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Talking about Ancient and Byzantine Coins: Interview with Yannis Stoyas 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 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.

Greek-Iranian Emerging Relations in the Post-Sanctions Era: an Overview editor’s note: following the expected lifting of sanctions on Iran, many world countries – including some Balkan ones – are looking to enhance political, economic and even security relations with the Islamic Republic. Here we examine the case of Greece, and some of the potential areas of expansion in bilateral relations between the two countries.

By Ioannis Michaletos

The Importance of Oil to the Bilateral Relationship

Oil remains a key sector where the lifting of sanctions will benefit the Greek-Iranian commercial relationship. Until 2012 and the start of renewed international sanctions on Teheran by the international community, including a hydrocarbons embargo, Greece was importing around 200,000 barrels of oil per day from Iran, being one of Iran’s best customers on a worldwide level.

The Greek refineries were importing the bulk of it, mainly due to the favorable open credit terms for up to six months that Iranian producers were providing, despite the “country risk” Greece was facing due to its mounting debt and the assorted problems that this entailed for the country.

The annual cost back in 2010-2012 for Greece was $5-6 billion paid to Iran, making this Mediterranean country of 11 million people one of the main suppliers of hard currency to Iran. The end of the Iranian imports and the demise of the Libyan production (which was happening at exactly the same time) forced Greek companies to increase supplies from Russia and Kazakhstan.

The past year has of course seen considerable turbulence in the price of oil globally which has numerous knock-on effects, diplomatically and commercially. But price fluctuation, while it can affect amounts, scale and profits, cannot by itself diminish the general importance of oil to the Greek relationship with Iran. In the strategic overview, the comeback of Iranian oil into the Greek market will be important.

Also, analysts should note that the semi-state company Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE) owes money to Iran, and at some point the latter will surely ask to be paid back: the total debt ELPE owes Iran is around 200 million euros.

This debt could not be repaid previously, because of the financial embargo. Thus it is absolutely sure that Iran will make a comeback in Greece, mainly centered around its very lucrative and important hydrocarbons export sector.

Other Expected Areas of Bilateral Trade

Greek companies producing agricultural supplements and products should do well in the post-sanctions era, since Iran is a big agricultural market. Also likely to benefit will be island resorts catering to rich Iranian tourists, plus jewelry and precious stones dealers. The tobacco industry, marble, aluminum, and the pharmaceutical corporations can also see growth in Iran, which has demand due to the long-time embargo to many types of medicine products.

A Long and Eventful Relationship

In addition, the two countries and cultures share a colorful history, dating back to ancient Greece’s famous “Persian Wars,” the conquest of Asia by Alexander the Great, the subsequent “Hellenistic period” in the Bactrian Kingdom and the continuous wars between the Greco-Roman world and the Persian Kingdoms between the 1st and 4th centuries AD.

Later on, the Eastern Roman Empire waged substantial campaigns in the Mesopotamia region against the Persian Kingdom. This series of wars ended abruptly when the followers of Mohammed conquered the then-Persia and cut off the Byzantines from them. For centuries thereafter relations between the Greek world and the Persian one was indirect, via trade and cultural exchange. This was facilitated by the Ottomans, who absorbed elements of Persian cuisine, architecture, vocabulary and culture, and brought them to Greece.

In modern times, a small Greek community, currently not more than 100 people, was formed by Greek refugees escaping from Kemalist Turkey back in the early 1920’s. Unable to return to Greece they settled in Teheran and built the “Resurrection Church” near the center of the city.

Relations were considered good during the period of the Shah, but during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980’s, Athens supported Saddam Hussein’s war efforts, and bilateral diplomatic relations reached an historic low. However, from the mid-1990’s oil imports and commercial opportunities in the expanding Iranian market flourished. A new round of warm bilateral relations ensued, and at various occasions the Greek ministry of foreign affairs appeared to be attempting to mediate as an “honest broker” between Teheran and the international community, albeit with no tangible results.

Iranian Citizens in Greece during the Current Migrant Crisis

The current migration wave from the Middle East to Greece has brought more than 15,000 Iranian citizens into the country, most of them of Kurdish descent and traveling under illegal or semi-legal status.

On the other hand, some 2,000 Iranians reside legally in the country, many of them successful in trade and commerce. The impending lifting of sanctions has prompted Greece’s de facto national airline, Aegean Airlines, to start direct flights to Teheran, which has helped spur a new kind of “economic shuttle diplomacy” between prospective investors from the two states.

Greek Diplomatic Overtures to Iran during 2015

Further, throughout 2015 the Greek MFA actively tried to open up the Iranian market, while the first cousin of the recently-deposed Greek prime minister, named Giorgos Tsipras, tried unsuccessfully to request loans or credits from the Iranian national reserves.

Giorgos Tsipras was the general secretary of economic relations of the Greek MFA during his brother’s brief rule. The overture to Iran, which was also followed by a similar one to Venezuela, was part of Syriza’s failed strategy to exercise pressure on the EU and in particular Germany, regarding debt negotiations. This “multipolar participation” strategy represents a popular way of thinking among some of the academic-minded ‘experts’ who, for a few months at least, enjoyed some degree of political power.

Although this diplomacy was supposed to have been kept secret it was leaked to the media and also created negative attention. However, these overtures also had a subtle effect on Greek relations with Israel, which had been steadily forging closer ties with Athens during the governments of Samaras and his immediate predecessors. Greece’s new strategy to engage Iran thus has to take into account that Tel Aviv regards Iran as enemy-number-one, which in turn complicates the Greek-Israeli relationship.

The Hidden Side of Things: Projected Iranian Intelligence Activity in Greece

In security terms, the present cooperation between the two countries is at an almost non-existent level, a fact that most probably will change once all sanctions are lifted.

The reason to expect a closer security relationship is partly because Iran is a major transit zone for illegal migration flow that ends up in Greece via Turkey. Iran is as well as part of the famous Afghan heroin route towards the Balkans. Since both of these issues have both a national and EU importance for Greece, there are plenty of opportunities for police cooperation between the two states. In fact, it might be beneficial for certain European countries which do not want to risk their relationship with Israel to ‘outsource’ this liaison task to Greece- which is in any case the frontier country for the EU.

On the other hand, it is more than certain that Iran will be mostly interested in expanding its intelligence and counterintelligence reach in Greece. It will be keenly interested in increasing surveillance of the anti-regime Iranian diaspora community members who reside in Greece.

These number perhaps more than 500 people. In 2010, during repeated hunger strikes by anti-regime Iranian immigrants in Greece, surveillance of these people by the Iranian state apparatus was noted by Greek intelligence in Athens. In fact, this interference almost led to a diplomatic confrontation with the Greek side, but the issue was handled in discreetly and was defused.

Iran’s Future Ambitions: Protector of the Shia in Greece, and Beyond

Teheran is expected to be active in Athens not only diplomatically, commercially and for its own internal security purposes. Rather, it is increasingly clear that Teheran sees itself as the protector of not only the local Iranian community, but of all Shia adherents residing in Greece. This group in total possibly numbers more than 60,000 people.

Organizations such as the Pakistani Shia “Tehrik-e-Jafaria,” various Afghani Shia groups, Iraqi Shia, Lebanese, Yemenis, Indian and others are revolving their activities around the presence of Iran in Greece and the Balkans in general. In reality, Iran is not a nation-state, but a hub of a wider political-religion alliance which can be understood as the ‘Shia Axis,’ stretching from Latin America across to Indonesia, with more than 250 million adherents and allies.

Security Concerns about Iranian Affiliations in Greece

A WikiLeaks cable (November 2009, 09ATHENS1643-19) details a dialogue between then-Greek Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysohoidis and then-US Ambassador Daniel Speckhard. The Greek official claimed that the notorious Greek terrorist group “Revolutionary Struggle” had links with Iran, and that some of its members were traveling to Lebanon and Iran.

