding of mutually beneficial elements in migration management with each state grows, new compacts will be operationalised. These “packages” will then represent the driving force for the delivery of already agreed common objectives.

This mechanism needs a joint EU approach to be successful, which involves political engagement as well as practical support to third countries. This mechanism also requires a real understanding of EU and African countries interests so that interests and priorities can be used to work on mutual benefits. To this end, EU took the first step identifying Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and Ethiopia as priority African states in need of compacts. After months of major political and diplomatic efforts, Niger has taken action to fight against migrant smuggling and has set up a framework to manage migration dialogue with the EU. Strengthened operational efforts and cooperation are now happening in Senegal and Mali, especially as the identification of smugglers and standard operating procedures are concerned. Nigeria, the most populous African country now facing security and terrorism threats, is now negotiating a readmission agreement with the EU.

The first results can now be seen in a new momentum in the dialogue between the EU and its partners as well as in the progress made on return and readmissions, unblocking cases where returns were not possible because of a lack of staff trained for these missions. Standard operating procedures for identification and return are about to come into force, and EU financial assistance and targeted support is being deployed to help communities where migration and smuggling is common to try and address delicate issues. A further contribution has come from EU Member States which recruited European migration liaison officers to be posted in key third countries- acting as contact points to cooperate with EU partners and work for the delivery of more tangible results.

European External Investment Plan

In September 2016, the Commission presented a new External Investment Plan – a newly-created approach focused on EU support to sustainable development, inclusive growth, social development and regional integration mainly outside Europe. At the same time, this Plan is going to address the root causes of migration right in the countries of origin to specifically stop the flow of economic migrants. This plan will work on job creation, sustainable employment, investment opportunities in the partner countries and will be finalised before the end of 2016, most likely in December.

Efforts at the National Level: the Italian Case

As an external border country, lately Italy has come up with some proposals to handle the migration crisis. Italy has long been calling for the involvement of the whole international community in managing the migratory phenomenon, as it has been on the front line of the migration crisis in the Mediterranean for years, with its search and rescue operations, saving more than 75,000 people in 2015 and more than 60,000 so far this year, but still never adequately supported at the European level.

The Italian point of view emerged during the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants in late September 2016 when Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Paolo Gentiloni delivered his speech. Mr Gentiloni explained that European countries have to invest in Africa to tackle the root causes of migration, primarily economic and demographic inequalities. This is the so-called “Migration Compact”. He once again called for the spirit of solidarity and full commitment to address migratory flows as it is -and always has been- a European problem, not only an Italian one.

The “Migration Compact” project’s goal is to reduce the flows along the Mediterranean route thanks to partnerships with origin and transit countries. However, this initial Italian proposal was much more detailed than the Framework Partnership recently approved by the EU. For Italy, the EU and African countries would have to cooperate on shared border control and fight against crimes, on migrant access to the European labour market and finally on the resettlement scheme to distribute asylum seekers in more countries.

For their part, African countries would have to be fully committed to the reduction of flows in cooperation with the European Border and Coast Guard; to cooperate on repatriations when asylum seekers applications are rejected; to build reception and identification centres on African soil and finally, to fight against smugglers in joint police operations. In addition to that, the EU would have to make some development aid conditional, delivered only if African countries are willing to accept readmission of migrants whose applications have failed. Italy has also promoted a resettlement program, the “humanitarian corridor” project, aimed at saving the most vulnerable among migrants: women and unaccompanied children who could end up in the hands of smugglers more easily. The Italian government still hopes that the “humanitarian corridor” project can be taken up as a best practice at the European level.

All Italian hopes seemed to have been dashed at the Bratislava Summit on 16 September -the first one without Britain. It spread disillusionment among Italian authorities because there was no great relaunch or ambitious plan after the Brexit shock. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was overtly dissatisfied with the meeting after being excluded from a joint press conference by Chancellor Merkel and French President Hollande. Mr Renzi bitterly stated in a subsequent interview with the daily newspaper Corriere della Sera: “since I represent Italy, one of the countries that donates more money to the EU, I have the duty to defend the national interest. The European summit in Bratislava did not produce great results. We had to revive ourselves after the Brexit shock, but for the moment much promise, little delivery. I don’t know what Merkel is referring to when she talks about the ‘spirit of Bratislava’. If things go on like this, instead of the spirit of Bratislava we’ll be talking about the ghost of Europe“.

One month after tensions in Bratislava over the Italian “Migration Compact” proposal, French and German Ministers eventually gave the green light to use 500 million euros to fund a reviewed version of the project, much less ambitious than the Italian idea. Allocated funds will be employed to accomplish three objectives: first, improve the living conditions of locals; second, convince governments to dissuade migrants from crossing the national borders to get to Libya and then Europe; third, finalise deals for repatriations for those who reach Europe illegally.

Activities on the High Seas and Arrival Points for Migrants in Italy

However, the migration crisis on Italian shores is not over yet. Italy has now overtaken Greece as the main point of entry for migrants trying to reach Europe, according to figures from International Organisation for Migration getting to 145,381 migrants so far (compared to 154,000 in the whole of 2015). “Migrants arriving by sea to Italy are actually the main problem faced by the European Union in its efforts to stem mass immigration to the bloc”, said Fabrice Leggeri, head of the European Border and Coast Guard. EU officials say that by all accounts, some 90 percent of arrivals in Italy began their trip on smugglers’ boats in Libya. The rise in the number of rescues may be due to the EU stepping up the Operation Sophia mission. Leggeri reassured that his agency would get more involved in efforts to reinforce returns to African countries and to help Italy, especially where migrants disembark.

Migrants are usually rescued in international waters in the Central Mediterranean Sea. The main points of disembarkation are in the south of Italy – where most identification and reception centres are located are Augusta, Pozzallo, Catania, Palermo, Messina, Trapani (in Sicily), the island of Lampedusa, Reggio Calabria, Crotone, Vibo Valentia, Corigliano Calabro (Calabria) and the Southern Apulia shores.

Redistribution Points and Policies

Nigerians are statistically the first declared nationality of arrivals, followed by Eritreans, Gambians and other nationalities of Western Africa. Asylum-seekers are forced to leave the reception centres when receiving their permit (refugee status, humanitarian or subsidiary protection) and are relocated according to the national quota distribution system to different regions on Italian territory, to the main cities which sometimes divert them to the hinterlands.

Lately, major Italian cities have borne the brunt of this emergency because they have got more charity associations willing to help refugees as well as more than one hot spot and reception facility nearby railway stations. This is the case in Lombardy and in particular Milan. Milan had overcrowded reception centres near the Central Station for the whole summer. Similarly, other cities in Lombardy such as Como, or in Ligury, Piedmont and Veneto region were in the same situation. Northern Italy cities are preferred by migrants since they are more connected to exit points towards neighbouring countries such as France, Switzerland and Austria – whose borders are now almost totally closed, with border guards pushing migrants back to Italy. Migrants reported in centres and informal points in Ventimiglia are around 800, around 400 in Como and 400 in Bolzano. As the winter approaches, the number of homeless people has risen substantially in Milan and other major cities like Turin, Bologna and Rome.

On the other hand, the European emergency relocation system to assist Italy and Greece has been in place ever since 2015. Individuals in need of protection with a good chance of having their applications processed positively are relocated to other Member States. If the applications are successful, the applicants are allowed refugee status and hence residence in the Member State to which they were relocated. As of 19 October, out of 6,243 individuals relocated, more than 1,300 people departed from Italy and almost exclusively reached Finland, France, Netherlands, Portugal and Switzerland, the IOM reported. Based on information from the Italian Ministry of Interior, most of the relocated migrants were Eritrean and Nigerian nationals.

The Greek Case

Like Italy, Greece is an external border country that throughout the years has been on the front line to rescue and welcome hundreds of thousands asylum seekers and migrants coming from the Near East. And, exactly like Italy, it has been long calling for solidarity and common responsibility sharing to handle the most massive migration flows that Europe has been experiencing since World War Two.

The Greek point of view on migration emerged during the 71st United Nations General Assembly, when Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras delivered his speech. Among his remarks, there was the fact that millions of people are on the move and that immigration is a global challenge that no state can face on its own. He reminded how Greece had to handle 1.2 million migrants while all Eastern Europe unilaterally decided to close their borders. “The challenges in Greece are many, including strengthening the protection of borders and enhancing asylum procedures. But they can only work on the basis of shared responsibility and solidarity”. Therefore, the Greek proposal for handling migration is akin to the Italian one, which aims at dealing directly with origin and transit countries thanks to agreements on returns and readmissions as well as concentrating all efforts on a collective joint EU response that will deliver durable solutions.

At the national level, this position on migration came after the national Helleniko system, which was dependant on the Southern Greece reception centres in and around Athens, turned out to be inadequate to welcome the huge numbers. Hence, some initiatives were adopted and fostered by national authorities to establish other hot spots and facilities to be distributed both on the mainland and the archipelago’s islands. Greece’s Immigration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas conceded that the government has now overburdened certain municipalities in Northern Greece.

Most migrants reaching the islands were slowly but surely moved to the mainland, even though so far only unaccompanied children have been transferred. The main problems regarding the burden of migrants coming via the Turkey-Greece route remain: Greek islanders have been struggling with overpopulation and lack of resources and funds, being incapable of coping with the major fluxes counting only on their own forces.

On the EU side, operations and initiatives were strengthened to help Greece deal with flows. On 18 March 2016, EU Heads of State or Government and Turkey agreed to stop irregular migratory flows from Turkey. According to the EU-Turkey Statement, all migrants or asylums seekers whose application is rejected must be returned to Turkey. Thanks to this, Greece has been able to return 587 irregular individuals so far and to slightly reduce the number of arrivals on its shores in comparison to last year. However, according to data presented by the Greek coordinating body handling the crisis, a new route has now been discovered by the latest migrants, passing through Greece via the Evros border river between Greece and Turkey, thus likely to escape the security and border checks.

EU Commission Activity and Greek Relocations to Europe

EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos was also optimistic over the EU emergency relocation system to alleviate the burden of the refugee crisis in Greece and Italy. Thanks to this EU initiative, 4,852 individuals have been relocated from Greece mostly to Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania and Spain. Based on information from the Greek Ministry of Interior, the majority of the relocated migrants was represented by Syrian and Afghan nationals.

The Commission is also assisting Greece with expertise and critical advice while coordinating the support provided by other EU agencies. In particular, Frontex has got 700 EU officers in Greece, deployed on the islands, including 675 officers for the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement. Also, Europol has sent 8 specialists to the Greek border to carry out investigations against migrant smuggling and another 10 officers from EU Member States to do security checks in the hotspots.

However, figures by the North Aegean Regional Police are still dramatic: the number of asylum applicants trapped on the islands of the North Aegean as for October 2016 reached 10,840 individuals and the total of refugees and migrants believed to be stranded in Greece only is 60,629.                 National authorities estimate that 7,618 people are housed in alternative accommodation, whereas 8,700 are now living outside accommodation facilities. Further, based on information collected by the International Organisation for Migration, there have been 171,185 arrivals to Greece so far out of 340,000 in the whole of Europe and based on data collected by the Hellenic Coast Guard, more than ten incidents have been registered in the Aegean Sea. As is the case, Greece has been coping with the fourth largest number of asylum applications in Europe.

Conclusions

Given the complexity of the phenomenon and considering that the root causes are multi-faceted and context-specific, different strategic responses are required. Therefore, to address the migration issue there is a host of possible solutions. At the end of the day what really matters and concerns the whole of Europe is the real effectiveness or ineffectiveness of all EU efforts being taken to handle migration flows, to fight against smugglers and traffickers as well as to prevent new terrorism episodes on the European territory. The collective hope is that plans will be feasible in reasonable time and will be as realistic as possible. This actually means delivery of timely results and durable solutions. With regards to this, however, there are three aspects to consider which could compromise the effectiveness of all EU efforts.

One potential factor that could undermine the effectiveness of the various measures comes from the results of a Europol investigation. Europol uncovered that there’s been a shift in smuggling techniques – which have turned out to be very flexible and adaptable – and in routes which now are mostly off the beaten track, away from the normal cross border roads and for that matter highly risky. Smugglers are believed to adapt quickly to strict border control and soon find new ways and modus operandi to escape law enforcement rules.

As has already happened in Greece and Italy, more and more smugglers are asking customers to pay thousands of euros for false documents and passports as well as for carrying out irregular cross-border trips. These trips often departure from Patras or Northern Greek harbours, where migrants are carried together with cargo, under trucks or hidden in the back of cars. These inhuman and degrading conditions are the same experienced by some migrants who, out of desperation decide to pay large sums to smugglers get to their destination, perpetuating the vicious circle.

A second problem that could hinder the EU initiatives is represented by the lack of a long-term spirit of solidarity and willingness to cooperate. In the long run this means being reluctant in burden-sharing support and acceptance of a fair share of migrant quotas. The immigration issue has already created deep divisions between Member States and shown the limits of collective efforts while populist movements have taken advantage of the common fears. Their opponents argue that solidarity needs to be resumed and to stay alive in order to jointly address common problems and come up with a single effective solution.

This was the case for the EU and NATO, which have held together geographically distant states which had nonetheless a common response to difficulties. Europe has been guided by different and often diverging national interests, translated in fragmented and diverging policies. Egoism and national interests have always had the upper hand on the long-term objective of improvement of international policies on delicate international issues.

A third obstacle in handling migration could be the cumbersome slowness of EU institutions in the joint approval, agreement and finally implementation process of all the new mechanisms. By the time they truly become operational and work effectively, up to 4-5 years sometimes passes. Meanwhile, Europe will have to cope with ongoing and relentless flows of migrants and refugees as it is a structural global phenomenon unlikely to stop in the medium or long term. It is thus fundamental to adopt a different foreign policy approach and, in particular, to revive the political initiatives in the Middle East and Africa region. So far European foreign affairs approach has been hesitating, divergent and sometimes contradictory because the policies of EU Member States have been like that too. Therefore, every action makes sense only if there is a political plan of regional stabilisation. This could be translated in post-conflict stabilisation procedures, institution building and tailor-made policies to give answers to local and regional crises.

Since the European Council of June 2016, the EU has built a new architecture in handling migration which now is at the heart of the EU external policy priorities.

In the short term, what seems likely to follow is a “war” between multilateralism and sovereignty. High-income countries, which are most attractive to migrants and refugees, will change their position depending on two variables. First, whether the mixed flows of migrants either seeking humanitarian protection or enhanced livelihoods continue apace. Second, whether the widespread instability in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa is brought under control or is further compounded.

In the longer term, the Partnership Framework as well as the EU Border and Coast Guard system and other joint EU initiatives could possibly be extended to other countries as long as are available the adequate resources to do so. However, it is still crucial to look for alternative policies and tools to eventually get to a stable pathway to legal migration and eradicate the root causes leading to this. If comprehensive multilateral as well as national engagement is maintained, the EU will have put in force a migration and mobility policy bringing deep change for both external borders and Europe itself.

In First Nine Months of 2016, Urban Violence and Crime Rise in Greece

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: for some historical context to current developments, readers may also enjoy our previous summary here of left-wing attacks and organized violence in Greece between 2008-2012.

By Ioannis Michaletos

During the first nine months of 2016, a clear trend regarding the rise of urban violence and extremism has been observed in Greece and, in particular, in Athens. Protests over economic woes, illegal migration, and football hooliganism, coupled with the spread of political extremists and criminal gangs largely account for this phenomenon.

Following the present analysis is a chronological set of important incidents of Greek urban violence from January through September 2016.

Left-wing Violence follows Predictable Pattern

All available information indicates that most of these security events are associated with a “hard nucleus” of 100 or so anarchists from several member groups (with lots of subgroups, there are about 80 anarchist groups in Athens alone).

These ideologically-driven individuals can count on additional support from roughly 300 migrant activist elements, at least 50% of those foreigners. An emerging trend is the use of teenage Syrians who are placed in various sit-ins in the center of Athens, mainly in the anarchist-friendly Exarcheia neighborhood. It is not known if they are taken advantage of by the anarchist factions (for their own purposes) or if they are simply ideologically motivated.

Historically, the anarchists have tended to attack whichever target is ‘easy.’ This brings them publicity, keeping them visible in the media (and social media), and helps construct the the image that they control parts of the city. It is also highly probable that at least some collaborate with criminals for joint profit.

The below chronology indicates that the PASOK political party was targeted. However, this is simply because it is an ‘easy target,’ with locations in Exarcheia- not because of its party policies.

The data correlates with a perceived trend that today’s anarchists (including those associated with the pro-migrant cause) are not interested, or possibly not capable of, carrying out targeted attacks against high-profile individuals who are guilty in their minds of hypocrisy or acting against their values. Thus it seems the ‘golden age’ of Greek urban combat (as with long-disbanded groups like ELA and 17 November, which attacked Greek politicians, businessmen and foreign officials) is over.

Greek Urban Violence Relating to Football Hooligans

Football hooliganism is another chronic problem found in many countries. In Greece today, supporters of the major teams are engaged in a bitter fight – especially Olympiacos, Panathinaikos, AEK and Thessaloniki’s PAOK – over a scandal regarding the fixing of football matches that was examined by prosecutors in April 2015.

This issue has been discussed in media. According to reports, the Greek National Intelligence Service even lent its wiretapping services to investigating the case from 2011 onwards. Top football bosses and other related persons were suspected of running a scheme to control Greek football in order to make illegal profits. The investigation has angered rival bases and also resulted in opaque bombings and threats against whistleblowers. The simmering unrest has also resulted in a beefed-up police presence at matches.

2016 Statistics and Trends: Crime Increases, Largely in Athens

Official figures indicate that public demonstrations in 2016 have increased by 100% compared to the previous year. In the first six months of the year alone, there were 4,220 demonstrations across the country, most of them concerning the country’s economic state or migration.

Armed robberies in Greece also increased by 11% in 2016 and violent thefts by 10%. Bag snatching increased by 50% and pickpocketing increased by 10%. And the theft of tourist passports shot up by 15% over last year.

In addition, vehicle theft increased by 9%, and house burglaries by 3%. The bulk of the crime rate increase is most notable in Athens, and less so in other part of the country.