During that period, the Greek newspaper Proto Thema reported that Greek terrorists were being trained in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, while back in 2007 US congressionally-funded research detailed that Hezbollah members are active in Athens and raise funds by tobacco smuggling. In January 2007 the US Embassy in Athens was hit by an RPG rocket launched by the Revolutionary Struggle group, which subsequently issued a proclamation. It concluded by expressing its support for Hezbollah’s struggle in Lebanon.

The Iranian bank “Saderat” has a branch in Athens which temporarily is closed for business due to international sanctions, regarding its possible financing of Hezbollah. However, it is almost certain that if sanctions are lifted this bank will be open for business again.

Unsurprisingly, Israeli interest in Iranian activities in Athens has been steadily increasingly in recent years, and it became more overt after the terrorist attack against the Israeli embassy in late 2014. However, a Greek terrorist group took responsibility for that attack.

The Soft Power Approach: International Organizations

Perhaps the main importance of Greece to Iran can be detected in the “soft power” approach that Teheran has established in Athens. In this period, an organization called the “Union of Muslim World Publishers” established its European headquarters in Athens. Iran opened it in Athens on October 25, 2012.

According to the public relations office of the Union of Muslim World Publishers, a ceremony was held October 2012 featuring Ali Zarei Najafdari, secretary general of the union, Mohammad Hussein Mozafari, Iran’s cultural attaché in Greece, and Mohammad Reza Pakravan, Iran’s cultural contact with Greece.

In his address, Najafdari asserted that the union will run representative headquarters in the five continents of the world, following the agreements reached in the general assembly of the union. He noted that given its legacy of being such a historical civilization, Greece was chosen by the union to host its headquarters in Europe. This was said to be a bid to cement cultural relations with the thinkers, publishers and elites in various fields in the region. He went on to say that new headquarters will open in various other regions in the world to expand the union’s expansion.

Iran also retains a state school for expatriates in Athens, state airlines offices, a state-sponsored cultural center, and a library which is very active, along with press agency staff. They also undertake a wide range of activities with Shia NGOs based in Greece.

Conclusion: Positive Economic and Diplomatic Relations Expected

Despite these overtures, Iran’s presence is not likely to be considered threatening to Greek society. In fact, the estimate is that once sanctions are lifted energy trade and the general business climate will boom between the two countries, and secondary sectors such as tourism will be augmented as well.

Security and in particular police collaboration will also flourish. Positive relations between Greece and Iran are likely to cause consternation in several world capitals, but it could possibly benefit the Greek state security apparatus- which would be seen as suddenly more important to cooperate with by countries fearful of Iran.

In wider geostrategic terms, though, few problematic developments should be expected; stable relations will develop with no real diplomatic changes of balance.

Agreement Reached on the European Agenda on Migration, but Significant Challenges Remain editor’s note: Before departing for summer vacations, EU leaders last week made important decisions regarding the worsening, and politically divisive issue of illegal migration.

The relevant commission in charge of addressing the issue is led by a veteran of Greece’s former Samaras government, Dimitris Avramopoulos, and his team has been working hard in recent months along with others in the EU system. On Monday, July 20 Justice and Home Affairs ministers met in Brussels, and contributor Maria-Antoaneta Neag was there to gain insight into the complexities of the migration talks at the EU level, observe the debate and note some of the EU’s envisaged answers to the migration phenomenon.

This is a problem that is having an acute effect on the Balkans. As we predicted recently, a ‘migrant bubble’ is now forming within Serbia and Macedonia, due to an unprecedented problem – the fact of illegal migrants transiting on a large scale from the EU to the EU through non-EU countries – which remains an issue Brussels remains unwilling to even acknowledge.

By Maria-Antoaneta Neag

Saving Lives Is a Complicated Affair…

The EU was taken to task last year regarding its migration policy by a European official whose authority is not political, but moral. Addressing the European Parliament in November 2014, Pope Francis said Europe is “somewhat elderly and haggard” and “less and less a protagonist” in the world. On the issue of migration, he talked about a “united response” needed to help migrants arriving in Europe. “We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery,” he said.

Europe has to reply to this criticism by proving it can cope with this phenomenon. With the Greek commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos in charge of Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, common rules are in place, though still in need of implementation. The Common European Asylum System, EU agencies and other already running programmes and projects indicate that the EU seems equipped. However, migration remains a challenge. EU is still fighting irregular migration, partially overwhelmed by the reality of its existence and its consequences at societal level.

With more than 276,000 immigrants arriving in the European Union in 2014, 138% more compared to the previous year, the EU faces several challenges: the reception, identification, processing of asylum seekers’ applications, relocation or readmission, absorption into the labour market as well as the swift cultural and social integration of migrants.

The recent tragic events in the Mediterranean add pressure to EU capacities and response. To name a few examples, several hundred migrants died near Lampedusa, Italy in 2013, while new forms and routes of migration are emerging; the “Ghost Ships” phenomenon is arising (e.g., more than 1,200 migrants abandoned and cast adrift by human smugglers found on two ships off Italy, ‘Blue Sky M’ and ‘Ezadeen’, in December 2014). According to the UN, the year 2015 has already seen a maritime death toll of 1,867.

THE EU has developed mechanisms and structures to tackle such events: Joint Operation Triton (started on November 2014 under Frontex coordination has already saved thousands of migrants. Europol has contributed by facilitating intelligence-sharing and cross-border investigations; its recent actions led to the arrest of hundreds of human smugglers. The Mare Nostrum operation of 2013 also saved 150,000 migrants.

Still, the problem remains, and thus the EU has started a process of drafting a more comprehensive migration policy. The President of the European Council convened a special meeting on migration that was held on April 23, 2015. After a European Council Statement and a European Parliament resolution focusing on the latest tragedies in the Mediterranean and EU migration and asylum policies, in May 2015 the European Commission released its long-awaited European Agenda on Migration.

As a response to the growing instability and the subsequent migratory flows in the EU’s southern flank, the principles of the European Agenda on Migration relate to addressing the root causes of migration, saving lives at sea, dismantling smuggling networks (through the Common Security and Defence Policy operations in the Mediterranean to capture and destroy boats), strengthening the common asylum policy and addressing legal migration through a new policy.

This policy takes into account the EU’s demographic, economic and labor market architecture. Frontex, Europol and EASO received additional funding and extended mandates, in order to swiftly identify, register and fingerprint arriving migrants, and in order to assist in the fight against migrant smuggling networks. Furthermore, in cooperation with international stakeholders such as the International Organization for Migration and the UN Refugee Agency, a pilot multi-purpose center in Niger will be set up to register applications while migrants are still in Africa.

The EU, a Humanitarian Global Player versus Fortress Europe

While having a Common European Asylum System in place, dealing with immigrants and asylum seekers remains a challenge for the European Union, as some countries are facing a disproportionate burden. The case of Malta, a chronic recipient of mass migration due to its geographical position, is a good example. With a population of about 400,000 inhabitants, the question of how to deal with the migratory wave given limited reception capacity becomes acute.

Questions like reception in countries like Malta, Italy and Greece haunt EU leaders who are now envisaging a holistic approach to migration. Other unresolved issues include: how to share the burden among the EU’s Member States; how to increase the mobility of EU’s labour force; how to deal with the cultural and religious differences; how to identify possible criminal links; how to ensure their human rights – family reunification, education etc. – without unbalancing the EU’s allegedly already well-structured multicultural social, economic and political system?

Official Statistics and EU Responses to the Migrant Presence

We can now turn to some of the EU’s envisaged answers to the migration phenomenon, one that increases in magnitude year on year.

The latest annual report from the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) highlights that the year 2014 left more than half a million asylum seekers still waiting for an EU reply to their request (a 37% increase compared to 2013). In the first months of 2015, there was a 68% increase compared to the same period last year. Strengthening the common asylum policy through full application of the common rules, and the systematic monitoring and solidarity with EU member states facing high flows of asylum seekers, are among the priorities expressed in the European Agenda on Migration.