Increases in Drug-related Arrests

At the same time, police forces have increased stop-and-search operations and have enacted a series of nationwide operations, resulting in more than 100 arrests daily for drug offences in a few cases. Despite a series of crackdowns, the drug flow is steady in the country for all sorts of narcotics- a fact which implies that the trade is becoming fragmented and new “criminal blood” has entered this sector.

There are also being witnessed numerous arrests of Syrian refugees who have already become dealers of mostly cannabis, not only inside the refugee camps but across urban spaces. In most cases known to police, they are being recruited by older generation of Arabic immigrants already living in the country.

An Impending Winter Crime Wave?

All indicators at hand suggest an emerging trend of a “crime wave” that will affect Athens in the winter of 2016-2017. The last time that a similar phenomenon took place was in 2011-2012, during a period of intense political infighting and economic destabilization.

This period ahead will inevitably include masses of immigrants/refugees located in camps who are gradually becoming involved in criminal activities, and may even be inclined towards religious radicalization. The convergence of interests between anarchists and migrant activists, as discussed by Balkanalysis.com last December, also continues and in some recent cases of fires and destruction (mostly concerning migrant camps in the islands) there is a strong likelihood that leftist forces supported these actions.

January-September 2016: Chronology of Urban Violence in Athens

January

10th Jan. A riot erupts between football hooligans of the teams Olympiacos and AEK

16th Jan. Anarchists attack police officers in Exarcheia in Athens

21st Jan. Football hooligan fights concerning Panathinaikos team

22nd Jan. Hooligan fights concerning Panathinaikos team

27th Jan. Hooligan fights concerning Panathinaikos team

28th Jan. Riot occurs between anarchists and far-right members in the center of Athens

30th Jan. Anarchists attack the private residence of the minister of state

February

5th Feb. Unknown assailants throw fire bombs at PASOK party offices

7th Feb. Unknown assailants throw fire bombs at PASOK party offices

10th Feb. Hooligan fights concerning Panathinaikos team

12th Feb. Farmers protest and clash with police

19th Feb. Unknown assailants throw fire bombs at PASOK party offices

23rd Feb. Hooligan fights in center of Athens

24th Feb. Anarchists attack state TV offices

25th Feb. Hooligans from Olympiacos team attack police patrols

March

5th Mar. Anarchists protest in Exarcheia and openly display rifles and pistols

12th Mar. Unknown assailants throw fire bombs at PASOK party offices

13th Mar. Anarchists attack urban railway in center of Athens

16th Mar. Anarchists stage riot inside Hilton hotel in Athens

21st Mar. Anarchists publish online personal data and names of traffic inspector personnel, threatening them

24th Mar. Unknown assailants throw fire bombs at police station in Athens

April

2nd Apr. Football hooligans riot in center of Athens

18th Apr. Anarchists attack offices of weekly newspaper

16th Apr. Unknown assailants damage property of traffic inspector personnel (see event 21st March)

22th Apr. Anarchists attack urban railway in Athens

22th Apr. Anarchists attack Police patrol

23rd Apr. Anarchist attack a supermarket in Athens suburb

23rd Anarchists attack bank office

24th Apr. Anarchist attack the police station in Exarcheia

24th Apr. Anarchists attack various shops and buildings in center of Athens

26th Apr. Anarchists attack various shops and buildings in center of Athens

May

8th May Attack with fire bombs on PASOK offices

8th May Anarchists attack  various shops and buildings in center of Athens

21st May Anarchist arson attack on public transport vehicle

22nd May Anarchists attack police patrol

25th May Football hooligans riot in a suburb of Athens

30th May Anarchists attack various shops and buildings in center of Athens

30th May Anarchist arson attack on public transport vehicle

June

1st June Anarchists attack police patrol

5th June Anarchists attack the residence of the minister of state

6th June Football hooligans clash in the outskirts of Athens

15th June Anarchists attack an Athens high court

16th June Anarchists arson public transport vehicle

17th June Attack with fire bombs on PASOK offices

18th June Anarchists attack urban railway station

22th June Anarchists damage public statues in Athens

25th June Anarchists attack various shops and buildings in center of Athens

25th June Anarchists destroy a military vehicle

29th June Anarchists storm the Mexican Embassy in Athens

July-August

This is traditionally considered a vacation period, in which activists suspend attacks in favor of the beach. Nonetheless, urban violence continued, albeit at a 30% decrease. A notable event (though not in Athens) was the occupation of Aristotle University in Thessaloniki by No Border prop-migrant activists and anarchists (including a large foreign contingent) in July.

These other European anarchists were generally more violent, though Greek anarchists led the way with symbolic occupations of low-risk targets (like the office of the ruling leftist Syriza party). Their purpose was to criticize the government’s new refugee camp system set up with EU guidance, following the closure of the ‘wild’ Eidomeni border camp. Activists also sought to challenge police at the Evros border fence with Turkey, but their efforts were minor and inconclusive.

10th July Anarchists and police clash in Athens, cars and trash bins burned with petrol bombs

15th July Anarchists throw paint at Turkish Embassy in Athens

26th July Anarchists throw paint at Turkish Embassy in Athens

1st August Embassy of Mexico in Athens shot at by automatic rifle, anarchists suspected

September

The action was renewed September 2016, with the end of holiday season and return to universities. Since then, the main targets of attack have been public transport, shops, governmental buildings and especially police stations- the usual targets. A police chief was also attacked in September, while there have also been various threatening proclamations against a variety of people, posted online.

Economic and Security Challenges, Plus Foreign Financial Interests, To Cause Early Greek Elections

By Ioannis Michaletos

Early elections will be held in Greece by October 2016, Balkanalysis.com can predict. This is due to factors such as the sustained economic downturn, multiple private sector defaults, rising security issues, political tensions and some high-profile recent meetings between powerful foreign financial interests and domestic politicians.

The Greek general elections should be normally held in September 2019, but credible sources analyzing the present trends in Athens support our view that Syriza leader and prime minister Alexis Tsipras will call early elections, to prevent a further worsening of his party’s dropping approval ratings, and to defer difficult decisions for others.

Controversial Moves from the Tsipras Administration Hit Citizens Hard

The Greek government needs money and assets, and its increasingly aggressive means of achieving these goals is striking a heavy blow against ordinary citizens- not to mention contradicting the social- and economic-justice platform that the ruling government’s voters support.

Between January and June 2016, more than 600,000 persons saw the tax service confiscate bank savings – depending on amounts owed to the state plus monthly penalty interest rates – with an additional number of citizens expected to be affected by the end of 2016.

Concurrently, some 10,000 real estate plots were confiscated by the tax service, with an additional 30,000 expected to be taken over. This has happened while 60,000 housing units and businesses saw their electricity connection cut off, with possibly more than 300,000 people affected.

At the same time, however, the public sector has seen pay rises for particular categories of civil servants- even though the inefficiency that has chronically characterized most of the ministerial apparatus has only been growing. As a result, we are seeing an increase in mainstream Greek public disaffection and anger against a perceived “conspiracy” of Syriza to keep all state sector benefits and to turn against the private sector.

Potential Defaults, Debt Accumulation and a Politically Crippling Bail-in Recapitalization

Furthermore, large Greek private companies are defaulting or are about to default, informed sources attest.

The Marinopoulos chain is the largest supermarket chain in the country, with 13,000 employees and 40,000 suppliers’ jobs at stake. New information indicates that the company is on the verge of total collapse. If this happens, it will cost Greek banks 750 million euros in outstanding loans, and around 1 billion euros in suppliers’ debts. It should be noted that since Syriza came to power, the prices of average grocery items have also been rising in general, despite the poor economy.

Similarly, the energy-sector major, Mamidakis Jet Oil, is bursting at the seams, with 350 million euro loans and 100 million euro debts to the Greek ELPE refinery group.

Other companies in imminent danger include Chalyvourgiki (once Greece’s largest steel producer), the Elfsina shipyard, ELVO (Hellenic Vehicles Industry), and the EuroMedical private clinics chain. In total, due to potential company defaults, there are seven billion euros in bank loans that could blow up in the coming 10 weeks; the defaults and company crashes would mean additional 100,000 jobs lost.

As a result, a new recapitalization of the Greek banking system would be needed. That will only be accomplished by a bail-in of citizen’s deposits. No government would be able to withstand the public outcry that this would cause.

In addition, the lenders have obliged the Greek government to accept not only a de facto control of the banking system but also a de jure one, culminating with the consequent appointment of foreign board members in all Greek systemic banks. As the Financial Times recently reported this is part of the 2015 agreement with Greece’s lenders, a fact that nullifies Greek state control over the economy, and ensured the failure of Syriza to enact a “Socialist” implementation of its rhetoric.

Criminality on the Rise amidst Economic Torpor

Crime rates are steadily increasing too. In June 2016, a network of 150 Georgian thieves was rolled up; this group had conducted “raids” on private houses, using highly sophisticated burglary methods. In this way, they stole hundreds of thousands of euros per month.

At the same time, the Attika anti-drug directorate (which covers Athens and its periphery) currently arrests more than 10 people daily on narcotics charges, while pick-pocketing is becoming a major headache for police- not only in major urban centers, but even in the countryside.

At the same time the approximately 60,000 “trapped” refugees inside Greece will only tend to increase once Erdogan decides to open the flow once again, as Balkanalysis.com has predicted. The degree of organized crime based on the illegal migration trade includes long-established local networks, as Balkanalysis.com has reported in the past.

On top of the above, urban extremism is on the rise. The Greek postal service has decided to close down its Exarcheia outlet, due to “vandalism” in the traditionally anarchist-friendly neighborhood. Meanwhile, anarchist groups have even made trips from the city to Athens International Airport, just to blockade the Israeli El Al company’s check-in counters as a form of political protest.

At the same time, other attacks, including arson, are being observed on public transport. Security services are also anxiously focused on new far-left terrorist groups emerging, as they have seen a considerable increase in recruitment of radicalized urban youth recently. Again, the continuing poor state of the economy and high unemployment seems to be feeding this trend.

Volatility, Leaks and Bets on Early Elections

Analysts on the Athens stock market, as well as foreign diplomatic representations in Greece, are already drafting memos predicting a 70% chance for early elections in September-October 2016.

The former premier, Kostas Karamanlis of the conservative NeaDimokratia (now in opposition) is said to have expressed the same view in early July 2016. His thoughts were carefully “leaked” to the local press.

In the same period, the notorious Yannis Varoufakis, the Syriza government’s flamboyant original finance minister, was once again implicated in a plot by the Greek press. Varoufakis has been accused of seeking, back in mid-2015, to stage a sort of “coup d’etat” that would have invoked martial law. This plot was meant to ensure the swift entrance of a national currency (the drachma), once negotiations with the creditors collapsed.

This plot was mentioned by an American academic, James K. Galbraith, in his recent book Welcome to the Poisoned Chalice. Greek judicial sources now comment that these revelations, along with similar ones made by Yannis Stournaras in 2015 concerning the background of Varoufakis’s negotiations then may eventually lead to court proceedings against many people allegedly involved. It remains to be seen.

It is worth noting, in this context, that since early 2015 (the time when Syriza first came to power) there have been constant crises and claimed coups across the Balkans, with most of them being associated with billionaire hedge fund manager George Soros. Many consider Varoufakis one of Soros’ financial protégés, though the Greek public was not really considering Varoufakis’ background until after he suddenly left the government last summer.

Brexit and the Concerns of Greece’s Creditors

The still-uncertain Brexit outcome coincides with developments in Greece, and is making Greece’s creditors even more conservative. Obviously, the Brexit vote will have a huge impact on all of Europe’s economic policies and activities, but considering that bailed-out Greece is considered a ‘special case,’ we can expect to feel the first aftershocks of the vote here,

Therefore, due to one shock (the actual Brexit vote itself), the EU is concerned to avoid any more surprises. So, whether or not it will ever prove successful, the policy of austerity towards the Tsipras government will continue. The bottom line is that creditors fear a total loss of control over Greece’s line-of-credit program. Thus Athens can expect no leniency in the coming months. Italy’s brewing banking crisis is an added negative factor for Athens in this regard.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Meet the Bilderbergers

The main opposition party leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, was recently invited to the 9-12 June 2016 Bilderberg group’s meeting in Dresden. The annual meetings of this secretive informal body of Western power-brokers inevitably inspire protests and conspiracy theories. The Greek media and public were thus highly interested to know more about why the elite group had invited the opposition politician this year. (The two other Greek participants at Bilderberg this year were George Logothetis, CEO of Libra Group, and Dimitri Papalexopoulos, CEO of Titan Cement).

In any case, it is surely not accidental that soon after the event the new ND president participated in high-level meetings with London market-makers (PIMCO, Blackrock, KKR, Blackstone, Paulson & Co, Soros Capital). Mitsotakis had already met German Chancellor Merkel weeks before, as well as ECB strongman Mario Draghi in Frankfurt.

It is more than obvious that in meeting Mitsotakis, the creditors’ representatives and those having a stake in the Greek debt crisis chose someone they assume will be leading the country in the near term. Balkanalysis.com expects a meeting between the IMF head and Mitsotakis to be announced, followed by rapid political developments in Athens. This will likely lead to new elections as the Tsipras government continues to lose popularity.

Dynastic Rule To Return in 2016

Last but not least, Mitsotakis is not only a prime minister in-waiting, but also the heir of perhaps the most important Greek political family in modern history. His sister, Dora Bakoyannis is an MP, former minister of foreign affairs, and former mayor of Athens. Kyriakos’ father was the premier of Greece between 1990-1993, and an MP from 1946-2000; further back, his grandfather was the leading political figure from Crete, even before the island’s unification with Greece.

Further, Mitsotakis is also related with another Cretan family, the Venizelos dynasty spawned by Eleftherios Venizelos, the most important figure in recent Greek history. The Nea Dimokratis leader is related as well to dozens of others influential political and business families, mostly descended from Crete.

It is worth mentioning that all of the globally well-known Greek political dynasties (Mitsotakis, Papandreou, Samaras/Benakis) are offshoots either literally or politically of the Venizelos family and parties that have ruled Greece since the early 20th century.

The Venizelos family itself descends from an ancient clan in the Peloponnesian region of Laconia (Mystras), which fled to Western Crete in the 18th century.  Thus it is safe to conclude (along with lots of other research of a similar nature) that the so-called Greek political elite was formed even before the establishment of the modern Greek state. Furthermore the vast majority of that elite descend from the Southern Peloponnese and Western Crete. These two regions experienced frequent exchanges of populations between them for centuries, and in geography and temperament always proved the most formidable challenge to the Turks. A safe prediction is that this dynastic control will continue for the foreseeable future, to the relief of foreigners with a financial stake in the country.

Political Parties and their Likely Positions

The smaller parties are also taking their seats for the show. To Potami, which emerged as a centrist ‘third way’ in time for 2014 European Parliament elections, is gradually losing hope of re-entering the Greek parliament, and the majority of its members are opting for collaboration with the long-established ND.

Meanwhile, the similarly established PASOK, which had been left for dead following the rise of Syriza, is actually faring better, and will definitely seek an autonomous role. We predict that it is 99% certain that in case ND needs a coalition partner , PASOK will gladly accept the role of the junior partner.

Additionally, Enosi Kentroon (Union of Centrists) has already expressed its desire for a coalition government. While the party had not cracked the 3 percent threshold for participation in parliament in the January 2015 elections, it gained nine seats in the September 2015 election, its biggest recent success. This result was a symptom of public frustration both with the establishment parties and perceived Syriza incompetence.

The leftist parties such as the Communists, plus the Syriza splinter ones, LAE and Plefsi are in serious opposition with Tsipras himself viewing him as a traitor to the “cause.” And, despite his controversial qualities, Varoufakis still has an X factor among some disenchanted voters, and he will definitely play a role in some form, most probably as a commentator who will provide “revelations.”

In such a case, Syriza cannot expect support from these previously vital allies. ANEL, the conservative junior partner in Syriza’s current government, is unlikely to surpass the 3% threshold again, as it only narrowly managed to do so back in September 2015.

The remaining party to be surely represented in the next parliament, the fascist-leaning Golden Dawn, remains an outcast, following a lonely “anti-system “path. Thus it is not a real part of the equation.

Conclusion: Fall 2016 Elections Are Probable

We expect the Syriza administration will opt for the best solution, regarding its own political survival. The solution which leaders perceive is to have elections early enough to guarantee that even if it loses, it will still have a strong presence in the parliament, and will oblige its successor (i.e., ND) to implement all of the harsh laws that it itself is now delaying. Thus it will continue to ensure that others pay the price.

Otherwise, if elections are deferred past fall, the winter 2016-2017 will see a complete collapse of Syriza’s remaining popularity. In that case, a later election would result in a total victory for ND, and turn the tables in the established political game. This would probably lead to the disintegration of Syriza, which in any case is just a combination of various diverse leftist factions. We thus predict that there is a 75% chance of early elections before November 2016- and that those with a financial stake in Greece are betting on Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his establishment Nea Dimokratia to win them.

 

 

More Excerpts from Studies in Greek Security, Volume II: 2012-2015

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: the following excerpts offer just a glimpse into the rich selection of analyses and reports that comprise our new work, Studies in Greek Security, Volume II: 2012-2015. Available now on Amazon Kindle, this book is the successor volume to the previously published Studies in Greek Security: 2006-2011, both by Chris Deliso and Ioannis Michaletos. See also our first set of excerpts from the new publication.

Excerpt from Chapter 8: The Illegal Immigration Industry in Greece in 2015: a Strategic Overview

March 25, 2015

This pernicious reality involves two basic truths: the natural tendency for public institutions to expand if left unchecked; and the natural desire of the private sector towards maximal profit.

When united in any common purpose – in this case, a joint approach to dealing with illegal immigration in Greece – this involves a massive transfer of wealth from ordinary citizens, largely (but not only) in the developed world, to the institutions and companies involved. This involves both taxpayer money, and donations from philanthropic institutions that are tax-deductible.

While we have seen it is possible to make basic estimates of the amount of money generated by the human-trafficking gangs themselves, it is ironic to note that it is impossible to do the same regarding the total revenues generated for the completely legal and approved side of the industry, generated in response to the criminal one.

This is because of the sheer amount of entities involved, the complexity of their interactions, and the informal nature of much of the sub-industry. A complex EU or UN program designed to deal with some aspect of human trafficking might include the need for procurement of resources or materiel, for example. And this is a process that necessarily involves private-sector suppliers, and is enhanced by the additional factor of lobbyists needing to be paid.

Even harder to quantify are the revenues funneled to actors not expected to produce any tangible results, such as expert consultants, and other ‘ideas’ people and groups. More opaque still is the notoriously corrupt NGO and academic sectors, which invariably have political, ideological or business ties far and wide, providing a money laundering opportunity for both criminal elements and the ‘legitimate’ actors.

In the general industry of organized human trafficking in Greece, there is thus a perverse sort of symbiosis between not only the exploiters and the exploited, but fundamentally with the outside actors attempting to deal with the problem. And this is without even considering the financial gains made by political parties based on immigration stances. A perpetuation of the status quo thus remains in many people’s financial or ideological

Excerpt from Chapter 12: Under EU Presidency, Athens Hosts Key Space and Security Conference

June 22, 2014

Inevitably, such an event drew heavy interest from specialist private-sector firms wishing to do business with the EU. As one official present told Balkanalysis.com, “basically, they’re scouting out the policies that can be expected or guessed at for the upcoming Commission, after October- what bids might be on, and who to approach.”

In this aspect, the official noted, a good part of the corporate intelligence-gathering was inferring which Brussels officials might keep their current positions or who might take their places.

Thus prominently speaking or taking notes were executives from companies like Airbus Defense and Space, Telespazio, Thales Alenia Space and HELLASAT, the Greek-Cyprus operator whose satellite is nearing the end of its 15-year lifespan.

Along with upgrades and technical developments to take note of, the private sector’s interest in space technology seem to be product-oriented and risk-associated. For example, one of the most interesting subjects discussed with application not only for military or security use was that of future generations of high-resolution satellite imagery. New risks and threats to satellite operations was another important subject to the private sector audience that was assessed as, for example, with the issue of violent space weather and its impact on SATCOM.

Excerpt from Chapter 23: Turkish Intelligence Sabotage Allegations Affect Relations with Greece

January 2, 2012

After the revelations, an emergency inquiry was requested by Greek Supreme Court prosecutor Yiannis Tentes on December 27, 2011. The Greek foreign ministry issued a protest note, demanding an explanation. The foreign minister, Stavros Dimas and his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, spoke on the phone and resolved to meet to discuss the issue early in 2012.

Despite the denial from Yilmaz, former Greek officials also seconded the story. The former head of the NIS, Leonidas Vasilikopoulos was reported to have said intelligence existed “that Turkish agencies were involved in the arsons in the 1990s but had no proof.” According to the Journal of Turkish Weekly, Vasilikopoulos also said Greece “should be cautious about the reasons for Mesut Yılmaz’s statements.”

Buy Studies in Greek Security, Volume II: 2012-2015 for Amazon Kindle now!

Current Greek Counter-Terrorism Threat Assessment: Terrorism, Radicalization and Migration

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: readers who enjoy this article will also want to obtain the author’s new ebook, Studies in Greek Security Vol.II: 2012-2015, available on Amazon Kindle. For excerpts from the book, check out this new article.

By Ioannis Michaletos

For Europe, 2015 was marked by a historic migration crisis and then successive Jihadist attacks in France, followed by those in Brussels in early 2016. Other planned plots were disrupted during this period in different countries. Currently security agencies across the world are working at an intensified pace, trying to uncover the terrorist networks and break down their logistic and communication lines, along with arresting their coordinators.

In the following report, several major aspects of the counter-terrorism effort in Greece are discussed.

Context: Greece’s Geo-Political Placement, and Increased Police Activity

First of all, Greece faces a two-fold challenge. It is geopolitically situated right in the midst of the axis between the Middle East (and the Syrian-Iraqi battlefields) with major EU states, plus it faces a human flow of illegal immigrants and refugees that hinders capacity of effectively vetting newcomers and uncovering terrorists hidden within them. Moreover, the country’s financial burden places further constraints on budgets and capacities. However, the security services have also benefited from non-disclosed technical upgrades in some capacities since January.

In general, the counter-terrorism effort has to take into account these two aspects before forming a clear stance. For the time being it is widely assessed that networks of suspicious NGO’s of Islamic origin, makeshift mosques and dozens of persons are both electronically and physically being monitored by police. There is now a special focus on the islands close to Turkey, in Athens and Thessaloniki, where the largest congregation of suspects is to be found.

On a purely operational level, we are noting increased police protection of major transport hubs such as Athens International Airport and the Athens metro-urban railway. The port of Piraeus, which is also a major transit port for cruise ships has seen its security boosted.

Further, major motorways leading from the west of the country to the eastern borders with Turkey, such as the Egnatia Odos, are seeing a noticeable increase of police patrols. These include more stop-and-search operations. The Egnatia axis in particular is the one connecting thee, Middle East, via Turkey, with the Adriatic – as well as the Balkans and thence Central Europe – creating a vast geo-economic corridor. This can also be used, of course, for the transfer of all sorts of contraband from the East to the West, and South to North.

Increased Protection of Diplomatic Installations, and Leftist Threats

Diplomatic representations of countries assessed as being potential terrorist targets, and assorted associations and businesses, are all benefitting from increased police security controls.

It is noteworthy to add that some of these representations have been in the past successfully targeted not by jihadists but by homegrown far-left terrorists, such as was the case with the rocket attack on the US Embassy in 2007, the attack on the German Ambassador’s residence in 2013, and another one targeting the Israeli Embassy in 2014.

Indeed, because of many years’ experience, the security services’ awareness in that sector exceeds its anti-jihadist knowledge. Here protection is a particular challenge for local authorities, since the perpetrators are largely Greeks. To understand the historic and chronic nature of this threat see Balkanalysis.com’s prior study of all left-wing attacks from 2008 through 2012, and our review of former US diplomat Brady Kiesling’s study, Greek Urban Warriors.

Most recently, Balkanalysis.com anticipated the convergence of radical leftist groups and migration activists, predicting the kind of organized violence we have been seeing at migrant camps like Lesvos and Eidomeni. These also constitute a growing security challenge for police.

However, while other Balkan countries have recently expelled violent activists responsible for causing physical damage, Greece is limited in this capacity precisely because it is in the Schengen Zone. If it deports an activist for causing trouble, that person can always come back, so long as Greece remains in the zone.

Enhanced International Cooperation, Post-Brussels

Another important aspect is Greece’s international cooperation with anti-terrorism task forces, with the American FBI being especially active in Athens. Our sources indicate that FBI activity increased after the attacks in Brussels.

All major EU states have also boosted bilateral cooperation with local authorities due to the terrorism threat. Here there is a special focus on checking the movements of suspected terrorists hidden within the immigration wave. Nonetheless, despite increased scrutiny, no arrests or detentions within Greece have occurred lately in relation to that threat.

The EU border assistance authority FRONTEX is also increasing its personnel in the country, though it is tasked mostly with patrol and registration duties and not counter-terrorism ones. Nevertheless, DEONTEX experts could contribute by clarifying the threat assessment in the country, and building a network for exchange of information between all interested parties, by checking and verifying flows.

On the other hand, FRONTEX itself may add to the list of potential targets, since anarchists and migrant activists have long identified it as one of the symbols of “racist” European policies. Therefore, attacks on FRONTEX installations or personnel by such groups cannot be excluded.

Security Concerns Surrounding Migrant Camps and Activists

Indeed, currently the many refugee camps across the country and most notably in Eidomeni, Piraeus, Elliniko and Lesvos are routinely checked for the presence of radicals posing as refugees. Balkanalysis.com security sources confirm that “substantial numbers” of uniformed and plainclothes police and intelligence officials have been dispatched to these locations, to interrogate or make connections with such persons.

Furthermore, police are monitoring the social media presence of known and lesser known radicals, as well as the preaching of self-proclaimed Imams in Athens-based religious establishments. Data collected so far by Balkanalysis.com indicates the existence of cells coordinated by 15 different extremists who could pose a future threat, but do not seem to have been activated so far within the country, in terms of conducting offensive operations. Propaganda and logistics assistance seem to be the main preoccupation of these networks in Greece, since the country is viewed as a transit zone primarily.

Prison Radicalization and the Intersection of Crime and Terrorism

The steadily increasing Muslim population in the Greek prison system has also presented a new challenge. Although all the inmates are convicted criminals, there has been a noted radicalization amongst groups of them, who no longer identify in ethnic terms but in religious (Islamist) terms. A gradual radicalization us thus occurring alongside the establishment of a parallel society.

Historical experience in most European countries confirms that this is a major milestone in the proliferation of hybrid criminal-terrorist networks within the general society, as inmates who have been radicalized re-enter society and then expand their beliefs, combining criminal action with extremist indoctrination. Eventually, this leads to plain terrorist action if opportunity arises. The case of Belgium and the Molenbek urban ghetto is a prime example.

Current Assessment

Greek security forces assess that major threats so far include lone wolf type attacks or small radicalized cells that will act on their own based on social media brainwashing, and not based on orders from or contact with Islamic State or other larger organizations.

Meanwhile, the radicalization process inside the refugee camps will result in public disorder that could be then used by terrorists to stage an attack. This is another peril for which Greek security services are trying to prepare. Although an attack by itself, if not sanctioned and prepared by specialists such as ISIS will have only limited damage, it could still cause disruption.

Of course, such attacks could possibly be averted by the previously mentioned preventive measures. Acts of provocations inside refugee camps by experienced agents provocateurs is an additional issue directly tied with the previous ones.

Generally, the counter -terrorism threat assessment indicates an elevation of danger in 2016 compared to previous years. On the other hand, the overall danger level still lags behind the one in the “traditional Jihadist target countries” such as Belgium or France. As long as Greece remains a ‘transit’ country rather than a ‘prestige’ target this reality should continue.

 

Excerpts from Studies in Greek Security, Volume II: 2012-2015

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: the following excerpts offer a just a glimpse into the rich selection of analyses and reports that comprise our new work, Studies in Greek Security, Volume II: 2012-2015. Available now on Amazon Kindle, this book is the successor volume to the previously published Studies in Greek Security: 2006-2011, both by Chris Deliso and Ioannis Michaletos.

Excerpt from Chapter 3, “The Kammenos Doctrine, 2.0.”

September 24, 2015

The ANEL view towards Greece’s regional security role has to do with both economic and military identification. As a maritime power, Greece is seen as having a near abroad from the southern Balkans to the coasts of Egypt, Israel and Lebanon; this general area of influence is considered as vital to accentuate Greek power projection. Kammenos has also voiced a plan to expand military cooperation with these countries, including continuance of Israeli Air Force practice in Greek airspace, as a replacement for Turkey, where cooperation stopped following the Mavi Marmaris incident of May 2010.

Interestingly, when asked about Greece’s role in the Balkan region by other Greek military officials in May, Kammenos stated that Greece “had no interest” in being involved in those areas. Specifically, he associated the narrowly-averted terrorist plot in Kumanovo, Macedonia with the returning foreign fighters from Syria. This statement confirmed that he, at least officially, views the Balkans as more of a foreign policy and diplomatic orientation for Greece.

The second element of Greek defense’s regional orientation is due to a perception of the country (and Cyprus) as vital for international trade and commerce, and undersea gas transit in future (the Levantine Basin riches, disputed with Turkey in the case of Cyprus). Thus a robust Greek naval and air force presence in the Aegean is part of the Kammenos doctrine for reasons of economic security as well as defensive security. Nonetheless, both Kammenos and the Syriza left do not show much stomach for interventions in foreign wars, which is consonant with the views of most Greek politicians in modern history. Thus in the end, Kammenos is more of a centrist in this regard.

Excerpt from Chapter 13, “Thessaloniki Court Sentences Kurdish Militant, Four Months after Anti-Terror Raid in Athens.”

June 5, 2014

A partial result has been achieved by Greek judicial authorities, four month after a historic Greek-Turkish-American intelligence operation against Kurdish militants in Athens.

Two days ago, a Thessaloniki court sentenced Hüseyin Fevzi Tekin to seven years in jail over a a 2011 bombing that killed one person. The Thessaloniki Court of Appeals heard additional witness and also based its case on fingerprint evidence. Tekin had been a key member in the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C). He was arrested, along with three other members, on February 10. He was living in Athens under a false Bulgarian identity in a Gyzi safe house.

At that time, Tekin was arrested along with Murat Korkut, Bilgehan Karpat and İsmail Akkol- reportedly involved in the 1996 murder of Turkish businessman Özdemir Sabancı in Istanbul. Tekin was also convicted for illegal weapons and explosives possession (a large cache had been found by police in the Gyzi apartment).

Excerpt from Chapter Greece and Turkey: Offensive and Defensive Balance of Air Power in 2012

February 19, 2012

The Greek Air Force is oriented almost exclusively towards Turkey. The Turkish Air Force, on the other hand, has active obligations with the Kurdish conflict plus contingency plans for the Greek, Middle Eastern and Eastern Mediterranean fronts. It can be concluded that a balance of power exists in the air, with no side having a definitive advantage for the moment due to strategic geography.

 Advanced types

Greece: F-16’s (Block 50 and Block 52+) and Mirage 2000-5 Mk2: 113 jets

Turkey: F-16’s Block 50: 30 jets on order (an estimated 10 have already arrived)

 Older modern jets

Greece: F-16’s (Block 30/40/50) and Mirage 2000 EGM/BGM: 92 jets

Turkey: F-16’s (Block 30/40/50): 203 jets

 Older types

Greece: F-4 PI2000, F-4E/2020, F-4 RF and A-7E/H: 113 jets

Turkey: F-4 2020, F-4E, RF-4E and F-5: 144 jets

 Transport planes

Greece: C-130 and C-27J Spartan: 27 planes

Turkey: C-130 and C-235: 80 planes

 Training planes

Greece: T-2E, T-6A, T-41D: 103 planes

Turkey: T-38A/B/C, T-41D, SF.260D: 189 planes

……………………………………………………………………..

Buy Studies in Greek Security, Volume II: 2012-2015 for Amazon Kindle now!

Exclusive: Germany’s BND Investigating Migration Risks and Russian Influence in Greece

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: this new study assesses BND outlook, structure, operational procedure, secret migrant interrogation practices, strategic assets and some key targets in Greece, both Greek and Russian, as the migration war takes new and dangerous forms.

By Chris Deliso

Angela Merkel’s cabinet has ordered Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND, to document Russian influence on the Greek government- and particularly, its migration policy.

At the same time, German spooks are ramping up a covert program (which began in late August 2015), to infiltrate migration-related NGOs and groups in Greece, Turkey and other countries. Their mission is to investigate migrant trafficking networks and find more evidence of security risks associated with illegal migration. This is necessary for both national security and political/social reasons, as the Balkan route is now closing and calls to restrict migration are getting louder across Europe.

Motivations for the BND’s Increased Operations

The British Sunday Times recently reported that Merkel fears growing Russian influence in Greece, a trend German media has covered since early 2015. But this topic is fundamentally distinct from the German government’s perception of, and shaping of, the migration crisis since that time.

Indeed, both BND investigations were ordered, one European security official states, “because Merkel has been continuously wrongly informed about the migrant situation on the ground” by top advisor Christoph Heusgen. Although Heusgen has decades of experience in senior positions, this source says, “he is not competent on security issues- only diplomatic ones.” Yet a close study of public documents relating to Heusgen’s diplomacy regarding the US, Israel and the Balkans calls even that qualification into question.

Merkel’s trust in Heusgen’s advice has reportedly also exasperated German military and intelligence officials who have a better understanding of the real situation on the ground.

The BND’s increased role is coming at a time when preparations are being made to shut down the Balkan Route for migrants and refugees completely. It thus has three aspects.

The first is political: to provide intelligence that Merkel can use to shift the blame over her own catastrophic migration policy onto Russia and Greece.

The second is pre-emptive: to learn more about a current Greek-Russian plan to destabilize Europe by forcing up to 100,000 migrants to mass on its northern borders, in an attempt to ‘force the borders’ open, which would have the most damage on the Macedonian state (a Greek strategic interest) and cause havoc throughout the region (a Russian one). However, as we reported on February 10, Macedonia has taken measures to protect its border. President Gjorge Ivanov recently repeated “prepared for all scenarios” at a speech for the OSCE in Rome. This speech was basically reprinted in The Telegraph on March 7, and is worth reading in full.

The third aspect of the BND’s mission concerns domestic security: to assess security risks and thus prevent Germany from future terrorist attacks or other migration-related instability, while developing its HUMINT network among both migrant-associated NGOs and individual migrants themselves.

Essentially, what is happening now is a latter-day Great Powers struggle that presents a security risk particularly for Balkan countries trapped in between the Brussels-Berlin-Ankara-Moscow war for the control of Europe.

Ironically for Germany, the expansion of the migration war into Europe has been fueled largely by Angela Merkel’s failure to handle the crisis responsibly from the beginning.

Giving the Order: if not Merkel, Who?

The order for the BND to ramp up activities related to Russian influence in Greece did not come from Merkel directly, one German intelligence specialist tells Balkanalysis.com. “In the chancellor’s office, there are two firewalls between Merkel and the BND. First, the Chief of the Federal Chancellery (Chef des Bundeskanzleramtes) Peter Altmaier, and under him the Commissioner for the intelligence services (Beauftragter für die Nachrichtendienste), Klaus-Dieter Fritsche. One of these two men thus communicated – probably verbally – the order to BND chief Gerhard Schindler.

By contrast, BND intelligence-gathering regarding the general migration threat had however long been ongoing, both in Germany and abroad. As we will see, these activities have had domestic and foreign usages and have changed with the operative circumstances. However, our sources indicate that internal disagreements prevented the service from taking a proactive role until it was already basically too late.

Basic BND Facts

The BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst, or Federal Intelligence Service) consists of 12 directorates, employs about 6,500 persons, and has an annual budget surpassing 615 million euros. Its official website provides relatively more public information than do other secret services, because of the German people’s desire for transparency. This is a general reaction to their own difficult history (from the Gestapo to the Stasi and, most recently, Snowden’s revelations of BND-NSA cooperation).

The BND has several domestic installations and runs numerous operations abroad. The latter activity has increased to match Germany’s own increasingly aggressive tendencies in recent years. Further, some domestic activities that have officially been ended are continuing, as we shall see.