In 2014 there were 441,780 detections of illegal stays in the EU. Out of the 283,532 detections of illegal border-crossing, a quarter were of Syrian origin. In an effort to tackle this phenomenon, the EU also focused on resettlement, thus 252,003 third-country nationals were effectively returned to third countries.

The European Agenda on Migration focuses on defining actions for the better application of return policies, and the safe and legal resettlement of people. The EU will explore the opportunity for other trade and development agreements with third countries to address their readmission and the full implementation of EU rules on returns.

Resettlement agreements with candidate or potential candidate countries play an important role in the EU accession process. In July 2015, EU interior ministers also adopted conclusions on designating certain third countries (i.e. the Western Balkans) as ‘safe’ countries of origin for the purpose of an accelerated examination procedure of applications for international protection (the Asylum Procedures directive).

Reactions to Migration in the Balkans

In some member states, many recent developments have taken place in the area of tackling migration flows. In order to keep out illegal migrants, following the Melilla model, Greece in 2012 built a 10.5-kilometer long, 4-meter high barbed-wire border fence along the Greek-Turkish border (on the Evros River where many migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Algeria and Congo were entering the country).

Many human rights disputes are linked to the migration phenomenon and many NGOs (i.e. Amnesty International) highlight the unlawful treatment refugees and illegal migrants entering the EU from Greece allegedly receive. The current economic collapse of the country and the political turmoil are destabilizing Greece’s efforts as an EU frontline for migration.

Recently, Bulgaria too built a 30-kilometer metal fence along a section of Turkey’s border, with guards posted every 100 meters. Hungary too is building a wall along its border with Serbia. The beginning of the year saw one-third of the EU’s asylum seekers registered in Hungary (more than 50,000 migrants compared to a total of 43,000 in 2014) – exceeding the figures in Italy.

The Hungarian border wall project caused a reaction from the United Nations and the EU.

Serbia too must increase efforts to deal with the migrants stuck within their borders, and is objecting to Hungary’s new ‘Berlin Wall.’ In the middle of it all, Macedonia meanwhile is left to deal with pressure from its northern and southern borders, as Serbia sends its migrants back due to Hungarian reactions, and Greece keeps sending more migrants north due to Turkey’s inability to prevent them from reaching Greece.

Offical EU July Decisions: from Relocation to Return and Resettlements

EU financial resources (approx. €3.6 billion for the period 2014-2020) are available to member states regarding legal and irregular migration, return, asylum, border management and integration.

Emergency assistance is also provided, as in the case of Greece, one of the most affected countries in addressing the increas­ing arrival of migrants in need of international protection, benefiting from the European Refugee Fund emergency mecha­nism since 2008.

All institutions are sending their messages and envisaging immediate policy responses to this crisis as well as a long term reflection on the effects of migratory flows reaching Europe.

The European Parliament’s views were reflected in the Ska Keller report (Greens/EFA, DE) adopted on July 16, in the EP’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) meeting; it was the last one before the summer recess.

Following lengthy and assiduous debates in June 2015, EU leaders reached some sort of agreement on the need to relocate and resettle 60,000 refugees (40,000 persons in clear need of international protection and 20,000 displaced persons) from Greece and Italy across EU member states, over the next two years.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was forced to ditch his idea of mandatory quotas for the distribution of asylum-seekers, as the Council fiercely opposed the idea. Interestingly enough, although they have represented high numbers of intra-EU migrants, Eastern European countries were largely behind the opposition to Juncker’s plan.

The results also focused on returns. Following the Spanish experience with preventing waves of illegal migrants to the Canary Island, EU leaders decided that migrants with no legal right in the EU must be returned.

With the aim of a geographically comprehensive system of relocation, EU interior ministers under the chair of Jean Asselborn, Luxembourgish Minister of Immigration and Asylum, in the presence of representatives of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland agreed on July 20 to relocate 32,256 Syrian and Eritrean asylum seekers from Italy and Greece, and to settle 22,504 refugees as of October. The remaining 8,000 from the initial target will be allocated by the end of the year.

Germany (10,500) and France (6,752) will be receiving the highest numbers while Austria and Hungary refused to relocate any. Denmark used its opt-out, and the UK and Ireland did not take the opt-in on justice and home affairs policies. However, Ireland will voluntarily take in 600 people. Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland will also participate in the relocation scheme.

The migrant crisis is far from over, of course; the Western Balkans will be affected by the construction of the new border wall between Hungary and Serbia; many member states remain vulnerable to migrant influxes – mainly Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain, countries which have received 137,000 people between January and June 2015, including asylum seekers, refugees and illegal migrants. Meanwhile, suspicion (and even xenophobia) is growing in Europe regarding the justification for migrants’ rights to enter the EU at all.



Greek-Brazilian Trade Relations: Interview with Flavio Goldman, Embassy of Brazil in Greece editor’s note: From 2-5 June, the First Vice-Chairman of the the Brazil-Greece Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism visited Athens. The visit, meant to further develop the bilateral trade initiatives between the two countries, provides fitting context for director Chris Deliso’s exclusive interview with Flavio Goldman, head of the Trade Promotion Sector of the Brazilian Embassy in Athens. In this discussion of a rarely-analyzed trade relationship, we cover tourism trends, key exports, and possibilities for the future.

Chris Deliso: First of all, thank you very much for speaking with us today. There are a number of issues of interest to our readers, particularly in Greece. We might start with the question of the ‘human factor.’ As I understand, there is a well established Greek community in Sao Paulo, including major businessmen. At the same time, some Greeks complain that these descendents of émigrés have never invested in Greece.

Interview with Flavio Goldman Brazil Balkanalysis

According to Mr. Goldman, “in Brazil there is a very strong image of Greek hospitality. Brazilians know they will be welcome when they come to Greece.”

So, is there any attempt from either the Brazilian or Greek side to engage this community in improving trade and human capital, as a sort of bridge between both countries?

Flavio Goldman: Currently, as far as we know, there are no institutional initiatives to engage the Greek community in Brazil specifically in trade. We do see, however, that at the Brazil-Greek Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, created in 2011 and based in Rio de Janeiro, there are directors of Greek origin. We notice that the focus of the Greek community institutions in Brazil has been mostly in preserving their cultural heritage and also on raising awareness about the current situation of Greece.

Origins of the Greek Community in Brazil, and Trade Possibilities

CD: Interesting. Is this a matter for Brazil to get involved, or is it a Greek responsibility to entice these businessmen?

FG: We notice there are voices in Greece that advocate the strengthening of the links between Greece and its important diaspora. For instance, the newspaper Kathimerini has recently published an article calling on the government to increase connections with diaspora in general, proposing a creation of Deputy Minister for diaspora.

CD: By the way, how many Greeks or people of Greek ancestry live in Brazil anyway? Is it a significant community?

FG: We estimate there are 30,000 Brazilians of Greek origin. And they are very much integrated, as are all other communities of foreign origin in Brazil. Our country is a true melting pot. When people immigrate to Brazil, and when their children are born in Brazil, we usually don’t say that they are ‘Greek-Brazilians’ or ‘Italian-Brazilians’ or whatever. Take our president, Dilma Rousseff – nobody refers to her as ‘Bulgarian-Brazilian.’

CD: When did most of the Greeks come to Brazil? Was there a historical period of immigration, as we had in the US through the early 20th century?

FV: The major wave of immigration of Greeks to Brazil was in the first half of the 20th century, with important peaks in the 20s, after the catastrophe of Asia Minor, and in the 40s, during the period of the Greek Civil War. Brazil, and other countries in Latin America, were seen as major countries of opportunity. And not only for Greeks- for example, Brazil has today around 10 million people of Syrian and Lebanese origin. Sao Paulo is also the largest Japanese city outside of Japan. In Sao Paulo, there are no less than 70 foreign communities coexisting in harmony. This contributed largely to the multicultural aspects of Brazilian society.

CD: And what about their sense of identity? As we all know, Greeks in America, Canada and Australia particularly keep a very strong national affinity and are very active in business and political lobbying for the old country.