Relevant BND Directorates and the Significance of their Work for this Study

The excitement over Edward Snowden’s disclosure has meant that the BND’s directorate for SIGINT has gotten all the press (for example, see this excellent and detailed Zeit Online report from February 2015, based on “secret BND documents”). However, for the current analysis, other directorates are more relevant.

The first is Directorate EA: Areas of Operation and Foreign Relations (Einsatzgebiete/Auslandsbeziehungen). This directorate coordinates BND relations with foreign intelligence agencies. EA also provides intelligence for the protection of German military (and their allies) abroad, and coordinates cooperation with domestic governmental institutions.

Additionally significant are Directorates LA/LB-Regional Analysis and Procurement, A/B countries (Regionale Auswertung und Beschaffung A und Regionale Auswertung und Beschaffung B). These two regional directorates cover foreign political, economic and military affairs, ordering collection assignments to BND operatives abroad.

“For these assignments,” the official website states, “all means of intelligence collection are taken into consideration.” Intelligence collected is then routed back to LA/LB analysts in Germany for evaluation and possible inclusion in situation reports. Directorates LA/LB focus on crisis regions and early crisis detection, and support German military assignments abroad.

Also of relevance is Directorate TE- International Terrorism and Organized Crime (Internationaler Terrorismus und Internationale Organisierte Kriminalität). TE focuses specifically on Islamic terrorism and international organized crime: the latter includes narcotics, illegal migration and money laundering. Directorate TE is the only BND directorate to do both collection and evaluation work internally.

Significantly, Directorate TE liaises with foreign partner services and is the BND’s specific representative in Germany’s Joint Counterterrorism Center, Joint Internet Center in Berlin Treptow and Joint Analysis and Strategy Center for Illegal Migration in Potsdam.

These directorates are most relevant to the present study because they are the ones most involved in the topic areas in question. Their relative success, failure and degree of influence on internal and political leaders would help assess the past, present and future orientation of German foreign intelligence work regarding migration, security, and political relations in foreign countries, in the present case, Russian influence in Greece. Therefore, researchers with awareness of personnel and events can examine the directorates’ role in shaping the BND’s perception of reality and relative ability to affect state policy on these issues.

Information collected separately by Balkanalysis.com indicates that a significant internal problem over the past year has been between field operatives (especially, those from a military/security background) and the armchair civilian analysts. Multiple sources have confirmed that important intelligence from the field was disregarded or underestimated, especially in terms of the migration threat. This could help explain the failure of political leaders to consider the security risks associated with migration until too late.

Yet even within the BND, one expert observer attests, “they were completely surprised by some of the major developments and existence of problematic [migration-related] elements in Greece and Turkey last summer- they had no idea that certain of them even existed!”

This realization led to a rapid acceleration in foreign activities targeting migration networks, carried out or supported by personnel in the above directorates. It is not possible to say simply that Directorate EA failed to learn from its foreign service partners, or that Directorate TE was lax on the migration threat, or that Directorates LA/LB failed in its mandate of early crisis detection. All of these are however possible, and BND internal inspectors would do well to ask such questions when examining their country’s overall failure in the migration crisis.

In fairness, the NSA scandal caused considerable bad press and a loss of trust from key European partners, such as France, Belgium and Austria, which could have hampered cooperation in the present migration crisis. But a June 2015 report in The Telegraph was a bit misleading when it said that “field officers will be brought back under central control,” when actually the ‘reorganization’ discussed specifically concerned SIGINT officers at internally located BND facilities- not HUMINT operatives abroad.

Analysis of BND Key Personnel Supports Thesis

An analysis of key BND personnel further confirms the claim that Merkel’s cabinet, not the BND or military, bears most of the blame for Germany’s epic failure in the migration crisis. The service’s top leaders are all capable and engaged professionals. Therefore, the prime suspects for the national failure are the cabinet (particularly, Christof Heusgen and Merkel herself), and possibly internal misunderstandings and poor analysis somewhere down the food chain, within the directorates specified above.

BND President Gerhard Schindler is considered, by German experts and foreign intelligence officials alike, to be a serious and driven “man of action,” well-suited for the job. A positive feature on Schindler published on September 2, 2014 by German journalist Uwe Müller stated that Schindler sought “to mold the BND into his own image.” Müller attested that the BND chief wanted to re-orient the service into running more active, daring and aggressive operations. “We have to be the first in and the last out,” Germany’s top spy is quoted as saying. Schindler also encouraged the BND to take “well-calculated risks,” in accord with the motto, “no risk, no fun.”

In the article, Schindler’s predecessor, Social Democrat Ernst Uhrlau, is derided as a lightweight who “would have loved to transform the BND into a large think tank, an institute for clever strategic analyses with a small connected agent department. At least that is what those familiar with internal activities report.”

Under Schindler, approximately 300 topic secret reports per month are produced for the “German Armed Forces, Parliament, Ministries and, last but not least, the Federal Chancellery of Angela Merkel, to which the BND is the only service to directly report.”

Another key BND official is top vice president (since replacing Géza Andreas von Geyr in 2014) Michael Klor-Berchtold. This officer has a strong background in difficult areas that are relevant to today’s migration crisis. For example, in 2007 he served as Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa and as ambassador to Yemen.

Another senior BND official is Major General Norbert Stier, Vice President for Military Affairs. Prior to his present posting in 2010, Stier had served in numerous military and military intelligence posts for decades, most recently as deputy director of the military intelligence division at NATO’s International Military Staff in Brussels. But Stier also has Balkan experience which should be useful in the present crisis, considering that in 2005 he served as commander of KFOR’s Multinational Brigade Southwest in Prizren, Kosovo.

New BND Task Force Created for Russia-Greece Issues

Multiple informed sources have confirmed for Balkanalysis.com that the BND has increased its existing analysis of “Russian propaganda”- and is even expanding it in the case of Greece.

The Russia issue remains “in the regular intelligence briefings for the Federal Chancellery,” says the German intelligence expert. “Recently the BND was requested to monitor the subject closer and has built a task force.”

In addition to searching social networks “for hints that Russia tries to influence refugees” to go to Germany for economic benefit, this source notes that “the BND is good in HUMINT too, and has never cut such operations, like the NSA and the CIA did.”

The BND’s Secret Migrant Interrogation Program: Domestic Context

Reinhard Gehlen, the former Nazi and CIA-backed first BND director, also oversaw the secret HBW (‘Main Office for Questioning of Beings,’ or Hauptstelle für Befragungswesen). Established in 1958, the organization was used to interrogate incoming migrants. It used undercover BND agents, and even allowed British and American services to interrogate asylum seekers- a natural continuation of the Allied wartime interrogation of captured soldiers.

The BND sub-unit was based in Berlin, with facilities in other places including Nuremberg, Wiesbaden and Hannover. It was active also in refugee camps within Germany, where BND staff worked undercover. Mostly, the migrants interrogated came from conflict-zone countries.

The HBW became a hot political topic after being uncovered in 2011, and especially when Süddeutsche Zeitung reported in November 2013 that intelligence gathered from its migrant camps was being used in subsequent US drone strike targeting. The newspaper also reported that asylum-seekers were sometimes promised favorable application decisions in return for informing about Islamist groups or other threats from their home countries (the Merkel government has tried to deny this).

On December 3, 2013, Süddeutsche Zeitung additionally reported that the government had just announced the HBW’s closure. However, while the secret interrogation program was supposedly closed in June 2014, new information appeared in a Die Zeit article on January 14, 2016. This article revealed that government claims were “not entirely true.” While the government said that migrant interrogation would from then on be conducted “directly in the crisis regions abroad,” the newspaper cited internal intelligence documents and other sources to claim that both the BND and BfV (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, or Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution- Germany’s domestic intelligence service) were still actively present in the teeming refugee camps today.

From the perspective of the intelligence services, the information being provided by people from Syria, Iraq or Eritrea is “a treasure.” Further, the Zeit report claims, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, Bamf) remains an “important informer of the secret services.” Aside from the historic practice of using migrants as informants, the report suggests there is a regular practice of Bamf administrators and security officials selecting interesting candidates from asylum applications- in 2013/2014 alone the BfV “received information about 200 interesting applicants,” while the BND got 435 application cases.

This situation invites a paradox: while intelligence services naturally desire as much information from as many sources as possible, and thus benefit from the presence of so many migrants, the latter also constitute a national security threat in their very presence- thus complicating and compounding the work of internal security agencies, including police and other less specialized bodies.

Despite this threat, the continuation and expansion, as we will see, of the German program confirms yet again that, as Balkanalysis.com predicted in our annual security forecast, 2016 will mark the “return of HUMINT” on a major scale.

BND Secret Migrant Interrogation Operations Abroad

As said, the backlash from the 2013 revelations led the Merkel government to announce the end of migrant interrogations on German soil. As we have just seen, that is a lie, but that is not the interesting aspect here. What is interesting is to explore further the existing – and increasing – role of the BND in interrogating migrants and refugees abroad.

According to numerous informed sources, this program is being driven by the personal determination and operating philosophy of BND President Gerhard Schindler. In government hearings, he has stated that the BND has transferred interrogation operations abroad.

The German intelligence expert notes that the BND “possibly questions refugees in Greece undercover,” but was less sure about cooperation in such cases between the BND and the Greek National Intelligence Service (NIS), which if it has any sense of responsibility would be the lead actor on its home turf.

But other sources confirmed information for Balkanalysis.com that goes much further, attesting that the BND currently has a vast network of undercover interrogation operations, everywhere from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Egypt and Eritrea.

“After they learned the size of the risk,” says the European intelligence officer, “the BND started to infiltrate most NGOs in Greece and Turkey, and other places, involved in any aspect of migration. They use everyone from exchange students to anarchists to deputy directors of major charities.”

Similarly, the Zeit investigation also stated that “BND spies and secret service agents were conveniently with the UNHCR.” Other sources support this assertion, and suggest looking at “deputy director or similar assistant positions where the BND hides their people, with less chance of being spotted.”

Throughout the migration crisis, many NGOs and related advocates on the ground have either been German or backed by Germans. (The British and Dutch are also well-represented among the migration enablers). According to several sources, the vast, Germany-based ‘Welcome to Europe’ network – famous for providing specialized ‘travel guides’ to migrants – has been infiltrated by the BND since late August.

W2EU is just one of many such organizations. But the BND infiltration is doubly beneficial and – again, keeping in mind the above specified directorates – is very useful for finding other practical information. This is because on the Turkey-Greece route, migration overlaps with nearly everything: terrorism, all kinds of organized crime, political factions such as violent anarchists and left-wing terrorists, social movements, right-wing extremists, and foreign governmental influences. The migration issue thus provides a perfect way for the BND, and other services like it, to trawl for information on a host of important issues.

Behind the BND Investigation of Russian Influence in Greece: the Siege at the Macedonian Border

As stated above, the new BND task force on Russian influence has political aspects. Balkanalysis.com sources indicate that Angela Merkel, chronically misinformed by Christoph Heusgen and other top advisors, believed that a closure of the Balkan Route would convince migrants to stay in Turkey, from where they would be flown to Germany. That typical German logic did not turn out to be correct, however, as Greece remains flooded with migrants (over 130,000 since January alone).

Now, a Greek decision has been made to mass 100,000 migrants on the Macedonian border, as a protracted siege meant to break the border. The situation is highly volatile, but the Macedonians seem unworried. At the same time, Bulgaria and Albania have sent troops to their borders, as they fear Greece will expand the siege and destabilize these two countries- which unlike Macedonia, are NATO members.

Merkel’s early February negotiations with Erdoğan and Tsipras were overshadowed, however, by less welcome news that partly led the BND to spring into action. Since then, they have been horrified to learn that key pro-Russian leaders in the Greek government are working, much to the pleasure of Moscow, on flooding the northern borders with up to 100,000 migrants.

The Greek gamble is that the EU and Germany will ‘protect’ Greece, and thus not force whatever massed migrants accumulate to return to Athens or go elsewhere. For Russia, the prospect of seeing Greece continue towards explosion, and even a violent migrant breakthrough of Balkan borders that would destabilize Europe, is highly appealing in the present geopolitical climate.

Greek police have repeatedly allowed migrants to attack Macedonian border fences, without intervening. And every day, Greek authorities continue to bus thousands northward. The military is building migrant camps for 20,000 people just south of Lake Dojran, which it shares with Macedonia. Russian media has intensified its presence in Greece, and particularly now in the Idomeni-Gevgelija border area, and will continue to broadcast the unrest as part of the hybrid war with Brussels and Berlin.

The two major Greek officials associated with the ‘break the borders’ policy are the defense minister, Panos Kammenos, and Nikos Kotsias, the foreign minister. The former’s right-wing Independent Greeks party was not given control of the interior ministry following its coalition with Syriza, but it did receive significant control at the sub-ministry level of the northern borders. This means Greek police along Turkey, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania are under Kammenos’ indirect control.

Nikos Kotzias, on the other hand, is a well-known leftist who was nominated by Tsipras and Syriza to head the foreign ministry. The thing that both officials have in common is a special connection with Russia- as German media has documented, and as the BND is intently working on investigating now.

Independently, our sources confirm that psychology played a role in the Russian selection process: “Kammenos is a not too bright nationalist who wants to be respected as a ‘tough guy,’ and Kotzias is a typical Syriza intellectual with big theories he wants to be recognized for,” says one Greek analyst for Balkanalysis.com. “The Russians were easily able to exploit these weaknesses.”

Russian Influence in Greece: The Zeit Online Investigation

The media definitely influences intelligence targeting, and for this reason it is relevant to mention a high-profile case that put certain prominent Russian and Greek figures on the BND’s radar. It is not clear exactly how this case influenced the direction of operations, but it is likely that it had an effect and also provoked the conditions for Russia to redevelop and expand its intelligence network in Greece.

This occurred with another Zeit Online investigation. The February 7, 2015 report claimed that Syriza and Independent Greeks had long been courted by Russian ideological leaders, diplomats and businessmen.

The report depended on 700 emails of a former Russian embassy official in Athens, Georgy Gavrish, sent from May 2010 through November 2014 (a year after Gavrish had returned to Russia). They had allegedly been hacked in December 2014 by an anti-Russian cyber group. Zeit Online began with a list of wedding guests that Bulgarian pro-Ukraine activist Christo Grozev uploaded here. The fall 2014 wedding of two Greek aristocrats happened in Moscow, because the best man – Russian tycoon Konstantin Malofeyev – was prevented from entering the EU due to his alleged support for Russian separatists in Ukraine. The first guest on the list was Panos Kammenos.

Balkanalysis.com has independently confirmed that Malofeyev is considered a particularly important supporter of the ‘break the borders’ stratagem now being undertaken by Kammenos and Kotzias on the Macedonian border. Because of his perceived past involvement in Ukraine and Crimea, this interest has raised alarms among the Americans.

Zeit Online claimed that Gavrish was connected with Malofeyev, who is also a strong supporter of the Russian Orthodox Church (which will be prominent at a historic pan-Orthodox synod in Crete this June) and that he “belongs to the inner circle of the Russian ideologue Alexander Dugin, a proponent of neo-Eurasianism.”

Zeit Online further relates Dugin to Greek journalist Dimitris Konstantakopoulos (who wrote this refutation to the newspaper). Additionally mentioned is Greek intellectual Nikos Laos, reportedly “also a partner at R-Techno, a Russian private-security firm. Its founder, Roman Romachev, worked for the Russia domestic intelligence agency FSB between 1997 and 2002, where he was in charge of counterintelligence.”

More important is the connection to Nikos Kotzias who, “while still a professor at the University of Piraeus, commissioned several studies that were supposed to investigate the Greek population’s stance toward Russia. From the hacked emails, it emerges that Kotzias personally passed on the results of these studies to Gavrish in June 2013.”

According to the report, Kotzias wrote that “Russia is a potential military and economic ally that [the Greek people] respect and appear to know relatively well.” Further, he adds, “many Greeks have been let down by their traditional allies and have consequently turned toward Russia.” While a Greek MFA spokesman responded to Zeit Online that Kotzias had not been in contact with Dugin, “the trove of leaked emails also includes a group photograph, apparently taken in Greece, showing Kotzias with Dugin and other individuals,” the report concludes.

According to Zeit Online, the Kammenos-Russia connection was also strong. Well before the 2015 elections, “an organisation called ‘Centre for Strategic Research’ and managed by Kammenos signed a long-term cooperation with the Russian Centre for Strategic Research.” According to the German report, the latter is “a structure of the FSB chaired by a Major General of KGB-FSB.”

BND Targets in Greece: Russian

In addition to the personalities listed in the Zeit Online article, Balkanalysis.com can confirm other targets of the BND in the present and future period. They involve Russian diplomats, Russian cultural centers, publications, businesses and other persons, as well as Greek officials and businessmen.

Russia has one of the biggest diplomatic presences in Greece, with some 58 accredited diplomats. By comparison, the US has 72 diplomats in Athens, and Germany, only 27. The size of the mission, compounded by Russia’s continual network development in the post-Gavrish period, has left an ongoing challenge for both America and Germany.

While no specific names are being given, an intelligence officer from one of these allied countries states that “they have very recently officially brought in one guy under diplomatic cover, who had been active with a lot of local contacts in Greece over many years while in other functions…. Another person of interest for the BND is one relatively new third secretary who the Bulgarians used to cover for them. That’s all I will say.”

Among media outlets being watched are the Greek Russian-language newspaper Afinskiy Kurer (Athens Courier) and its staff. Also under German watch is the Pushkin Institute in Athens, the embassy-affiliated Russian Centre of Science and Culture, and Russia’s international cooperation agency.

BND Targets in Greece: Greek

The BND, under “man of action” President Schindler, is using its established HUMINT networks, which have been bolstered by assets gained during the migrant crisis. These include left-wing activists who have ties with both the migration cause, the Syriza party, and more radical left entities. But it is also investigating right-wing, pro-Russian groups as well.

On the Greek side, a major BND target after Kammenos, Kotzias and their close associates, is Evangelos Kalpadakis, Diplomatic Adviser to Prime Minister Tsipras. Intelligence made available to Balkanalysis.com suggests that Kalpadakis played the central role in keeping Merkel in the dark about the possibilities of chaos on the Macedonian border, while working closely with Kotsias, Kammenos and Malofeyev to create conditions for ‘breaking the border’ with 100,000 migrants.

The BND is also assessing the outcome of a meeting held in mid-February between Kammenos and Aleksey Pushkov, head of the Duma’s foreign affairs committee. Two other persons of interest also involved were the speaker of parliament, Nikos Voutsis and Konstantinos Douzinas, chairman of the Greek parliament’s international committee.

Within Kammenos’ Independent Greeks party, the main focus of German interest is Gavriil Avramidis, an MP from Thessaloniki with longtime activities in the Pontic Greek communities, and various groups for Greek-Russian cooperation.

German spies have been also interested in Nikolaos Meletiou, the mayor of Aspropyrgos. This town north of Athens in early 2015 announced planned cooperation with Feodosia in Crimea, with plans for its Attica TV to broadcast an increasing number of Russian programs and movies.

German ‘Soft Power’ in Greece as a Means for Intelligence Activity

The BND also benefits from Germany’s long-existing ‘soft power’ networks in Greece. Some will be used in addition to official BND staff and pick-ups from the migrant-related operations. These include politically-affiliated NGOs and foundations, educational institutes and schools; honorary consulates and trade cooperation chambers, as well as private businesses.

It is also possible that, in terms of long-term logistical necessities involving migrants, the investment by Germany’s Fraport (in December 2015) in 14 regional airports can be useful for emergency migrant removal in the more remote areas, thus meaning they don’t all need to return to Athens.

The context for building ‘soft power’ had little to do with either migrants or Russia, however. Merkel in recent years sought funding for foundations to improve the image of Germany among Greeks, and amplify political influence. The BND is no doubt not far behind. Back in 2012, she agreed with Papandreou to open six major German foundations linked to German political parties. The German Bundestag allocated 5 million euros for their activities, during the period 2012-2015.

The largest is the center-right Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which works with the upper-echelon Greek institutes and universities. In 2014, they held an event on the dangers of Russia. But the German foundations run the gamut, for example, also represented is the (Green Party-linked) Heinrich Boll Stiftung. This presents a good counterintelligence option for the BND, considering that the Greens have been most active in the Bundestag on anti-BND inquiries, which are broadly in the Russian interest, and thus any contacts between Greens and Russians in Greece would be key information for the BND. Of significance in another way is the far-left Rosa Luxembourg Stiftung (associated with DIE LINKE) which helps get Germans in touch with the most migrant-friendly persons and groups in Greek society.

The CSU-linked Hanns Seidel Zeitung and the Social Democrats- linked Friedrich Ebert Stiftung have also been represented in Greece since 2012 under the Merkel-Papandreou agreement. The FES is of interest to the BND because its local director, Christos Katsioulis because he spent five years in FES-Brussels as an expert on foreign and security policy.

Also important is the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (associated with the FDP party in Germany), because its program manager, Markus Kaiser. Between 2007 and 2011 was personal assistant of Werner Hoyer, who was first the deputy group leader of the FDP and then State Minister in the German Foreign Office. The group arranges regular events of interest to the BND. Of less importance to the BND is the left-wing Heinrich Böll Stiftung, though its location in Thessaloniki is useful for contacts with the pro-migrant left very active in that city; the foundation has been active in pro-migrant legislation proposals.

Conclusions: BND Results in the Months Ahead

The foregoing analysis and revelations indicate that the German intelligence service, driven by a capable and demanding leader, is frantically trying to make up for the Merkel government’s political failure, and to forestall migrant-related risks.

These risks include internal security threats from migrants, and a dangerous potential Greek-Russian attempt to break Europe’s southern borders by amassing 100,000 migrants on the border. The fulfillment of either scenario would be disastrous for Germany, and the entire European project.

Further, the Greek plan is self-defeating, as no matter how many migrants they choose to send north, more will keep coming. The open-door policy, and Turkish position of strength at the access point, indicates that Greece cannot expect to have sovereignty over its own territory. The only thing that can be done is to keep the bleeding from spreading while European officials rush to find a solution at the source of the inflows.

Until that time, and well beyond it, we can expect the BND to use the migration crisis to expand its HUMINT resources throughout the Eurasian and African theaters of operation. This, more than any political agreements, may in 5-10 years, help Germany regain its desired status as a world leader.

Potential for Convergence of Anarchist and Migration Activist Interests in Greece

By Chris Deliso

Greek authorities are trying to prepare for possible violent altercations planned by local anarchists in collaboration with economic migrants and their supporters from other countries, as the tightening of border controls in Macedonia, and a somewhat more determined EU policy, has forced an abrupt u-turn in the chronically passive policy of Greek authorities towards migrant outflows.

However, the divisions within the ruling Syriza party and competing groups within the security structures, combined with the fluid migrant situation and the unpredictability of the anarchists themselves is making it difficult to know whether planned violence will actually materialize, and how.

Situational Assessment: A Changed Dynamic

This is a fight anarchist groups have been looking forward to for our over three months. As the following analysis will show, concerted and long-term preparation, made together with international ‘comrades’ and pro-migrant groups, has gone in to preparing for ‘direct action’ at the time of most acute pressure on the authorities.

That time has come. With the restriction on economic migrants by Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia since 18 November angering migrants and their supporters, and the EU increasing pressure on Greece to deal with the situation, symbols of alleged anti-migrant forces (such as the expanded Frontex operation on the Greek-Macedonian border) provide tempting targets for symbolic attacks. It cannot be excluded that further, and more violent attempts will be made to breach the border, as first happened when Macedonian police and army were attacked by migrants- first in summer, and more recently while trying to build a protective fence.

At that time, the Greek police stayed out of the way and Frontex had not yet arrived. Now that Greek authorities are starting to take a more active approach, however, arresting migrants who refuse to leave the border while bussing back scores of them to Athens, they (and not their Macedonian peers) represent the initial target.

While even the most spectacular attack would not affect a Macedonian side that is soon to be supplemented by police from several Balkan and Central European countries, the issue within Greece is more sensitive.

Who Are the Anarchists?

Roughly 90 percent of Greek anarchists are non-violent, though many are less than open with outsiders. The younger ones could be mistaken for college students seeking a cause and championing a certain style in outerwear. Like members of any other movement, anarchists are most fundamentally people who seek their full personal realization in being part of a group.

In Greece, most self-proclaimed ‘anarchists’ seldom engage in any more anarchic behavior than discussing leftist ideas at a local café, handing out leaflets or going to the occasional protest or concert. Of course, there are others – the 10 percent – who are the mobilizers, some of whom are more violent; their behavior sustains the image factor that makes it ‘cool’ to call oneself an anarchist in the first place.

As in general Greek society, there is a tendency towards cliquishness and a sense of superiority over other groups (and society at large). But many anarchists are involved in genuinely good and benign causes such as caring for the poor, animals, the environment or combating drug dealing in communities like Exarcheia in Athens- where ironically, other anarchists are involved in narcotics consumption and possibly distribution. Their ideas tend to sound good on paper but be rather impractical. There are some exceptions, of course, such as the community health clinic run in the K-Vox basement in Athens, visited recently by Al Jazeera.

Anarchism’s Deep Ideological Roots

Greek anarchism has existed since the 1860s and has always had close ties with movements elsewhere in Europe. In its modern incarnation, it looks back to the leftist student movement against the 1968-74 military junta, and the seminal moment of the police attack on the occupied Polytechneion in Athens on November 17, 1973, the symbolic date for which the country’s most famous terrorist group was later named. (The best study of this and similar groups is John Brady Kiesling’s Greek Urban Warriors: Resistance and Terrorism, 1967-2014, which we have reviewed here). Unlike terrorists in the modern sense, 17 November’s ambitions were rather modest: they saw a utopia of self-managed factory workers as the ideal remedy for Greece’s problems. While the group (which was unraveled in 2002) embraced other causes in its later years, like environmentalism, violence associated with Greek anarchism in the years since have not become as radical or as indiscriminate as in Western countries.

Greek anarchism thus has a long and colorful history that makes its worldview and ideologies very specific to the country’s collective experience. This sometimes makes it difficult for Greek and foreign anarchists to truly understand one another; only the vaguest and most general definitions of ideological concepts are mutually shared. Greek anarchists are less effective than they could be, since most do not view their ideology outside of its native context, or they assume that foreign anarchists understand concepts within the specifically Greek experience and context.

Greek anarchist thought is thus characterized by a tendency towards rigid and dogmatic ideology garnered from the Greek experience, and at the same time, a need to find meaningful expression in connection with a larger global movement. This also means that causes can nevertheless shift to match the evolving situation, whether it be economic controversies, wars, or geopolitical issues. This also exacerbates the characteristic of all Greek leftist movements to be internally fractious and devoted to a very few issues specifically, others more generally or not at all.

Paradoxes of Anarchy, the ‘Armed Struggle’ and Greek Society

Amusingly, the very dogmatism of Greek anarchists (and leftists in general) makes them the mirror image of conservative Greek dogmatism, which has been famously attested since the days of the Byzantine churchmen. And, with their fixation on commemorating symbolic anniversaries, Greek anarchists practice the same kind of ritualistic behavior as do Greek conservatives. Only the particular anniversaries and methods of commemoration differ. Similarly, Greeks of all ideologies (and none) enjoy a certain pace of lifestyle that makes mutual tolerance – all rhetoric aside – much easier than in the Western world, where alienation between left and right is much more severe. Thus few people mind things such as student occupations of university buildings and occasional victimless attacks on banks and government offices; it comes with the territory.

It is thus important to note that even the most extreme proponents of the ‘armed struggle’ – such as the infamous terrorist group 17 November – were very risk-averse. They chose their targets for assassination very carefully, and on the few occasions in which a non-targeted individual was killed or injured, the groups were genuinely shaken. This again derives from the social mores of a country where violence against the general citizenry is not supported.

Thus any group wishing to gain support for its ideology had (and has) to be careful about its targeting. This also explains why through today the most prevalent form of anarchist and other leftist violence consists of attacks against symbolic structures representing ‘Western capitalism’ and ‘government authorities’ after they have closed and emptied for the night.

In fact, it was only the current Greek economic and financial crisis, and now the migration one, that have given the movement a new and more violent impetus. Still, unlike the old days, assassination attempts are less frequent, and extremist groups have been more easily rounded up in recent years. Experts like Kiesling, a former US diplomat in Athens who was present during the 17 November trials, do not believe any armed militant cell in Greece can last for very long undetected. Improved policing, the march of technology and surveillance, less dedication to ideological ‘progress,’ and less tactical patience mean that groups are less professional than they once were. This also means that contemporary leftist violence is more sporadic and unpredictable. (For chronologically documented examples of left-wing violence in the post-17 November world, see our 2013 article here).

Current Common Ideology

At present, it can be said that most anarchists share a communist-libertarian ideology, modified to fit in the modern context of globalization marked by neoliberal capitalism and the advancement of surveillance technologies. The ideal society, for Greek anarchists, would be “non-hierarchical” social organization based on local and decentralized authority, consensual decision making, and a common understanding of “solidarity.” Anarchist groups refer to themselves as “autonomous groups” who are in natural opposition to the “authorities.” It is not specified what place such a society would allow for people who do not agree with this order.

The adaptable nature of Greek anarchy means that small groups concentrate on specific issues with fellow travelers from abroad. For example, those troubled by fascism in Ukrainian nationalist structures might be drawn to Ukrainian (tacitly, pro-Russian) networks in the ‘Free Donbass’ movement, whereas others might liaise with Turkish anarchists when both support Kurdish Communist fighters in Syria. Cooperation with Western European and North American activists often centers on the anti-capitalism and anti-surveillance movements, while localized historic Communist struggles (as in Latin America) provided common cause for other groups.

While this means that not all Greek anarchist groups share the same pet causes, it does mean there is a general overlapping worldview that can provide a united interest in certain causes. In 2015 and beyond, that cause is migration.

Origins of the Current Migration Interest

The 2015 migration crisis came as a boon for anarchist groups, which found common cause with similar activists across Europe: supporting migrants has been commonly understood as a fight against ‘racism.’ According to them, anyone who does not support mass uncontrolled migration must be inherently racist; these groups have developed very critical attitudes towards the Greek and European handling of the crisis, which represents a casus belli for ‘direct action.’

Perceiving the issue through Greek eyes, charges of racism automatically lead to charges of fascism, as personified by the presence of the far-right Golden Dawn in parliament- the arch-enemies of the anarchist movement. Moving on from this is the anarchists’ (sometimes true) perception that Golden Dawn enjoys tacit support from members of the Greek army and police. For there, it is a natural leap for anarchists to then regard the latter as key executors of an alleged racist-fascist plot against helpless migrants.

All of this ignores the fact that most migrants see Greece as a mere jumping-off point on a longer trip to Europe, And, while grateful for support, these people are largely not interested in anarchist anti-capitalist ideology- rather, they are seeking to get to the European capitalist countries as soon as possible. The anarchist view on migration also conveniently ignores – as do almost all European leftist movements and even governments – the fact that persons from conservative Muslim countries do not agree with anarchists on such celebrated issues as gay rights and the place of women in society. But in the pick-and-choose ideological basket that is Greek anarchism, these paradoxes can be overlooked.

The year 2015 in Greece has seen a wider cooperation between anarchists, pro-migrant NGOs and the migrants themselves. As anarchists are by definition alienated from all political options and largely atheist, the basis of their morality is rooted in the ideology of left-wing ‘comrades’ fighting for the common good of society, as they see it. As is the same case with the wider European left in post-Christian Europe, one’s attitude to migration is fundamentally perceived as a test of one’s orientation towards human rights – rather than, say, a logistical issue – and thus a test of one’s humanity. For the many activists and anarchists who have flocked to different spots along the migrant route to lend assistance, combat authorities or simply take pictures, the migrant crisis has offered an opportunity that daily life does not, the chance to bask in their own morality.

While many in the anarchist community take part in simple humanitarian actions, such as collecting items for refugees, food, or providing language or medical help, the hardcore activists see migration as a new issue for mobilization whereby the can expand their power and bragging rights. It should not be forgotten that Greek anarchism is a competitive game, and the person or group enjoying the greatest street cred is the one most in the press. And the fastest and surest way to get into the press is by committing violent acts.

This pattern is considered more likely because of the current atmosphere of tension created, through focus on the other major issues of loaded anniversaries and jailed activists.

Recent Events and Commemorations

Late autumn/winter are always high points on the anarchist calendar, as this is the period both when they are back from vacation and government is back in session, and when several potent anniversaries occur. Following the 17 November Polytechneion Uprising anniversary, there is a more recent addition to the calendar, the 6 December anniversary of the killing of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos by a policeman in 2008. As such, anarchist mobilization in Exarcheia last Saturday night continued into clashes with the police on Sunday, following a 3,000-strong demonstration on Syntagma Square against police violence.

This year’s commemoration season has been supercharged, however, as it “was preceded by a statement issued by Grigoropoulos’ friend, Nikos Romanos, who is in jail for armed robbery he committed to finance his anarchist group,” reported Kathimerini. According to the paper, “Romanos called all anarchists to declare war against the state and middle class, in what he called a ‘Black December’ of ‘blood and fire.’”

In fact, Romanos co-authored the text with jailed comrade Panagiotis Argyrou, member of terrorist group Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire. “Let’s smash the windows of department stores, occupy schools, universities and city halls, let’s distribute texts that spread the message of rebellion, blow up fascists and bosses,” they urged, as Greek Reporter relayed. The message had been initially announced on the Athens Indymedia website, a leading anarchist platform.

This platform also releases broadsides from other jailed comrades, most notably the Revolutionary Struggle leader Nikos Maziotis. Indeed, an event that helped add fuel to the fire in the lead-up to this season of commemorations was the beginning of Maziotis trial on 16 October. According to Kathimerini, Maziotis would be tried “for a series of crimes he is alleged to have committed while on the run from authorities between the summer of 2012 and the summer of 2014 after violating the terms of a prison furlough.” However, as is also the case with Conspiracy of Cells of Fire and 17 November, as we will see, associated members of this left-wing guerrilla group remain at large.

While in jail, Maziotis has become a political commentator, stating earlier this year that Revolutionary Struggle had expected, one year before Syriza took power, that the party would betray its radical roots and be exploited by “neoliberal” Western capitalists. This is not a particularly radical observation, and most people would agree that this is what has happened. But the conflation of logical observations with radical violence is an interesting aspect that further gives anarchists and militants some amount of cultural acceptance, or at least an understanding of their position and right to comment about society.

Specific Strategy Development

Long before the recent turbulent events, a strategy was being developed for incorporating migration into the overall anarchist portfolio in Greece and the wider Balkans. The interactions of such persons and groups, and subsequent network development since the beginning of the year, propelled the movement forward. Strategy was developed further at a series of meetings and events in mid-October, during which time a plan for assisting migration and resisting authorities along the Balkan route was decided.

These included an anti-racism event in Athens and several meetings in Athens, Thessaloniki, Patras and Crete. A “Balkan Anarchist Meeting” was organized in Thessaloniki by the 3Gefires (Three Bridges) movement between 11-14 October, which attracted participation from Greek, Balkan and other European anarchists. These included members of the “No Borders” movement from Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria, as well as other representatives of the anti-fascist and pro-migrant cause from Romania, Slovenia, Macedonia and so on. It took part under the auspices of a nationwide “Mediterranean Anarchist Meeting” from 9-18 October.

One proposal from these meetings was that those “autonomous groups” possessing squats or other free space would take in migrants when the weather got colder. Since last week, when the Greek police finally started to take action on the Macedonian border, some 80-100 migrants have been resettled by anarchists in squats in Thessaloniki, while others have gone to Athens. In Thessaloniki, relatively more anarchist resources can be allocated to migration-related logistics, since the need to counter Golden Dawn is much lower in this liberal society. In fact, according to one anarchist at the Kinimatorama squat, “they are afraid to enter the city center, because they know we can instantly mobilize our friends and beat them up.”