FG: Brazilians of Greek descent keep their specific cultural identity, as all other communities, and their affinities with Greece. There are some institutions, such as the Areté Cultural Center of São Paulo, that have been very active in promoting this sense of identity among members of the Greek community in the city. The organization was founded by a Brazilian editor of Greek origin, who publishes mostly Greek culture content.

Tourism Development between Greece and Brazil

CD: That is an interesting aspect, as the Greek cultural offering opens onto tourism visibility, and tourism is of course a major industry for Greece.

FG: Sure. And, according to the official Greek statistics, the number of Brazilian tourists to Greece rose 90 percent in 2014.

CD: Wow! That is a huge increase. How do you explain this?

FG: There is a major curiosity about Greece among Brazilians. For example, Globo, a major TV channel, has a weekly show called “Globo Reporter,” which consists of documentaries of about one hour about different issues. Last year they presented two documentaries about Greece. One was about the famous longevity of the islanders of Ikaria, the other about the Mediterranean diet. And the documentary on Ikaria was the most-watched “Globo Reporter” show of the year. This indicates how appealing Greece can be for Brazilians. There was a poll by Tripadvisor in Brazil, asking what countries people wish to visit, and the 13th place overall was Greece.

CD: Really! That is fascinating. And a stroke of good luck, for the Greek side. But who was behind the decision to make these films? Did the Greek government get involved, or it was an independent effort?

FG: Incidentally, the producer of the show was a Brazilian of Greek origin, but I understand this was not a key issue in the TV channel decision, since there is a solid interest about Greece in Brazil, about its cultural heritage and natural landscape, as proved by the success of the shows. I should add that the Greek government was very helpful in assisting the production in their different needs, especially in granting access to film at archeological sites.

Also, we should note that in Brazil there is a very strong image of Greek hospitality. Brazilians know they will be welcome when they come to Greece. Bear in mind, though, that, in spite of the important increase, the absolute numbers of visitors are still small: they rose from 27,000 to 52,000 in 2014. We account for 0.2% of Greek tourism overall. So there is still a lot of opportunity for growth.

CD: I am wondering what other factors might account for this low rate, considering how populous of a country Brazil is. What about connections between the two countries? Are there direct flights, otherwise how do people get between the two continents mot easily? Obviously, this is a major factor when it comes to tourism development.

FG: There are no direct flights between the two countries at the moment. Travelers come via other European capitals and Istanbul.

CD: What about the other way around? How many Greek tourists visit Brazil?

FG: The number of Greek tourists in Brazil currently visiting Brazil is relatively small- only 5,000 last year. We expect an increase that in 2016, as we will have the major incentive of the Olympics in Rio. We see the Games as an excellent opportunity to foster our connections with Greece. We will organize an event in Athens to promote tourism to Rio connected with the Olympics next year.

Sporting Events and Cultural Perceptions

CD: Ah yes, the Olympics. I imagine Brazil has learned from some of the mistakes Greece made and losses suffered due to hosting the Games in 2004. What do Brazilians think about the Greek connection with the Olympics?

FG: Brazil, and Rio in particular, have studied how all recent Olympic hosts handled their Games, and I’m sure learned a lot from this. But regarding the 2004 Athens Olympics, there is a nice story connecting Brazil and Greece. In the marathon run, we had a Brazilian runner who was leading the competition, until an Irish fan suddenly grabbed him! And then a Greek guy saw the Irish fan and interceded spontaneously, to help the runner. So this Greek guy became like a national hero in Brazil. This added to the existing Brazilian perception of Greek hospitality, and the image of Greek help to a person in distress… This man was invited to go to Brazil, as an expression of our gratitude, and was very well received there.

CD: That is really interesting. It seems to me a unique aspect that most people have never heard of, or at least no longer remember. The fact that an image like that could have a lasting opinion on cultural and social identifications is very interesting.

FG: And recently the UN rapporteur on racism, who is a Kenyan, visited Greece. He said that he met immigrants, and was impressed to see that on the islands that are affected by illegal migration, how local people go out of way to help, even though they are affected by the economic crisis.

In general in Brazil, Greeks have a very popular image, and I think the same is true vice-versa. There are many positive associations to Brazil in Greece, like our popular music and our history in soccer.

CD: Yeah, I’m sorry about the World Cup. We were pulling for you. Damn Germans.

FG: We even received messages of solidarity in the embassy here after the defeat. So, I suppose there were many Greeks supporting us too! We hope there will be a number of Greeks curious to see the Olympics in Brazil, and we hope that they will enjoy their experience there.

Other Trade Sectors

CD: So, to return to the economic and trade issues, can you tell me what were the major issues of interest for Mr Pereira on his visit to Greece?

FG: Mr Pereira’s visit had a major focus on tourism and maritime transport, which are two important sectors of our bilateral exchange. He also saw local importers of soya, sugar and coffee.

CD: Indeed. Speaking of coffee, we know that Greece is a major consumer of coffee, and Brazil has been a major export partner here. Since this is such an important export, it would be nice to know more about the specifics of the trade, how important Greece is to the general Brazilian coffee export market, whether you project the trade to increase or decrease, and so on.

FG: It is an important export, yes. We should note that Greece imports today green coffee from Brazil, not processed or roasted coffee. Brazil accounts for 60 percent of green Greek coffee imports, we are by far their main partner. Vietnam comes second, but with a much smaller percent. And Brazil is, as you know, the world leader in green coffee export.

Greece is a very important market for us: it ranks among the 20 top markets for this kind of coffee for Brazil. Usually, its position in the ranking varies between 14 and 19. We see our position in the Greek market as very stable, but, of course, there is always room to expand it, as well as to explore the possibility of exporting roasted coffee too.

CD: Has Brazil identified what are other products, in addition to coffee, that will be most important in future to traders? And what about the market for Greek producers in Brazil, is there anything they should be working on?

FG: We believe there is room to increase our exports of sugar to Greece. We have received positive signs of a few key players in Greece, highlighting their interest in importing more sugar from Brazil. And regarding Greece, I would say that the exports of Greek wines, honey and olive oil could be expanded, in view of their quality. If you go to Brazil, you will see the major imports of olive oil are from Portugal, Spain and Italy.

CD: Yeah, we make the same mistake in America. Very unfortunate.

FG: Because of our long cultural relations, obviously Portugal has a strong foothold in the Brazilian olive oil market. But we begin to notice an increasing interest in Greek olive oil, which is viewed as a very high quality product among experts in gastronomy. Yet the current volume is still very low considering the size of the Brazilian market.

The promotion of olive oil, dairy products and other Greek products was indeed part of a recent mission to Brazil organized by SEV and the Hellenic-Latin American Chamber of Commerce based in Athens. They went to Sao Paulo and then to Argentina and Mexico.

CD: Another possible issue is of Greek shipping companies, which transfer a lot of Brazil’s iron ore exports. Are there any estimates for the quantitative importance of Greek-owned shipping for total Brazilian export activities?

FG: It is a very important presence. We can say that shipping services account for the vast majority of our exchange in services. According to our most recent data, 70% of that exchange refers to shipping support services, and 24% corresponds to the services of oil transportation. We also noted a significant increase in the demand for Greek shipping personnel. The bulk of work visa requests we receive here at the Athens embassy are from our oil company Petrobras, requesting Greek personnel for temporary missions. There are also Greek ships performing services to Petrobras, for a number of years now.

I believe the acknowledged expertise of Greece in shipping services and the increasing needs of Petrobras, related to the sustainable exploration of our pre-salt layer, offer very good perspectives for our bilateral change in this field.

CD: Thank you very much then, I really appreciate you taking the time to share these fascinating insights. Best of luck with the work.

FG: Thank you also.


The Hellenic Coast Guard: Greece’s First Line of Maritime Defense editor’s note: as southeastern Europe continues to grapple with an unprecedented influx of illegal migrants amidst an explosive regional security atmosphere, Greece’s coast guard is again being called on to confront maritime security threats. The following detailed survey provides a comprehensive overview of the Greek Coast Guard, its structural and organizational make-up, fleet, operations and related issues of current concern.