Another proposal mentioned during the events was that, in the case of border restrictions, anarchists in the relevant countries should take part in violent protests at the borders, and abet migrants seeking to travel further or find shelter. The capacities for this have since been assessed as highest in Greece and southern Serbia. Other countries, like Macedonia, have insignificant anarchist communities tainted by perceived leftist political party relations. Other countries do not have much ‘traffic’ in terms of migrant flow. However, the Macedonian government’s restriction on economic migrants since 19 November is bound to make the flow go in a different way, with Bulgaria the likeliest recipient of new migrant groups. Therefore, we can expect a larger role for Bulgarian anarchists and their Greek colleagues in Drama and Xanthi particularly.

However, there is a problem for the anarchist groups. While they would like to use the migration issue to foment discontent with the larger system, a non-affiliated structure of more ordinary citizens and NGOs has been active in refugee relief, for example the Oikopolis NGO in Thessaloniki and the related grassroots “Refugee Solidarity Movement Thessaloniki-Eidomeni,” connected with the large German donation solicitor Betterplace.org. Since anarchist groups for ideological and logistic reasons do not have capacity or interest to do significant refugee relief services, they can only have impact in the militant aspect, if at all.

The convergence of the radical left and pro-migrant groups was seen a week before the Thessaloniki events, during an “anti-racism anti-fascism” day of activities in Athens that brought together anarchists, left-wing personalities, and representatives of ethnic groups in the country that champion migrant rights.

Organized by KEERFA (the ‘United Movement against Racism and the Fascist Threat’), it featured speeches by esteemed figures in the general movement, the most important being the group’s coordinator, Petros Konstantinou, and the head of the Pakistani community in Greece, Javed Aslam. Sprinkled among the events were representatives of other ethnic communities, pro-migrant groups from Western European countries, politicians, lawyers in court cases against Golden Dawn members and more.

To understand the future convergence of anarchist/leftist and migrant causes in Greece, it is necessary again to understand the common worldview which brings both together, despite the diametrically opposing beliefs on other liberal causes.

An example was the previous year’s anti-racism event in July. As is always the case with such events, there is a lighter side (ethno-music, traditional cookery and children’s activities) that draws in casual observers, as well as political overlap and a harder core of activists. Some have interesting connections to the established militant scene. Thus an eclectic range of causes and personalities are gathered, ranging from Afghan traditional music and Syriza’s youth wing to cleaners for the finance ministry, trade unionists, and experts on the ‘global economic dictatorship.’

For the present assessment, most are insignificant for future mobilization, but rather just ideological sympathizers who can provide numbers for protests and communications networks for publicizing wider causes across the country (and world). But there is a certain overlap with those more sympathetic to the ‘armed struggle.’ For instance, the July 2014 panel on “citizenship, political, social and religious rights of economic and political refugees in Greece” was led by human rights lawyer Gianna Kourtovik- the longtime lawyer for 17 November’s most famous founding member, Dimitris Koufodinas. When the latter (who has written a controversial autobiography about his role) turned himself in to police in 2002, he stated that he “accepted political responsibility” for 17 November’s attacks.

This is the blueprint by which Greek anarchist perception works: comrades accused of violent acts claim to have acted out of political motivations, and thus are political prisoners, after which the full weight of the sub-culture swings into action, from students handing out leaflets in Syntagma Square to punk concerts that collect money for relatives of incarcerated ‘political prisoners’ to high-level NGOs, lawyers and academics.

Anarchist Mobilization and Migration

Migration has led and will increasingly lead to more violent incidents between anarchists and a wide range of targets. On 25 November, one of the best-known anarchist squads in Athens, Rouvikonas (Rubicon) entered the grounds of the German ambassador’s home in Halandri, northern Athens, “to express solidarity with refugees,” reported Kathimerini. This choice of target would seem strange to Germans and others who are angry with the Merkel government for the exact opposite reason- its invitation for migrants and refugees to come in the first place.

Apparently, “protesters climbed over the fence surrounding the residence and scattered fliers featuring slogans supporting refugees. They also raised a banner calling for solidarity with refugees and condemning European leaders’ response to the crisis, accusing them of ‘Orwellian propaganda’ for using terms such as “hotspots’ and ‘reception centers.’” Seven arrests were made.

In September, Rouvikonas had previously conducted ‘direct action’ when it went into the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (TAIPED). There, according to Kathimerini, it “entered the organization’s offices, where they destroyed computers, printers and other items.” In the usual benevolent anarchist style, the building’s guards were “restrained,” not killed. The group struck again on 30 November, when it occupied the Italian Consulate in Athens, in protest against the extradition of five Greek students to Italy, regarding the latter’s involvement in protests at Milan’s No Expo May Day strike on 1 May. Again the motivation for this occupation was social justice; the group claimed that the students had been detained and released without charge and were being unfairly dealt with through the pan-European arrest warrant system.

After the Paris attacks of 13 November, the trend towards increasing ties between police in various European countries and reliance on international police cooperation is going to put more anarchists (and related parties) in the crosshairs of law enforcement, thus raising the likelihood of similar incidents in retribution.

Anarchists have in fact started to mobilize for protests against border fences, calling for a world of ‘no borders.’ For example, on 31 October another group, Kiathess in Thessaloniki, organized a trip to Evros on the Turkish border, to protest the fence that has been there for several years. That fence has been so successful that it led to the dramatic surge in sea crossings this year. In the anarchist worldview, Greece, Frontex and the EU are thereby guilty of the deaths of migrants crossing by sea due to their defense of land borders.

In this context, it is not unlikely that anarchist and other activist groups will seek to make symbolic and perhaps physical protests against other border fences, such as in Macedonia (and we predict a new fence) in Bulgaria as well.

Anarchist Views of Politicians and the Big Picture: Troubles for Syriza and the Greek Leadership

Although many of the ideals championed by anarchists trickled up to the development of Syriza, once Alexis Tsipras came to power in early 2015, the anarchists instantly became a headache for him. While in opposition it had been easy to criticize alleged police brutality, once in government Syriza was responsible for enforcing public safety- from people who had been among its left platform’s original supporters.

Furthermore, right-wing coalition partner Panos Kammenos of the Independent Greeks (ANEL) pressed for a sub-ministerial role in control of the police at northern borders. Currently, in the second Tsipras government, the interior ministry is led by a former Pasok insider, Panagiotis Kouroumplis. This has reactivated old Pasok intelligence networks and created an intriguingly complex internal situation for an already divided government.

Further complicating the situation for Greek politicians is new intelligence received by Balkanalysis.com, about the role of the Orthodox Church towards migration. Sources indicate that church representatives have privately warned all MPs representing the Macedonia and Thrace border regions that they should not expect support from the influential Church lobby in the next elections if they do anything to promote a pro-migrant policy. Further complicating this issue is that while these regions are administered by the Greek Orthodox Church, they are technically directly under the Ecumenical Patriarchate (in Istanbul). While the order to MPs is not commonly known, it will have a subtle effect on how the issue is handled.

On the higher level, Greece’s ability to negotiate its own policy on the EU level in recent months has reportedly been compromised by the blocking power of Dimitris Avramopoulos, the powerful Home Affairs commissioner (nominated by Tsipras’ conservative rival, Antonis Samaras, who supported Jean-Claude Juncker’s bid for leading the Commission). According to one official who took part in recent negotiations between the EU, Greece and Balkan route countries, “Avramopoulos’ representative personally changed the wording in Greek government proposals on the paper… so it is reasonable to consider whether Greeks in Brussels or in Athens are actually in control of Greek policy.” Avramopoulos, it should be remembered, has great influence over the funding decisions that can make or break Greek government capacities to deal with migration.

The refugee and migrant issue has been problematic for Tsipras since the beginning of his tenure, and his party’s past in revolutionary politics as well. In fact, in early March some 50 anarchists associated with Rouvikonas invaded Syriza’s headquarters as party spokeswoman Rania Svingou was concluding an interview. They were protesting against the government’s failure to make progress on a law for clemency that would benefit comrades in jail.

In the invisible hierarchy of the ostensibly non-hierarchical anarchist milieu, comrades in jail have always enjoyed a certain level of reverence, irrespective of how they got there. This goes back to the earliest days of the movement. In addition to written calls to action, convicted anarchists tend to go on hunger strike (as Romanos did in 2014, in order to gain furlough for study). Media outlets such as Athens Indymedia frequently broadcast the missives of such people, as with the recent hunger strike of 150 inmates at Korydallos Prison’s hospital. They have complained of poor conditions and specified the non-implementation of the law that Syriza passed a month after the occupation, under Justice Minister Nikos Paraskevopoulos. It envisioned the release of inmates suffering from serious illness.

This is an important case because this prison care issue has revolutionary overtones. In October 2014, the lawyers of convicted 17 November member Savvas Xiros appealed for his house release, as he had multiple sclerosis and other health issues. After the government changed, a law (passed on April 20, 2015) allowing for “the compassionate release of elderly and severely disabled inmates” was passed, according to the Wall Street Journal. It was the new Syriza government’s answer to its left-wing base, but it also severely angered American and British diplomats who recalled the victims of the group’s many attacks. It thus became one of those no-win issues that alienated the government from important foreign powers at a time when strains were already showing inside Syriza due to differing approaches to the Troika and financial issues.

As is well known, Syriza is already fractured and divided into different wings, and in coalition with the right-wing ANEL. Analysts have often said the two parties only agreed on anti-austerity and financial ideology. Yet neither would like to take a hard stance on migration either, as it goes against the leftist views that oppose restrictions on freedom of movement, while also going against conservative views of migrants as a domestic security threat.

The result is a no-win situation for Greece. Tsipras’ attempts to show that the situation is under control have only increased skepticism among anarchists and worsened relations with other countries. For example, in advance of Tsipras’ 6 October visit to Lesvos with Austrian chancellor Werner Feymann, journalists on the island noted that special ships had arrived to rapidly remove thousands of migrants in a bid to make the government look better. This caused a sudden surge of migrants at the Macedonian border, where Greek police continued to have no communication with their Macedonian colleagues about arrival numbers and times. This kind of incident, which has occurred repeatedly throughout the year, definitely influenced Macedonia’s decision to restrict inflows and to build a border fence late in November.

Current Expectations

Now, the following months of protests against austerity measures are going to weaken the government’s hold even more. Even before the most recent developments, intelligence sources indicated that the anarchists are not happy with Tsipras for several reasons in addition to the delayed prison clemency law; one was a promise he apparently made to them before coming to power, about reopening certain anarchist squats in Athens and Thessaloniki that had been closed during the police’s comprehensive sweep in 2013. It is less likely than ever that this will happen in the current situation, and that police conflict with anarchists will increase over the latter’s expected increased use of such buildings to house migrants.

All of the events of the past few months indicate that Greek anarchists, with their foreign comrades, are preparing to enter a new phase of activities in the migration battle. Knowing that they cannot compete with larger groups (or even local grassroots groups) in refugee relief, their self-appointed role is going to be the one of protests, rallies and even attacks against state infrastructure connected with migration and justice. Frontex, which is establishing a presence on the northern border with Macedonia, could also become an attractive target.

Already, indicators of anarchist behavior are emerging, as several stories on the leading Thessaloniki pro-migrant website Clandestina show. This group was also involved with the organization of the October events for creating a regional anarchist migration strategy with Balkan peers, and all of them with the somewhat opaque W2EU (Welcome to Europe) group that has been active on Lesvos and elsewhere during the crisis. On 1 December, a protest in Thessaloniki attended by roughly 1,000 people was called by various anarchists, demanding the right for migrants to cross the border.

Until Macedonia took charge of its national security on 19 November, together with Slovenia and Croatia, Greek authorities had largely been insulated from domestic pressure. They had done nothing to stop illegal crossings or interfere in migrant attacks against the Macedonian side which, like the Greek coalition’s worldview to the Troika, is oddly enough a response that benefits both sides for their own ideological reasons.

However, now that the migrant bubble has been restricted to the Greek side of the border – something that has taken both Athens and Brussels by complete surprise – the Greek government will be left to deal with the consequences, which will at some point lead to a convergence of activities between already interlinked anarchist and migrant activists.

The Renewal of Greek-Iranian Economic Relations: Interview with Patroklos Koudounis

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: while the French Intelligence Online recently reported that Britain has “leapt ahead of other Western countries” in the race for business opportunities in post-sanctions Iran, other European nations are also stepping forward and forging new partnerships. A leader among them is Greece.

Following our recent analysis on prospective developments in post-sanctions Greek-Iranian relations by Ioannis Michaletos in Athens, we thus continue to explore this topic here, in the following exclusive interview with Patroklos Koudounis, President of the Business Initiative for the Hellenic-Iranian Chamber of Commerce. The only entity of its kind in the EU that was created during the sanctions period, this group is concentrating on developing bilateral economic relations between the two countries.

Mr Koudounis, who is also CEO of the Athens-based consulting firm Adequate Consulting, has 16 years of managerial and corporate experience in key positions with major organizations, such as the Athens International Airport, Alco Group and G4S International. He has also been an elected member of the Board of Directors of the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry since 2011.

Interview with Patroklos Koudounis Greece Iran economic relations- Balkanalysis

According to Mr Koudounis, “Greek companies are in a position to penetrate the Iranian market by selling quality and know-how” across a wide range of industries.

Ioannis Michaletos: Thank you very much for this interview. First of all, I would like to pose the question as to how you view in general terms the current state of affairs of bilateral economic relations between Greece and Iran. What are the pros and cons, and what things should any prospective investor or trader look out for?

Patroklos Koudounis: Mr. Michaletos, first of all I would like to thank you for your kind invitation and for the opportunity that you are giving me in order to present briefly the reasons for which Iran is a critical destination for Greek exporters.

The level of bilateral trade between the two countries is currently very low, and does not exceed $18m. This number – although it seems frustrating – clearly shows the upside potential of the business opportunities that both countries have to exploit.

The advantages of the Iranian market are plenty. With a population that exceeds 80 million people, Iran is in the geographical center of a world that pivots to the East. Hence, any local office can be used as the export base that would serve the needs of all neighboring countries, such as Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Oman, etc.

While Iran holds the biggest oil and gas reserves globally, half of its population is under 34 years old. If you consider that Iran also enjoys the highest concentration of persons with PhDs, you might easily realize the dynamics of a country with cheap energy and millions of well educated young people who are ready to create and produce. In addition to that, keep in mind the rare element of political stability that makes Iran unique, in a part of the globe where multiple conflicts and political instability are always present.

On the other hand, a thorough risk analysis would definitely take into consideration the volatility of the local currency – i.e. the Iranian Rial- which might discourage any conservative investor.

Additionally, there are obvious cultural and religious differences, which may demand an extra dose of patience and tolerance in order to enter successfully the local market.

IM: How do you assess the short and mid term developments regarding business opportunities in Iran?

PK: At this juncture, the European Union process regulations implement the gradual de-escalation of sanctions against Iran, a process that will probably be completed and enter into force in the first quarter of 2016. Until then, the sanctions are theoretically valid, but nevertheless the period is considered to be favorable for the exploration of product placement perspectives, in the promising Iranian market.

According to the – rather optimistic – Iranian side, the Implementation Day of the lifting of the sanctions is placed in late November this year, while the International Atomic Energy Agency places it in early 2016. Due to the complexity of the provisions and schedules, the External Service of the European Union has committed to issue explanatory draft guidelines, with relevant questions and answers for entrepreneurs. This will be published in due course.

IM: Are there any specific corporate sectors which would be of particular relevance and interest for Greek businesses dealing with Iran? What are the basic products that would be in most demand on the Iranian market?

PK: According to our experience and analysis, Greek companies are in a position to penetrate the Iranian market by selling quality and know-how. We cannot easily export olive oil. Our product is good, but the marketing expertise of the Italian and Spanish competitors muscles us out.

On the contrary, there are other fields where we enjoy competitive advantages, mainly due to our know-how, i.e. Construction, Tourism, Education, Food , Animal Feed, Pharmaceuticals and Cosmetics, Restaurants, Apparel, Services (marketing, advertising, etc), as well as Software and building materials.

Needless to say, Shipping and Transportation services have always been our strong points.

IM: It would be very interesting to note any cultural differences or peculiarities that the Iranian market poses for a foreign investor. How different it is doing business there actually, in practical terms?

PK: The government offers multiple subsidies and tax relief, depending on the kind of investment. The bureaucracy is relatively limited in a way that the commencement of any business is very simple. Just imagine that in order to start running a new shop, there is no need to create a company first! The shop has a unique tax number – as an entity – and you are taxed according to the performance of the shop! A sufficient analysis of the tax system in Iran can be found on Wikipedia here.

Given the cultural differences – as you correctly mentioned – there are certain “rules” that must be followed by those who are targeting the Iranian market.

First, a physical presence is of great importance. I really have to discourage those who are under the impression that they can sell in Iran without a local partner or an established office with local employees.

Secondly, patience is a necessary skill for all newcomers. Third, a thorough study of the local business and negotiating habits is of the essence. It will save time and money.

IM: Could Greece become a hub for other Balkan corporations wishing to invest and develop ties with Iran? Is Athens up for this effort? In short, do other Balkan countries also have ambitions to enter the Iranian market?

PK: Starting from the last part of your question, I am pretty confident that all the Balkan countries have ambitions to penetrate the Iranian market. I am aware, though, that all our neighboring countries are preparing delegations in order to officially visit Iran.

During my recent trip to Tehran, I detected a vivid interest for a full exploitation of the European market by many Iranian companies. This is why we – as Adequate Consulting – decided to create a representation office in Tehran, in order to be able to facilitate Iranian companies which are trying to enhance their exports in Europe.

Talking about Ancient and Byzantine Coins: Interview with Yannis Stoyas

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: money – or the lack of it – has kept Greece in the news for the last few years. But what about the currencies in use for centuries before the euro was ever imagined? This comprehensive new interview by Balkanalysis.com Director Chris Deliso with Greek numismatist Yannis Stoyas covers many aspects, from the role of gold coinage in the Late Roman and Byzantine Empires to the contemporary worlds of numismatics, auctions and governmental regulations on coin collecting. As such, this wide-ranging interview will be of interest to readers from many backgrounds.