Readers of this article may also enjoy the authors’ previous e-book, Studies in Greek Security, 2006-2011.

By Ioannis Michaletos and Chris Deliso

The Greek (Hellenic) Coast Guard is often overlooked by both the domestic and international media when it comes to security-related affairs in the country.

Nevertheless it plays a crucial role in a host of major contemporary security areas that affect globally-relevant issues, such as illegal immigration, anti-narcotics operations, combating arms smuggling, seizing counterfeit contraband and untaxed tobacco, among many other different transnational illicit sectors.

In fact, considering the maritime nature of Greece, its coast guard can be said to be the bulwark of Greece’s maritime defensive security architecture. Indeed, it has more far-reaching responsibilities in many cases than do the police or the intelligence structures, and it complements the navy’s operation across a wide geographical area, spanning from the Adriatic-Ionian seas to the Aegean and a large sector of the Eastern Mediterranean which borders with Cyprus, Turkey on the east and Egypt, Libya, Italy and Malta on the south and towards the west.

The Greek Coast Guard: Mandate, Activities and Relative Size

The Hellenic Coast Guard (HCG, in Greek, Λιμενικό Σώμα-Ελληνική Ακτοφυλακή or Limeniko Soma-Elliniki Aktofylaki or LS-ELAKT) was originally established in 1919, and since then has developed into one of the largest such forces in the wider region. It numbers 8,000 personnel spread across Greece, with dozens of island stations and bases, and several diplomatic representatives in Greek embassies and consulates a0broad. It has around 200 vessels and over 10 helicopters and light aircraft.

Quite interestingly the Hellenic Coast Guard is administered by the Maritime Affairs ministry (incorporated by the current government into a Ministry of Economy, Infrastructure, Shipping and Tourism). Thus the HCG is not institutionally related to the police or customs administration- a fact that has led to occasional ‘turf related’ antagonistic relations. HCG authority extends also onshore, in ports (where the Port Police falls under HCG control) and in any kind of maritime installations, and covers the entire Greek seafront. This extensive area is among the 10 largest national seafront areas in the world.

On certain occasions, the Hellenic Coast Guard has exercised its right to conduct surveillance and make arrests inside of urban centers- and sometimes even without consulting local police forces.

In terms of size, Greece’s coast guard is larger both in proportion and in actual numbers than its counterparts in neighboring countries. Turkey’s coast guard boasts 5,500 personnel, for example, though it too has an extensive coastline (and a population more than seven times that of Greece). The HCG is in fact the second largest force of its kind in the Mediterranean after than of Italy, which has a lengthy coastline, 11,000 personnel, and also a population six times greater than that of Greece.

In fact, if the Greek coast guard was a separate navy, it would be larger than the Bulgarian navy (4,000 personnel), Romanian navy (7,000 personnel), and almost the same as the Israeli and Portuguese navies (8-9,000 personnel). On the other hand, the extensive and intricate Greek coastline – among the largest in the world – the tremendous sea traffic year-round and the existence of thousands of islands, contribute to such an augmented force. Nevertheless, according to experts the coast guard still needs a 25% boost in order to be able to cope with its ever-increasing duties.

Scope and Structure of Activities

In order to better illustrate the significance of this force when assessing Greek domestic security affairs, a basic outline of its structure should be provided. By this an interested reader should understand that it is modeled as a combination between a conventional navy and police agency, with numerous civil duties as well.

The hierarchy starts with the head of the force, who is always a vice-admiral. He is complemented by 1st and 2nd deputies, who are rear-admirals, and there is also the general inspector, a rear-admiral as well. The directors of the specific internal branches are all normally rear-admirals also.

Coast Guard Branch A could be considered the operational one; it is composed of the directory of operations, port control, fishery control, means and methods, border and state security and anti-contraband operations. It is the branch which has the everyday workload often portrayed in the media when hunting down criminals or securing defense. It is also the one with intelligence and security functions.

Coast Guard Branch B is specialized in maritime affairs and is composed of the sector of international commercial merchant marine, maritime security of the aforementioned, directory of maritime labor affairs, maritime transportation directory, sea and environmental protection and the commercial maritime education directory.

Coast Guard Branch C is involved in regulatory affairs, such as checks and regulations of organizations dealing with maritime affairs, construction and maintenance of vessels, inspection of the commercial maritime fleet, inspection of port and maritime installations regarding safety.

Coast Guard Branch D deals with human resources and management, having the directory of personnel, directory of training and the communications management section.

Furthermore, there are a number of agencies directly subordinated to the HCG chiefs of staff such as: general inspection, health issues agency, airlifting, electronic border surveillance, special operation forces, rescue service, maintenance agency, HCG schools and training facilities and, not to be forgotten, its official musical troupe.

Moreover, the head of HCG is operating directly the Search and Rescue Coordination Center (Enniaio Kentro Syntonismou Erevnas kai Diasomisis, or EKSED) in Piraeus and the operations center (Kentro Epicheirision, or KEPIX),which both in most cases involve coordination with air force, navy or other military, as well as police units. The aviation units and special forces are also directly operationally subordinated to the head of the HCG.

There is also an HCG Emergency Radio Communications Station SXE, located at Aspropyrgos in Attica, and the Vessel Traffic Service (VTMIS) around the ports of Piraeus, Elefsis, Lavrio and Rafina. The latter was actually developed under government tender by a private Greek company, Intracom IT Services. The coast guard uses military radars that are actually manned by the navy. However, they are shared with the HCG, which on many occasions receives data in real time, especially in the case of urgent operations.

The HCG includes nine peripheral administration commands that span the breadth of the country, the most important one being the Piraeus headquarters.

The coast guard is also responsible for regulating the nine Greek state merchant marine colleges. They are located in Aspropyrgos, Hydra, Kymi, Thessaloniki, Oinousses, Chios, Syros, Preveza, Chania and Kefalonia.

During peacetime the HCG is subordinated to the ministry of maritime affairs. However, at times of mobilization or war it falls under the orders of the Hellenic Navy’s fleet command. Moreover, the coast guard retains a military status on all occasions, which means that all personnel are subject to military regulations and courts, not civilian ones; this marks a notable difference from the police, for example.

Provenance and Types of Craft Used

The HCG has historically provided one of the most specialized and important domestic markets for Greek shipbuilders, a traditional industry that has unfortunately declined in recent years due to cheaper foreign competition, which means that a number of the Greek-produced boats are older and need to be replaced. Thus, not all of the vessels in inventory are in everyday use.

The latest information indicates that procurement officers at the HCG hope to acquire 16 new mid-range vessels, but no tender competition for them has been announced as of yet. Presumably this is due to the country’s general financial problems.

Out of Greece’s almost 200 HCG craft, around 160 are Greek-made. Various models of Lambro, Olympic and other patrol boats, and numerous RIB coastal patrol boats are included. Other vessels in use were imported from Israel, Britain, Sweden, Holland and Spain. In 2004, the United States donated several craft including the highly desirable Boston Whaler (Guardian model)- a boat long known for its unique designs and ‘unsinkable hull.’

As for Greek production, an HCG mainstay has been the Panther 57 Fast Patrol Boat, an evolution of the Lambro models built by MotoMarine (formerly, the Lambro company). Equipped with an M2 Browning machine gun, this vessel is almost 60 feet long and can reach speeds of up to 44 knots. It has long been considered very effective for complex operations.

From the air, the HCG has a small number of fixed-wing aircraft stationed at Dekelia air base, just north of Athens. Its four AS 332 Super Puma helicopters, however, as based at Elefsis air base and use mixed air force and coast guard crew.

Special Operations

The HCG traditionally places great importance on maintaining a high-level and extensive S.O.F. structure, which is composed of two elements.

The first one is the Underwater Operations Unit (MYA), which numbers around 100 personnel and was first created in the early 1970’s, having an official establishment in the early 1990’s. Their tasks are similar to the units of the “Navy Seals” of the navy and are related to anti-terrorism, close coordination with the armed forces’ SOF’s, VIP protection in sea and port environments, special rescue operations, and special “raid type” operations in the maritime theater of operation.

The whole issue of VIP protection in Greece is a fascinating one that deserves a separate study, considering the variety of means of transport within Greece, high density of private yachts, and the presence of wealthy businessmen and Hollywood celebrities looking for a low-key Greek vacation- often to the extent that they travel under false identities and have phalanxes of private security. The HCG’s special MYA unit, however, provides protection only for state and diplomatic VIPs. For private individuals seeking such support, private local security is available for hire, but they still need to get permission from the HCG (or other state bodies when relevant) and getting this permission is not always guaranteed. One exception regards events such as international athletics, artistic competitions and anything else in which the state has some involvement.

The MYA is based in the Agios Kosmas region of Athens. Training for prospective candidates is almost identical to that of the navy, a rigorous process lasting almost a year, and including specialization courses. Every year, a large number of candidates don’t ‘make the cut,’ which again indicates the rigorousness of the training program.

A second force is the “Special Missions Detachments (Klimakio Idikon Apostolon, KEA) which number around 300 personnel. These teams were established in the mid-1980’s. Their tasks involve anti-contraband operations, port security, maritime border patrols in the regions neighboring Turkey and Albania, as well as bomb squad operations.

Both of the above forces cooperate strongly with the Greek Navy’s SOF units and in essence augment the latter’s operational capabilities.

In recent years, stability has disintegrated in the MENA region. This has helped create increasingly powerful multi-national criminal and paramilitary organizations, and analysts have noted numerous and somewhat ‘mysterious’ cases of the HCG seizing large weapons caches in vessels transiting Greece, as well as large amounts of narcotics and other contraband. However, the coast guard tends to be far more secretive than, say, the police about providing sensitive information. The HCG thus never discusses terrorism-related issues, whereas the equivalent police directorate tends to be more eager to publicize such cases.

International Cooperation

In recent years, several countries and organizations have had cooperation with the HCG in various fields, such as the fight against narcotics trafficking, training exercises for other countries, and anti-illegal immigration operations together with them. Major joint operations partners of the HCG working on a regular base include FRONTEX, the Republic of Cyprus, and the Drug Enforcement Agency of the US.

At various periods, the HCG has enjoyed participation in joint exercises or provision of training with Albanian, Montenegrin, Georgian, Egyptian, British, American, Spanish, French and Italian maritime forces. In general, considering the rising tide of illegal immigration from the MENA region and Greece’s increasing defense orientation to its southern and southeastern flanks, we can expect cooperation with allied countries in those areas to increase in line with the country’s general defense doctrine.

It is interesting to note that even when far from home, the Greeks do not forget their country’s vital maritime identity. This is not just a matter of individual nostalgia, but actual state policy. There are thus also 18 HCG attachés located around the world, having official diplomatic status.

These attachés are located in Vancouver, Famagusta in Cyprus, Hamburg, London, Marseilles, New York, Novorossiysk, Port Said, Rotterdam, Santos, Singapore, Tokyo, Shanghai, Houston, Perth, Panama City, Dubai and Maracaibo. Their duties are to provide support for, and to take care of anything related with the Greek merchant marine, which conducts maritime trade globally and especially in the above areas.

The duties of these attachés also includes issuing necessary documents on labor and health affairs, providing diplomatic support and being the liaison points between the host country and the Greek maritime sector. The existence of these coast guard official liaison positions also enhances state capabilities to monitor trends in terrorism, organized crime and foreign policies on maritime issues all of which can impact on Greek national security.

Challenges Ahead for the Coast Guard

There are a number of challenges which need to be dealt with in sectors where the HCG operates in future. A significant influx of illegal immigrants and refugees by sea from the Turkish coast to the Greek islands has reached alarming numbers, with more than 500 people entering the country per day over the past three months. For an overview of the issue read our previous article, The Illegal Immigration in Greece: a Strategic Overview.

Concurrently, Libya’s gradual fall under the influence of Islamic State’s loyalists and other similar groups is presenting a new threat which requires a re-engineering of the whole defense system of not only Greece, but also Italy and the European Union as a whole. For more details on this risk, also read our special report on Libya and Mediterranean security here.

Further, the overall surveillance of the seas surrounding Greece, plus the internal sea lanes, are in constant need of pro-active operations due to the large transit traffic of contraband weaponry destined for war zones nearby, places such as Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and through the Black Sea as well. Another challenge is also the trans-Atlantic cocaine smuggling traffic, eastern-route heroin trade, plus tobacco and fuel smuggling at multiple points.

In the past, the HCG has played an important role in such operations. One famous example was in 1997, when large-scale rioting in Albania led to attempts at piracy against tourist yachts offshore the island of Corfu. The HCG was very effective at that time, and the number of Albanian traffickers’ speedboats using the trans-Adriatic route to Italy was also reduced over time, due to Greek and Italian efforts. With the current rhetoric from the government in Tirana over territorial waters and hydrocarbons reserves off of Corfu, we can say that the HCG is at very least keenly monitoring the area on a heightened level.

At the same time the budget restraints that are having a negative effect overall for the Greek state also tend to limit the capability of the HCG. To do its job, the HCG needs to have all-around operational capacity, all the time, since the navy’s operations are very costly in terms of manpower and fuel costs, and involve traversing distant maritime regions.

A recent NPR report by Joanna Kakissis (“On Patrol with the Greek Coast Guard”) indicates the heavy burden currently placed on the HCG, due to totally unrestrained immigration from Turkey into the Greek islands. As Defense Minister Panos Kammenos recently underscored, Greece continues to be Europe’s first line of border defense. However, in the absence of a realistic EU policy, the country and its coast guard continue to do the job almost unassisted.

Other types of challenges exist too. A recent report by Giannis Souliotis in a leading Greek newspaper, Kathimerini noted that several coast guard officers had been implicated in a corruption scheme of protecting human smugglers in the country, a charge which if valid would result in an overhaul of the HCG. Since immigration is an exceptionally sensitive issue presently, for the EU as well, it would probably involve also a re-examination of the need for more political oversight of HCG activities along with a broader anti-corruption policy.

Lastly, the HCG has to battle with obligations in the civil sector and most importantly, the large burden of work it has regarding the regulatory affairs of the shipping sector and ports. In most countries in the world, and especially in the EU, coast guards are police or paramilitary forces and not related to bureaucratic affairs, since that costs money and time and consumes the productivity of the force. However, in Greece – historically famous for its excessive bureaucracy in general – the coast guard is tied down with these cumbersome duties as well, which limit its capacities and concentration on more urgent issues.

Moreover, aside from time lost in shuffling papers, there is the fact that corruption tends to increase when any law enforcement agency is entrusted to deal on an everyday basis with mundane yet profitable activities such as licensing, issuing permits and running audits. The financial situation in Greece – which will inevitably sooner or later lead to an overhaul of the entire public sector in the country – will also certainly have effects in the mid-term on the structure and operations of the HCG.

Recent HCG Operations, as Noted in Official Reports

The HCG communications department has despite the financial crisis kept up a fairly good public information effort. Researchers (and the general public) thus have an extensive supply of frequently updated information on coast guard operations, courtesy of the HCG’s official website (in Greek).

Some of the recent operations conducted by the HCG are listed here (in reverse chronological order). Note that these entries represent less than two full days of work for the HCG at present levels of work; even these represent only the most urgent maritime operations, and do not count other activities.

6/8/15: Migrants detained in Chios, Kalymnos and Lesvos

In early morning hours, some 40 illegal migrants arrested in southeast of Chios island, and 45 more in Agia Fotia on the island. The day before, 54 more migrants were discovered to the south, in Kalymnos island. Also, large numbers of migrants were discovered in two motorized dinghies off of Lesvos to the north and brought into Mytilini port by the coast guard.