Yannis Stoyas works as a Researcher Curator in the KIKPE Numismatic Collection, Athens. Since 2004 he has been teaching Numismatics and History of Money at the National Hellenic Research Foundation. He has participated in numismatic exhibits and conferences and has produced several publications. Among them, he is co-author (with Prof. Vasiliki Penna) of the Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, Greece 7 (Academy of Athens, 2012). He is also a PhD candidate in Medieval History (University of the Peloponnese), working on a dissertation under the title ‘The Catalan-Aragonese presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1261-1460: An economic, military and political study.’

Background and Initial Inspirations

Chris Deliso: Thanks for speaking with us today, Yannis. I’d like to begin by asking firstly about yourself – how did you get interested in the study of coins in the first place, and how did you continue this interest to where you are today?

Yannis Stoyas: It is quite telling that my first and most profound love was history, rather more than archaeology, which I studied at the University of Ioannina, in my hometown. But with coinage you can combine both, at least from a certain point of view that deems necessary to employ in numismatics a historian’s mentality.

Yannis Stoyas- interview with Balkanalysis

Numismatist Yannis Stoyas is a leading expert on ancient and Byzantine coinage, and offers considerable insight into both historical and contemporary issues affecting coins.

Numismatics deals with several layers of history such as art history, economy, religion, political propaganda, etc. There are aspects of all these illustrated on coins or associated with them. The basic thing is to see what link can be discerned connecting a coin possibly with a historical event. This is my main scope.

CD: Very interesting, and an important point. So, if your main motive for pursuing a career with numismatics is academic, can you tell us a little more about how you became interested in it in the first place?

YS: After finishing my undergraduate studies, I started working in the Archaeological Service, for the Hellenic Ministry of Culture. Quite early on, I felt this inclination to deal with coins in particular, and so thereafter, from 1996 to 2007, I worked in the Numismatic Museum at Athens. In the beginning, I had the privilege to work under the guidance of Ioannis Touratsoglou, the Museum’s Director until 2002. My first numismatic work was actually in an EU-funded collaboration project with the British Museum, the realization of an internet exhibition; back then, this was a rather pioneering thing. That was between mid-1996 and early 1999.

CD: What was that exhibition about?

YS: It was called ‘Presveis – One Currency for Europe: Common Coinage from Antiquity to the Modern Age.’ Common coinage was divided into two major categories of case studies. One, in the coinages of ancient federal states and leagues; such an example is the Achaean League in the Hellenistic period. Two, in the common currencies more or less imposed, either by the success of their own prestige or by military/political force. Within this category, the coinage of ancient Athens was quite successful in an international level, used for trade or for mercenary payments. Another example would be the coinage of Alexander the Great, imposed by his military campaigns and then widely diffused. The focus of the project was to examine the idea of common currency, from its very beginnings, and present it online for the public. Collaborating with the Department of Coins and Medals of the British Museum, which has a really magnificent collection, was quite an experience.

The KIKPE Numismatic Collection and Its Scientific Purpose

CD: Very interesting. And since then? What brought you to your current position?

YS: I continued to be employed by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture until 2009; since that same year I started to work for the KIKPE (the Welfare Foundation for Social and Cultural Affairs/ Koinofeles Idryma Koinonikou kai Politistikou Ergou). This is a private foundation that conducts a wide variety of public-benefit nonprofit activities. These activities revolve around the two basic axes in the foundation’s name, social and cultural aspects. Within the foundation’s cultural/educational undertakings is also incorporated one of the most intriguing coin collections in Greece.

CD: This is a very interesting institute indeed. Can you tell us how large are the KIKPE’s numismatic holdings?

YS: At present, in the KIKPE Numismatic Collection there are kept about 4,500 coins. A main part is comprised of Ancient Greek coins, while the part of Byzantine coins is also large; in our acquisitions there are also included Roman Provincial, Western Medieval, Islamic, Ottoman, Modern Greek coins, etc. The Collection has some keynote features that make it rather unique. First of all, it is monometallic, containing almost exclusively copper and/or bronze coins. All were purchased from auction houses in the abroad.

CD: Interesting! But why only at foreign auctions, when there are so many local collectors and excavations? I would imagine foreign auction prices would be much higher as well. And why do you not buy the more ‘desirable’ silver and gold coins?

YS: Well, there are some legal complexities with buying from within Greece, so a policy has been assumed not to bother getting involved in such a fuss. On the other hand, it is safer to follow a standard procedure and bid in auctions abroad or buy from fixed price lists and then import the items, with the Greek state always being aware. If this is done according to a strategic plan, the goals of the collection can be achieved. Perhaps the Foundation could also buy gold coins if it wished, but this is not the adopted approach.

CD: What is determining your Collection, then?

YS: One point was to cover the whole ancient world, from Spain to India, and from Crimea to Morocco. That was more or less the known world then, where coinage was minted and used for trade (leaving aside the case of China). The initial idea was quite simple: to have at least one coin from each mint that functioned during the Classical and Hellenistic times, and then proceed with other periods.

CD: Still, it is not in the purview of the collection to have silver or gold coins from these mints?

YS: Technically speaking, there are in the Collection a few subaerate coins, plated coins with a copper core and silver coating; there are also very few coins of copper-silver alloy and of cupro-nickel alloy. Such cases are within our scope.

CD: If price was not the issue, why did you choose to focus on the copper and bronze coins?

YS: Because this Collection is intended to be used on a scientific level, mapping the ancient world through coins. Another essential concept was put forward by the head of the Collection, Dr Vasiliki Penna (also Associate Professor in the University of the Peloponnese), and this was to bring in the spotlight the everyday transactions in several ancient societies; dealing with copper and bronze is preferable, because these were the base metals most commonly used in the everyday life of the people. These are also found widely, across the whole geographic area we are researching. Furthermore, after a fashion, some coins are repatriated; it is more preferable to acquire them at foreign auctions, so they are brought back to Greece by making legal purchases.

CD: Interesting! Is that a difficult procedure, or with certain complex regulations?

YS: This is rather a quite simple procedure: one has to present the documents which indicate that the items were legally acquired in compliance with international rules.

Legal Issues Affecting Collectors of Coins and other Antiquities in Greece

CD: How does it work on the legal aspect within Greece, which has strict antiquities laws, for a private collection such as this to be developed?

YS: The KIKPE Numismatic Collection is a collection established with proper documentation and the according legal status, as far as the Ministry of Culture is concerned. It may be noted that it is quite a different thing to have a collection with the right to expand it.

CD: Meaning? Say someone finds a coin on the ground in some village. Or, there are many locals who have small collections at home, sometimes inherited within the family.

YS: Right. The process, if you find a coin or want to register a collection, is that first you go to the responsible agency of the Ministry of Culture and officially declare that you have these coins in your possession. However, though this might be approved, you can’t expand the registered antiquities in your possession. There is a certain classification, however, where a person or private foundation can be given this right from the Ministry of Culture. In Greece, most of the owners are known as simple possessors, and very few as collectors. The KIKPE foundation is counted among the collectors.

CD: So say you are a tourist, what do you do if you discover a coin? Do you get to keep it?

YS: One should go by the book and visit this agency of the Ministry of Culture, which used to be called the Ephorate for Antiquities Shops and Archaeological Private Collections, but which has now become a Department. Alternatively, one should contact the relevant local Ephorate. The main thing remains that you have to declare that you have the coin in your hands, whether it be one item or a hundred. On occasion a citizen may be allowed to keep some antiquities in his or her possession; these cannot be sold without the authorities knowing, as antiquities in general are considered property of the Greek state. It is quite different when one is given ownership for certain items.

CD: And what about if someone wants to take their newly-discovered coin out of the country? In regional countries, there are different laws, but every once in a while we hear a story about foreigners arrested while trying to make off with coins or other antiquities. In some countries, the law states that items less than 100 years old, for example, can be taken away.

YS: It is not allowed to take something out of Greece in accordance with the provisions of the UNESCO Convention concerning the protection of cultural heritage. Besides international regulations, there is also national legislation, of course. In Greece there was for many years a cut-off date of 1453, the fall of the Byzantine Empire. There is a distinction between movable and immovable objects as well. Movable objects, which consist of excavated archaeological finds, are under protection of law if they date from before 1830, the creation of the modern Greek state. Accordingly, the law on coins up to 1453 still stands.

There have also been some additions to the law, like the definition of a ‘coin hoard’ for example. This is by extension also protected by the state, because it is an ensemble, with an additional historical and archeological value. To give an example of how rules are enforced one could mention the case of the phoenix of Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first governor of the modern Greek state. This silver phoenix was the first modern Greek currency, issued in 1828, before the drachma.

Now, if you find one coin of 20 lepta (a copper fraction of the phoenix) minted in 1831, it is not protected. But if someone finds in a field, say, 10 or 12 such coins of the same date, this is considered a coin hoard and thereby as a group find falls under protection of the law.

International Law and Disputes over Antiquities

CD: This is a very interesting subject, as of course there are many in Greece who would like, for example, the Elgin Marbles back from the British. In recent years there have been more legal challenges from states where antiquities have been taken abroad, and they want them back based on the argument of provenance. How is international law involved here?

YS: This is of course the fundamental question of ‘who owns antiquity’ to use the title of a book by James Cuno, on this debate, which has been argued for a long time. A pivotal thing has to do with which countries have ratified the UNESCO Convention and when. There are several matters regarding the protection of cultural heritage that have to do with illegal trafficking. Some people would argue that coins are something of a mass-production product, as it is approximately estimated that a couple of dies could have produced up to 15,000 coins, which would be practically all the same. Note that this number depends on the metal and other relevant factors.

CD: But I imagine in that case, finding the original dies would be something quite exciting for collectors and important for scholars. Do you ever see these come up?

YS: Well, some pairs of ancient coin dies, mostly Roman, can be found in auctions. But these are very rare, so you are right, they have a certain value in themselves. But it is not as simple as that, as these are made of base metals, being important mainly as technological instruments.

CD: Regarding the provenance issue again and historical legacy, we know that Turkey often claims to be the Ottoman inheritor, and Greece feels like it upholds the Byzantine legacy. How does this affect coins and coin hoards from the periods in both countries?

YS: For coins, as for other ancient items, whether they are found in Turkey, Greece or elsewhere, there are some restrictions according to the UNESCO Convention concerning illegal movement from where they have been discovered. To cite a quite well-known example, such was the case of Turkey asking for the return of a great hoard of Athenian decadrachms. Back in the mid-1980s, there occurred the famous case of the Elmalı or Lycian Hoard of these rare ancient Greek coins found in Turkey and resold in the US, before being returned to Turkey following a legal challenge. This example was so studied that even a conference was held about it.

This was very important scientifically for numismatists, since we knew of only about a dozen Athenian decadrachms at that time. With the said hoard another fourteen surfaced. Later, in the mid-1990s, the Karkamış hoard of 3,000 coins was found near the Turkish-Syrian border, which brought the number of the Athenian decadrachms to about 40. A meticulous study undertaken by a German scholar, Dr Wolfgang Fischer-Bossert, in Vienna, refined this matter on several levels, taking into account these additions and some more, so that by now we know of approximately 45 specimens. So, in a way, these kinds of high-visibility discoveries and disputes sometimes can provide new knowledge about some rare coins. Of course, the importance of knowing the archaeological context of the items cannot be overlooked.

Dealing with the Illegal Trade in Rare Coins

CD: Since we are talking about auctions and re-sales, what about the internet? There are obviously millions of coins being sold on various websites all the time. Do the authorities monitor this trade for if any stolen items come up?

YS: There is a department in the Ministry of Culture that deals with such matters, and which has undertaken a truly Herculean task.

CD: What about the shady world of private auctions? We frequently hear stories about how the best treasures of antiquity are sold discreetly in such places as Switzerland, Germany and Austria to sophisticated millionaires. Is there anything to be done about this? And what about the initial transactions from say, poor farmers or collectors who provide the coins and middlemen who transport them out?

YS: That is a very difficult issue, if you were to try and track down the thousands or millions of coins, seeing what belongs to whom.

Illegal activities also take place, no doubt there, but we usually find out about these when they come to light. An interesting example, which happened ten years ago, at the Customs of the London Heathrow Airport involved one of the famous coins struck in the name of Brutus, produced at a traveling or military mint, ca. 43-42 BC. At that time Brutus was in the Roman province of Macedonia; the coins in his name could have been minted somewhere near his camp, possibly at Amphipolis or perhaps at Thessaloniki. The issue in question, to which the coin intercepted at the airport belonged, was the ‘Ides of March’ denarius, famous already in antiquity. It depicts the cap of liberty and two daggers, like the ones used to kill Julius Caesar, as well as the date of the deed: March 15 (44 BC).

So, getting back to the story, a crucial point was to pinpoint where these coins were minted and where they could have circulated. By establishing a provenance from the Greek territory, the said coin had to be returned to the Greek state.

By the way, the UNESCO Convention was created in 1970. It was ratified by Greece in 1980 and signed by the UK in the early 2000s; such technical details can be of importance regarding how things are accordingly handled.

More recently, a similar case emerged about a rare silver octadrachm of Mosses, a very obscure ruler, perhaps of the Bisaltai, which was brought illegally to Switzerland and then claimed by Greece.

The Science of Numismatics: How Coin Finds Can Change History

CD: These last examples show some of the interesting historical details associated with coins. Since of course your main interest is on the academic side of coins, rather than the business of coins, I would be curious to hear more about how the study of coins is today and some of the interesting details you come across while researching here.

YS: Numismatics is a science – they used to call it an auxiliary science, which is somehow inappropriate. In fact, it is an instrumentum studii and it can be used as a primary source in historical research in some cases. For example, there are some kings known only by coins. For example, a Celtic kingdom, existed in the 3rd century BC in what is now Bulgaria.

CD: In Bulgaria? That is earlier than I thought too.

YS: Well, we know that the eastern Celtic tribes had reached the Danube in the late 4th century BC. Later they launched an offensive on Macedon and they even reached Delphi in 279 BC in a failed attack; after they were repulsed, there were three detachments of these Gauls disengaging towards the north and east. One ended up in central Bulgaria, creating the Kingdom of Tylis, as it was known. It was a short-lived state in Thrace, lasting about 60 years.

Another contingent went to Asia Minor where they would become known as Galatae. One of their major centers was Ankyra (modern Ankara); subsequently the Galatian kingdom was often at war with Pergamon. The descendants of these Gauls became eventually Hellenized and then Christianized.

CD: So, from all this fascinating history, who is the king known only from coinage?

YS: We know that the last Celtic king in Thrace was Kavaros (known both from texts and coins). With him the Kingdom of Tylis perished, but before him there were at least two other kings, whose names are only attested from coins: Kersibaulos and Orsoaltios. No textual record survives for them.

It is supposed that they would have most probably been Gaulish. There was a coin hoard reportedly from the Banat area, or perhaps from the broader territory, even from Bulgaria. Some punch marks on the coins of this hoard are considered Celtic. Among the other coins found, there was one coin of Orsoaltios.

CD: Wow! That is a very interesting example about a group that I’m sure very few people have even heard of.

YS: Another case in point: Domitian II went unrecorded by ancient historians and until recently this second Domitian from the 3rd century AD was considered an imaginary emperor. There was of course the well-known Domitian from the Flavian dynasty (1st century AD). However, evidence on another Domitianus – one of the pretenders from the times of the 3rd-century crisis of the Roman Empire –was for many decades put aside.

However, there are now two extant coins of Domitian II: one, in a French museum, known since 1900, had been considered a fake; a second piece, however, found recently in 2003 in Oxfordshire, helped confirm that the first one was genuine. A fine study by Dr Richard Abdy of the British Museum made clear that the two coins matched, and that thus there was indeed a Domitian II after all. He was involved in the turmoil of the breakaway Gallo-Roman Empire and probably ruled briefly in AD 271.

CD: It’s amazing that only one or two coins can so dramatically affect our knowledge of the historical record, in the absence of textual sources. Are you personally working on coins with this kind of history-enhancing value?

YS: Well, there are still some very rare coins to study. Recently I went to a conference in Berlin on ancient Thracian coinage. It was the second time I had to deal with a rare coin issue with the legend Melsa on it; one such coin is in the holdings of the KIKPE collection. The legend could be referring to anything, as in “Melsa” (singular genitive, i.e. of Melsas) or “Melsan(i)on” (plural genitive, i.e. of the Melsans), for a city perhaps. A city with that name is not known, but such a scenario should be thoroughly examined in order to be disproven. The other hypothesis that came up as a proposal was that Melsas could have been an unknown king. The writing is in Greek, while several kings in the Thracian lands produced coins with Greek script.

I have proposed that the said coin has not to do with a historical person, but with a hero – probably Melsas, the heroic founder of Mesembria Pontica, modern Nesebar. However, this coin issue may have no direct connection with that city- there could be just a link with the hero. In brief, I would not consider after all an association with a thus-far unknown ruler, or with an obscure city. Specimens of this coinage come from a certain area near the Romanian-Bulgarian border; certain clues rather eliminate the possibility of an unattested city having been there. I would suppose it more likely to have been a sanctuary in the name of a legendary founder.

CD: The ancient Thracians have always been an intriguingly enigmatic people. Does numismatic research help in identifying them better?

YS: Yes. Another related rarity would be a coin issue of a Thracian tribe, the Danteletai, which is not well known from literary sources. This is why there have been some misconceptions about their territorial location in antiquity. This has been stated as having been near Kyustendil in Bulgaria, but from coins and literary evidence, it seems that their homeland was (at least initially) closer to Mt Haemos. Very few of these coins are known to have survived; in 2012 we knew only of five, and now some more have appeared. One of these is kept in the KIKPE Numismatic Collection.

CD: That’s a great detail, and congratulations for that. But when you are working with so many coins, or seeing records of them in other collections, is it possible to lose track of what is what? Are there possibly other similarly rare coins in collections that people just overlook?

YS: It happens. When something is rare, you can have trouble to identify it. When I first saw the KIKPE piece of the Danteletai, I managed to recall an old Bulgarian publication which I had come across a dozen years ago; there a claim had been made that such a coin was fake, but evidently research moves on. There is another thing to maybe ponder: after a coin is correctly identified and properly studied, it can become referenced by the auction companies. Such scholarly references cited in the auction catalogues tend to add more perceived value to the coins for sale.

Auctions, Scholarship and the Effect on Coin Value

CD: That is a very interesting point, and it raises a question I was thinking to ask. People like you, who have all this specialized knowledge that can make or break the value of a coin… do these kinds of companies contact you to do appraisals?