6/8/15: Illegal migrants discovered near Kos and Chios

The HCG patrol boats discovered boats containing 12 and 20 illegal migrants off the coasts of Kos and Lesvos, respectively.

6/7/15: Large numbers of illegal migrants discovered in Mytilini port, others in Chios, a death in Crete

Mytilini Port Authority discovered 249 undocumented migrants, while 40 more were discovered near Kardamyla in northeastern Chios, 28 of whom were found on a rocky shore by salvage crews. Near Chania in Crete, a 60-year-old individual was found dead in the water and taken to Rethymno Hospital for autopsy.

6/7/2015: Illegal migrants discovered in Farmakonisi, Kos, Lesvos and Chios

On the northeastern coast of Farmakonisi, 33 undocumented migrants were discovered by HCG. They will be transferred to Leros island, where the port authority will carry out the preliminary investigation. Another 39 migrants were found in the same area and would also be transferred to Leros for processing. In the sea area northeast of Kos, an HCG patrol boat discovered an inflatable raft with a large number of migrants. In Skala Kallonis port in Lesvos, meanwhile, 54 migrants were discovered by the port authority. In Kardamyla, Chios another 43 migrants were discovered. Finally, in the island of Inousses, east of Chios, military observation identified three boats carrying 109 migrants. They were transferred by the HCG to Chios.

6/7/2015: More migrants discovered in Farmakonisi and Kos, ship captain arrested in Milos

In the early morning hours, 46 migrants were found at Farmakonisi wharf, and later another 43 were detected in the northeast of the island. They will be transferred to Leros. Meanwhile 42 migrants were discovered in an inflatable raft off of Kos and were brought into harbor. Also, the captain of the vessel ‘Anastasia’ was detailed over certifications irregularities by the port authority of Milos, after arriving in harbor. Finally, the captain of the ship Kapetan Georgios was detained in Palaiokastritsa, due to an irregular passenger total.

6/7/15: Migrants discovered in Samos, Agathonisi and Kos

In Samos, 50 illegal migrants were discovered by HCG in the Poseidonas area of Samos, and another three were found separately and brought in to Pythagorio. Also brought to this harbor were 47 more migrants found at sea by an HCG patrol boat. Near the wharf on Kos, 44 additional migrants were detained. A patrol boat discovered 38 more migrants off of Kos and brought them into port.

State of the Greek Economy: Key Sectors for a Recovery

By Ioannis Michaletos

Entering the crucial stages of the new Greek government’s discussions with the EU over financial matters, it may be worth assessing what are the strong points for possible growth, amidst the current destructively expanding crisis affecting the country. Concentrating on modernizing attitudes, state bureaucracy and addressing other issues might pay dividends in several sectors.

A Negative Picture

The projection of the Greek economy, based on available figures, paints a grim picture. A public debt of 175% of GDP, coupled with a minus 30% overall GDP decrease since 2009, together with a crippling official unemployment rate of 27%, do not inspire confidence.

Concurrently it is roughly estimated that up to 150,000 Greeks have emigrated over the past five years, most of them specialized personnel, doctors and scientists who have found new opportunities in developed countries such as the UK, Australia and Germany but also Dubai, Norway and China. This deficit of skilled expertise in vital fields is already having an adverse reaction for Greek society, affecting health care and the future of innovation.

Added to all the above is the crash of the stock market – which has lost more than 80% of its value over the same period – and the virtual exclusion of the Greek state from the private bond market. From this it is clear that the prospects are seriously negative and signal a default of some kind, bearing in mind that negotiations with the EU have been gridlocked for months now.

Nevertheless, despite these negative factors, the following sections present the actual strong points of Greece’s Balkan-Mediterranean economy, which may signal mid- to long-term progress and economic development. There are a number of strong areas which, if exploited beneficially, could seriously boost the country’s GDP for years to come.

The Tourism Sector

Tourism constitutes a large segment of Greece’s GDP and is an integral part of the local economy. Despite high figures (23 million visitors expected for 2015), the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) estimates that the tourist industry could be tripled, since the country currently uses only 35% of its capacity. Especially for the Athens region, which received 6 million tourists per year, a number of some 20 million could be accommodated, local pundits speculate.

The main issue regarding the under-exploitation of the local tourism project is that it is concentrated heavily on the summer period, as it still is based on the principles of sea, sun and entertainment. Failing to adequately diversify its offerings, Greece has thus neglected to significantly develop other expanding segments of international tourism that could be very easily adopted to the local environment.

Thus there are several sub-sectors were entrepreneurship is needed, such as: medical tourism, religious tourism, marine tourism, agro-tourism, mountain tourism, educational tourism, sports tourism, conference tourism, spa tourism, camping & trekking tourism, culinary tourism, scuba diving tourism, city break tourism, wellness tourism and further boosting of the cruise travel within the Greek seas. Some of these were already spelled out in a European Commission report from 2011.

In that same year, it should be remembered, Greece enjoyed a short-term influx of ‘new’ European tourists (particularly French) who cancelled their traditional visits to North African countries due to the ‘Arab Spring’ disruptions and the Libya NATO bombings. Due to the continued unrest there, Greece could again have a short-term influx this summer, but this must also be weighed against the rise in immigration that is feeding negative opinions of Southern Europe in the north of the continent at the moment.

In the future, the economics of a long-term project of tripling the visitors of a tourism product (and quadrupling potential revenues) for the country are enormous. From a roughly 20 billion euro annual revenue to 80 billion euros would constitute an extra 600 billion euros in a decade- almost three time the current GDP of the country.

Present day high taxation, irrational and numerous bureaucratic regulations and lack of sustainable business models and leaders prohibit such growth, critics have argued. But an increase is achievable, bearing in mind that the original “tourism wave” in the country which started in the late 1950’s took place in a much worse environment, at a time when Greece was characterized by a lack of infrastructure, specialized personnel and capital. Things are certainly much better now in these respects.

New Technologies Sector

Over the past 25 years, considerable infrastructure needed for new technologies has been developed in Greece and a significant rise of specialized professionals has been noted. Already some of them have developed applications and software comparable to any other product from similar professionals internationally. Nevertheless the lack of capital and the deficiencies of the local market (bureaucracy, over-taxation, lack of managerial skills) have burdened the expansion of the sector.

Moreover, due to the high unemployment in the country and the aforementioned burden for opening start ups on a large scale, one can find Phd-level computer engineers or highly trained, master’s graduates from Greek and foreign universities prepared to work for less than 600 euros per month. That alone opens up considerable opportunities for making Greece a launching pad for new technologies companies. Greece of course has a large geo-economic periphery, encompassing Southeastern Europe-Black Sea and the MENA region, totaling more than 600 million emerging costumers.

The advantages here are thus human resources, low cost, favorable location and established infrastructure. The disadvantages (as for most other sectors) include bureaucracy, over-taxation, lack of management skills and a lack of marketing know-how. As noted previously, a large number of specialized personnel have already left the country. Many have situated themselves in cities where a previous generation of Greek scientists resided. Although that may seem at first glance to be a disadvantage, it could become a starting point for introducing high-level expertise from those Greeks that would have the incentive of returning back to establish businesses or collaborations with those that stayed.

According to the Athens-based government agency, “Invest in Greece”, citing a report in The Economist, Greek engineers and new technology professionals are among the world’s top-20 in terms of human resources expertise. Additionally, a large part of them are multilingual and have either studied or worked abroad.

Presently the Information Technology & Communications (ICT) of the country produces an annual GDP of 20 billion euros. But that could be doubled in the coming decade, if prohibiting factors such as the ones mentioned previously are eradicated.

Agricultural & Food Processing Industries

Greece produces a set of agricultural products, well-known worldwide for their nutritious value, and in considerable quantities. It is third in the world in olive oil production and table olives, and also a major European producer on orange, wine, grapes, cheese, alcoholic beverages, grapefruit, raisins, peaches, lemons, kiwis, pistachios, fish, tobacco and other foodstuffs.