YS: Personally I don’t do this kind of work. There are some numismatists who are working for auction houses full time, and they do a fine job. It’s another matter that all parts of the numismatic community should cooperate in the name of comity and for the benefit of science and research.

CD: But they don’t pay for it? That doesn’t sound fair.

YS: The auction companies pay the people who work for them. When there is some connection between the academic community and auction houses, it should be understood as well-meaning conduct between civilized people. And, as a scholar, it is always good to see that your work is quoted, as one should quote the work of others.

CD: And what about the other way around, if you see something up for auction that piques your interest – can you examine it to use it in your research?

YS: Yes. An example that comes to mind is in relation with a recent study of mine on a Roman Provincial coin issue of Abydos at the Hellespont, struck in the name of Commodus as caesar. Note that during that period provincial mints, especially east of the Adriatic, were allowed to produce copper coins, in the name of the emperor or of a young caesar. Anyway, I wanted to take an opinion from an auction house, about a coin issued again in the name of Commodus as caesar, but from another mint in Asia Minor. For such a specimen I had noticed an intriguing remark made by someone in the personnel of the auction house, so I proceeded to make contact and ask for some elaboration.

The whole thing worked as a quite useful insight, even for a while though, as part of a working hypothesis. Eventually this remark outlived its usefulness, because my study became more thorough and more extensive, leading to a more precise chronological classification of certain issues minted both in Rome and in the eastern provinces.

CD: Since the coin value is so much determined by its history, auction houses must dread such situations – the possibility of being wrong and the customer being displeased. Does this happen often?

YS: There are always cases in which some mistakes are made, even by auctioneers; nobody is infallible, and numismatists are occasionally in error too. Probably when such mistakes are made it is rather a combination of partial lack of knowledge, time pressure, or even wishful thinking to inaccurately consider something as rare, when in fact it is not.

Besides proper documentation, usually the factors of known provenance or pedigree are employed to help determine rarity and value. There is something of an overvaluation tendency sometimes, especially when the market goes through a period of hype and, when possible, these kinds of mistakes should be corrected.

CD: Interesting indeed. But do you have time, and do they let you, to work with a coin before the sale?

YS: One can ask for permission, either before or after a sale, to publish a photo of a coin that is rare, but it is not guaranteed. There is a chance, if a coin is very rare and if the buyer cannot be known, that it could get out of reach for research for a very long time. So, one has to go and ask for an image, e.g. in order to use it in a scientific article.

CD: That sounds like a fair request – after all, you’re doing it to expand scientific knowledge.

YS: Well, usually it is not difficult to get an affirmative response. As noted this can become on occasion a decisive factor: sometimes a publication appearing about certain coins may after a fashion influence the value of the coins referred to. Matters of authenticity and rarity when dealt with by scientific research can obviously affect a coin’s value to some extent.

Historical Insights to the Late Roman Economy and the Byzantine Gold Coinage

CD: I think many of our readers will be interested in the Byzantine coinage in connection with the historical aspects you have mentioned. Is there anything you can add about this?

YS: Sure. Here let me quote the famous words of Robert Sabatino Lopez, a scholar born in Genoa in 1910, who immigrated to the US in 1939. In a 1951 paper, he coined for the Byzantine gold coinage the term “the dollar of the Middle Ages.”

CD: Why was it considered thus?

YS: The starting point for discussing this coinage is the establishment of the gold solidus (or nomisma) in AD 309/310 by Constantine the Great. The introduction of this new coinage marked a differentiation from the previous one in terms of value. The previous gold coin unit was the aureus, which had been introduced by Augustus; according to the Augustan standard, 60 gold aurei were equivalent to one libra or litra, i.e., one Roman pound of gold (ca. 328 grams).

The newly established equivalence was 72 solidi to one Roman litra. What was in effect done was to introduce a lighter coin, with a high intrinsic value (24 carats), but at about 4.5 grams of gold, lighter than its predecessor. By the way, the word ‘carat’, derives from the Greek term keration (alternatively, siliqua in Latin) and it became largely employed as a metric fraction from this time onwards.

CD: Interesting! Yes, as they say, all words come from the Greek. What led Constantine to make this reform, however?

YS: As already mentioned, the 3rd century AD saw a big tumult within the Roman state, a multifaceted crisis hitting almost all levels of society. So, anyway, the Tetrarchs re-consolidated the state to some degree. Then, a little later, Constantine started to eliminate all the other contenders; he obviously wanted to break away from the previous tradition even before he became sole emperor in 324.

His idea was to use lighter coins and spend less precious metal on coins in general. Inflation was there for sure, and rampant, as we can see in a famous edict of Diocletian issued in 301. The measures taken were insufficient to stop it. Obviously, you cannot easily check inflation or make it illegal.

CD: Sure. But does this mean Constantine invented the concept of a carat? What was used previously?

YS: The carat is an old metric idea, however it took physical form when it became a coin. Before Constantine it was never a coin, just a metric unit used to measure gold, dust or nuggets. A carat is like 0.189 grams of gold- practically it itself could never be a gold coin. But when under Constantine I a coin was issued with a carat designation, it was a silver one (this is the siliqua). The ratio is quite revealing: the equivalence between gold and silver was largely set at 1 to 12.

Since a very small gold piece was impractical to use, making a coin out of its silver equivalent was more preferable instead. Less gold would be spent also in coin production. Thus the carat became a monetary unit and accordingly, it became important.

CD: That is a really intriguing story. I never knew that detail. So, this is the origin of the Byzantine monetary system?

YS: Yes, the foundations had been laid. The important thing with the solidus was what it is implied by its name, a ‘solid’ coin that was fully intact and highly pure. A coin of 24 carats gold is very valuable and a formidable means for conducting transactions. That is why it dominated the Mediterranean commercial world and many medieval markets for centuries.

But the metal is just one aspect- the other is the imperial power. The only one who could produce this coinage was the one, until Charlemagne, emperor.

CD: Was this because of Byzantine access to gold, or simply the imperial authority?

YS: The Byzantine Empire was not very famous for its gold mines. The ones in Nubia (an area in southern Egypt) were probably the most known. Some celebrated ancient gold mines would have probably been exhausted by the Byzantine period. There were some known to be exploited in Armenia, Asia Minor, Montenegro, Serbia, and elsewhere; obviously, Byzantium had access to these mines for quite a while. The access to the Nubian mines lasted until the conquest of Egypt by the Arabs in 641.

CD: Did that cause a dramatic change?

YS: No, interestingly enough. The Byzantine gold solidus remained a powerful instrument for centuries as it was not based on mine production, but largely on import and taxation, taking reserves of gold and turning them into means of transactions. In fact, politically, it is more or less a powerful currency imposed. This is rather the case, by a combination of political and economic power- when your coinage is respected and coveted because it has been disseminated by force, diplomacy or other means. The Byzantines were thus adept at using their gold coinage as a weapon.

CD: A very interesting point, using money as a weapon, and this concept is obviously still alive and well with certain modern countries and currencies, as Greece has experienced these last few years. But I seem to recall part of the story of Byzantine coinage had to do with debasement at various points, like under Alexios I Komnenos, and other happenings related to the empire’s changing fortunes.

YS: Indeed. But, first, let us clarify a technical distinction regarding Byzantine coinage- when do we place the start of it? For a particular reason, it is with emperor Anastasios I (491-518). The turning point was actually his coin reform of 498; a second stage of this reform was performed by 513.

It involved only the copper coinage, bringing in a factor which has to do with economic developments of importance. For quite a while the inhabitants of the Empire were using small and impractical nummi– bronze coins, small like lentils. They were very debased, and a very unreliable form of currency. Then came Anastasios, who in 498 introduced the follis, a large copper coin. This was the first and more essential reform.

The follis was a reliable coin, and something of an innovation. Anastasios ordered the value of the coin to be placed on it with a letter, Μ. This was the Greek letter mu, that is the 12th letter of the Greek alphabet, also signifying as a numeral the number 40. It equaled 40 of the small nummi, which continued to circulate for a while, until the end of the 6th century. Similarly, on the other smaller denominations the coin’s value was also placed.

CD: What was the impact of this reform?

YS: There are two very important reasons why this reform was successful. First, if one would go to the market to make some transactions for everyday items, he or she should have been carrying a purse or a pouch, having great difficulty to do shopping with a bunch of the minute and unreliable old coins. With the folles in use, large coins with marks of value, things were simplified.

Reason two involved fiscal affairs- one thing is the public, the other is the state, which has to collect the taxes. Especially in Byzantium this had to do mostly with land, as it was largely an agrarian society. It may be said that trade was not equally significant to the larger tax base. For the emperor, it was profitable to develop a system for what the state would accept from tax collectors.

For example, one collector would take in 7,000 of the small and debased nummi, and would take one solidus for all of that. But, he had to add another 200 little nummi for this amount – it was like a surcharge. This regulation made one gold solidus the equivalent of 7,200 nummi, but this was only in connection to the revenues of the state, not for the other everyday transactions. If the tax collector wanted to exchange 7,000 of his small pieces with an individual person, he would accept one solidus back. When one dealt with the Byzantine state, he would end up giving more to the state, which made a profit of 200 nummi per solidus transaction.

CD: And this had a beneficial effect for the state for some time, I would suppose?

YS: At the end of the reign of Anastasios I, the imperial treasury was full of gold: its solidi equaled approximately 104,000 kilos of gold! Now, if you do the math, there is no doubt that you have a very successful gold coinage, alongside with the efficient economic policy followed. It could be argued that the state treasury became full of gold because of the reform of copper coinage and, significantly, the political power to impose it mainly through taxation and tight management.

CD: So in daily life in that time, were the gold coins really used by regular people?

YS: Through the centuries, gold coins would be used only for large transactions, like large-scale trade, tax payments, etc. With one gold coin, to give an example, one could buy ten cows, as attested on one occasion in the 12th century, or a common psalter book- a quite expensive item in the Middle Ages.

The Prestige of Byzantine Gold Coinage, its Regulations and Gradual Decline

YS: Stories abound also about the power of Byzantine gold coinage in textual references. Such a narrative is about a merchant who reached Taprobane, which was most probably modern-day Sri Lanka. It’s a well-known source, the former trader Kosmas Indikopleustes, who later became a monk. This is a mid-6th century text relating a story from the beginning of that century about Sopatros the merchant, who was brought before the Indian ruler of the island, together with a Persian ambassador.

The king was asking questions about the respective kingdoms. The Persian was boasting, and the king noticed that the Roman/Byzantine remained silent. So he asked what the man could say in favor of his own land. Sopatros told the Indian king that the coins could be compared rather than comparing accounts. They just had to juxtapose a gold solidus with a Persian silver coin.

When the Indian king compared the two coins, he decided that the greatest king was in fact the Byzantine emperor. This is a tale, and of course every such tale has elements of propaganda in it. But a valid point is that one coin is attested as having prestige over all the others for that period, the solidus, and that it lasted for several centuries.

An analogous point is also made by the historian Procopius. Such is the case with a reference in 536-7 to the Franks, a rising power that had occupied Marseille. He was irritated as the Franks had issued gold coins with their own images. This was viewed as trying to usurp the imperial right to coin solidi.

CD: So the Byzantine state tried to prevent others from minting gold? It is just a metal- how could they enforce this?

YS: The Byzantine state would not bother e.g. about tremisses (thirds of solidus) being produced by the Franks or the Visigoths, but they had serious objections about others seeking to mint solidi with an image other than the imperial portrait. Theodebert I, the Merovingian king of Metz in Lorraine at that time, did so, and this was more than frowned upon by Procopius.

This was a crime worse than counterfeiting: it was considered to be abuse of the imperial authority.

CD: Fascinating stuff! So the use of gold coinage and its inscriptions had an aspect of financial competition between states, even then.

YS: Another example will make it more evident. I have to quote Procopius once more. In 542, he recounts a case in which Justinian I did not allow the Persians to receive ransom for a certain captured Byzantine aristocrat, Ioannis from Edessa in Syria, who had been taken as a hostage.

His grandmother was willing to pay the ransom, the equivalent of about 10,500 solidi. So here comes the intervention of the emperor, who said “I will not allow this in order to not give to the barbarians the wealth of the Romans.” A very important element can be noticed, which is that in Byzantium there was a prohibition on the export of gold coinage.

CD: Indeed. This sounds like an interesting policy with some modern similarities…

YS: It was rather a mercantile policy of how coin circulation could be controlled. It is well known that the Byzantines were paying tributes to avoid invasions, or bribes to warlords who could be employed or used against other enemies. A significant amount of gold was leaving the state – that is true – but in the case mentioned previously Justinian declared actually that the emperor alone was responsible for regulating how much money was getting over the borders. It is also like making a statement, because the currency was interwoven with the name of the emperor, and thus his personal power.

CD: How did the state enforce attempts to export money? What about melting it down to evade detection?

YS: In Byzantium, generally speaking, there was capital punishment for counterfeiting, altering or defacing gold coinage; this parameter was tied up with imperial authority, continuing also the Roman legal tradition. During the period of Iconoclasm, the major topic was of course how to deal with the reverence or the misuse of the religious images. The Iconoclast emperors tried to oppose what they perceived as idolatry; inevitably, the matter of the religious and the imperial images on the coins came up.

There is this story about a certain St Stephen the Younger who was presented before the emperor Constantine V, in the 760s. According to the story, he takes out a gold coin in the emperor’s image and name, and they have a debate. Stephen asks what would be the consequences for him, were he to willingly step on this coin with the emperor’s face engraved on it. So the Iconophile saint then accuses the emperor of affronting the images of the divine by his policies, and he steps on the coin. For this offense, he was driven to prison charged with stepping illegally on the royal image, as the source relates.

CD: That’s great.

YS: Again, gold coinage and the imperial right to issue it were matters of very serious importance. Sometimes these matters involved some sort of financial war or even could lead to real war. A remarkable example was with the Arabs, around 692. At the time, caliph ‘Abd al-Malik was involved with Justinian II in a conflict about coinage. The Arabs had to pay tribute to Byzantium and they proposed to do this by issuing their own coins and paying the amount due with them. From Byzantine sources, two views on this episode are recorded: one, that is a contra-emperor source, says that Justinian II foolishly did not accept this and campaigned against the Arabs. Justinian can be called a fool in retrospect though, because he lost the war.

Another source, however, states something very interesting, that it was unacceptable for anybody to use a different kharakter – this Greek word means the stamp or imprint on the coin, which also includes the royal image – for the minting of gold coins.

CD: Very interesting. And as time progressed? What led to the decline and debasement of the Byzantine gold coinage?

YS: The Byzantine gold coinage was used as a weapon for centuries more. A later Western source, Liutprand of Cremona, was a bishop visiting Byzantium during the reign of Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas. There is a 968 episode where a person in the Byzantine court literally threatens the bishop with coinage: Byzantium was so powerful in terms of money, he said, that it could employ with it other nations against a certain opponent, in order to crush him like a clay pot, which cannot be glued together again. At that time this claim was far from bragging.

The swan song of the Byzantine nomisma was gradual at first. The gold coinage began to be debased during the second quarter of the 11th century. There is a theory that this was a time of creeping inflation, and that can be seen arguably as a means for economic growth. But it is just a claim for now, as we haven’t yet found the real causes to fully explain the collapse. Several reasons have been proposed, but this is a matter that merits further research. In any case, after 1071 debasement became rampant, leading to a ‘gold’ coin which was a pale shell of its former self (being below 6 or even below 3 carats in purity).

The numismatic reform of Alexios Komnenos, which you mentioned already, was based on the hyperpyron- introducing this gold coin which was now of about 21 carats pure, no longer 24 carats. Without going into further details, this 1092 reform was quite pivotal for a period of temporary recovery.

However, debasement started anew after 1204 and was gradually continued during the Palaiologan period; by ca. 1300 the hyperperon had dropped down to 14 carats and by 1310 the Byzantine gold coin’s worth was down to 12 carats, half of its original value. As the territory and the political power of Byzantium waned more and more, with dire consequences, the fate of the once powerful coinage was unavoidable. The hyperperon ceased to be minted altogether soon after the middle of the 14th century. As the scholar T. Reinach wittily remarked, the Empire perished in 1453, “when it had spent its last gold coin.”

Numismatic Exhibits ahead for KIKPE

CD: That is all very fascinating background on a very detailed study. So, finally, to return to your work at the KIKPE institute, can you give us some updates on your past and upcoming activities of interest?

YS: In the past, the KIKPE Numismatic Collection went public for the first time with two exhibits in Greece, at Athens in 2006 and then at Thessaloniki in 2007. The first exhibit was held in the Benaki Museum; this was part of an ongoing agreement as the material of the Collection has been given on loan to the Benaki Museum for safekeeping and for organizing cultural events with the participation of both institutions.

After the repeated success of the temporary exhibit at Thessaloniki, the KIKPE Foundation adopted an extroverted policy, in order to promote Greek culture abroad, through concepts mostly involving coins. The first such project to be realized in this direction took place at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC in 2008, an exhibition called ‘Classically Greek.’ It combined banknotes, coins and other objects. Later, in 2012, an exhibition was organized at Geneva; it was housed by the Fondation Martin Bodmer and was entitled ‘Words and Coins: from Ancient Greece to Byzantium,’ combining coins with manuscripts and old books, juxtaposed thematically.

At the moment, we are preparing for a periodical exhibition at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow. It should be inaugurated hopefully by July 2016. The focus will be on the development of the human figure as showcased on coins, medals, gemstones, etc.

The KIKPE foundation is also in discussions with the American Numismatic Society in Manhattan, so that we may be able to proceed with a joint project. The possibility of organizing a numismatic exhibition in New York City is under consideration. Another venture to be attempted would be to co-produce a book on copper coinage through the ages- but anything would be very premature for the time being.

The proper organization of these activities is the responsibility of the Board of the KIKPE Foundation. At the same time, on our part, there are other tasks which should be taken care of, as very important work has to be continued also concerning the documentation and cataloging of the Numismatic Collection.

CD: That’s a great result and exciting program you have going on. I wish you good luck with it, and with your research in general. Thank you very much for taking the time to share these fascinating stories.

YS: Thank so much also for having such an interesting conversation.

2004-2009 Back Archives