The main problem in developing this sector is the lack of management and marketing regarding the establishment of well-known brands. Such brands could be delivered in the world’s retail markets instead of being sold in bulk quantities, as is too often the cause today. This is coupled with extensive state interference and numerous regulations that prohibit newcomers. The heavy taxation on industry further obstructs investments.

For example, one liter of high-quality olive oil is sold for around 3 euros as a bulk product. But if packaged and marketed as a brand retail item, it could be sold for 30 euros in some retail global markets. However, this largely depends on brand awareness and fluctuations of demand; there is also a price ceiling that producers know all too well. In the United States, for example, Italian olive oil still dominates the retail market and even in high-end specialty grocery shops, it is difficult to get a really high price, discouraging aspiring Greek entrepreneurs who are sometimes over-optimistic about what they can charge abroad.

Moreover the lack of well-established light industry system (and logistics), obstructs the expansion of exports and costs perhaps a few billion euros per year from the local economy.

The Greek food processing industry thus lacks sufficient established name-brands, and light industry management. As in other regional countries, therefore exports are mainly wholesale, in large quantities and at substantial discounts, whereas foreign brands (notably, Italian in oil) are reaping benefits of having established their presence in the retail markets of the large consumer states. Moreover, the agricultural sector and food industry lack a coherent bond with the tourism industry- developing one could create obvious synergies in the long-term.

The Merchant Shipping Sector

It is well known that this particular sector has been the beacon of the Greek economy for centuries. According to the latest figures from the Lloyd’s Register, the Greek-owned fleet increased capacity by 8% in 2014, and has reached by early 2015 some 4,060 ships of 315 million tons- by far the largest fleet worldwide.

Presently, 375 ships are being constructed in Chinese, Korean and Japanese shipyards. Annually, the Greek shipping sector capital inflows into the country reach around 20 billion euros, while 20% of the global shipping sector is owned by Greek citizens.

Nevertheless, there is no real “maritime cluster” environment in the country. The shipbuilding sector has been underperforming for over 20 years now, with secondary financial, brokering, chartering and professional infrastructure remaining clearly underdeveloped. This is the main reason Greek shipowners still seek those services in London, Singapore or Oslo.

Moreover maritime education in all fields is far less than expected for such a large fleet. Also, other technical facilities that would act as a support base are either lacking or remain under-exploited. Further, the maritime sports, sailing and yachting sector in the country uses little of its capacities. Notorious for its “red tape” and taxation in the above, Greece has 33 yacht marinas with a capacity of 9,000 vessels, while Croatia boasts 110 facilities and Turkey only 45. There is thus clear room for growth here.

Provisional Conclusions

Overall, industry experts assess that GDP revenues from the shipping sector in general could at least double in the country on a yearly basis, reaping another 20 billion euros for the economy, if that segment was organized more efficiently and was able to establish a cluster of secondary and tertiary activities.

All of the above are substantial areas for growth, even without examining other promising sectors such as mining (which was discussed in a 2013 Balkanalysis article). Other sectors, like logistics and real estate, are being hotly pursued by Chinese investors (as has also been discussed by recently). So all things considered, the Greek economy has indeed plenty of space to grow and facilitate a robust economic paradigm.

Achieving that would involve of course a re-engineering of the country’s traditional0 mentality, model and state apparatus, along with an opening up of its highly rigid and regulated market. Moreover it will require a change in spirit and industry of the whole of its political-business class.

Recently, the German politician Gregor Gysi, head of the “Die Linke” party (ideologically close to the ruling Greek SYRIZA party) claimed on a politics TV show that “2,000 Greek families control 80% of the Greek wealth”. Should this be correct then those few thousand people have a historic opportunity to assist the country in achieving economic goals as described above, or to risk losing most of their wealth in a course of events that will involve a default and an economic catastrophe of equally historic proportions for Greece.

It is estimated that the “make or break” period for all topics discussed is nearing and certainly will not extent further than the beginning of 2016. If Greece cannot make vigorous efforts by that time, the expected economic turnaround will not happen and the more mercenary ‘vultures’ of the international financial system will start to circle, on behalf of outside lenders. As of now, Greece can still take proactive measures, but the clock is ticking.

A History of the ‘Armed Struggle’ Reviewed: Greek Urban Warriors

Greek Urban Warriors: Resistance & Terrorism, 1967-2014

By John Brady Kiesling

Lycabettus Press (2015), 413pp.

Reviewed by Chris Deliso

Greek Urban Warriors Lycabettus Press-Balkanalysis ReviewIn the concluding sentence of his comprehensive new study of Greece’s most legendary urban guerrilla outfit, November 17, author John Brady Kiesling notes that “the world record 17N set – 27 years of deadly political violence before the first arrest – is unlikely to ever be broken.”

Something similar goes for Kiesling’s book. At once a work of scholarship, deep investigation and contemporary history of Greece’s political evolution, Greek Urban Warriors is unlikely to be surpassed anytime soon. Because of the personal involvement of the author (a former US diplomat, in Athens during the terrorist arrests in 2002 and thereafter), the book benefits from intimate and detailed local knowledge; it will thus remain the gold standard for such studies, especially since the passage of time diminishes scholarly capabilities to investigate first-hand.

In addition to diligent comparisons of practically every media utterance regarding the many protagonists of Greece’s “armed struggle” over a four-decade period, Kiesling sorts through copious court trial logs, secondary studies and the revolutionaries’ recent memoirs (in addition to his own personal interviews) in a determined effort to disentangle the truth of the armed struggle from the many urban legends, myths and sheer disinformation that have accrued over time concerning it.

The cumulative result is a major study comprising 29 chapters, six appendices, various charts and acronyms, along with a timeline of key events. Greek Urban Warriors is meticulously assembled, and is thus not light reading- but for keen students of the subject, the careful attention it demands will be well rewarded.

A Devotion to Fairness and Accuracy

While other writers might have been tempted to trespass into the genre of popular history, fleshing out the personalities behind 17N, this book is certainly not the basis for the ‘film version.’ Kiesling makes a conscious effort to avoid sensationalizing the subject. Indeed, what is most notable perhaps about the treatment is a general respect for fairness and truth; while the author shows deep sympathy for the victims (to whom the book is actually dedicated), he avoids simplistic depictions of 17N and their confreres as evil incarnate. He documents the ordinary Greek-ness of much of their lives (camping vacations on islands, running music clubs, painting icons and raising children), a fact that makes their armed activities seem both more jarring by the contrast and, for anyone experienced with the country and its trends, understandable within a uniquely Greek context.

The result of this devotion to fairness and accuracy is best revealed towards the end of the work. The more or less chronological study documents the ideologies and activities (bombings, assassinations and robberies) of all known (and sometimes, just alleged) left-wing armed groups in Greece during and since the 1968-74 Junta. Until the final chapters covering the more recent 17N trials, the perfunctory descriptions of each attack – characterized by minute facts and contemporaneous witness testimony, more than on definite identifications of the perpetrators – may seem formulaic and unnecessary; however, the significance of this literary approach becomes clear during the coverage of the trials following the 17N break-up in 2002.

In this manner, the author notes several key elements: the pressure on police to obtain a positive result so as to allay foreign fears regarding the safety of the 2004 Olympics; the oftentimes erroneous, but expensive intelligence collected by local and foreign services over the years; the notorious unreliability of witness memory and perception, as well as the deliberately conflicting testimony 17N defendants gave to protect one another, and their colleagues who had escaped arrest.

In this context, Kiesling chronicles that:

“Three months of the trial were consumed in a parade of prosecution witnesses, but not any of the police involved in the 17N investigations. These witnesses had read the pre-investigation statements and had seen the defendants on television. They knew what they were supposed to have seen. When the examining magistrates showed them photographs of the defendants late in 2002, they had little difficulty picking out the ‘correct’ ones, even when they had forgotten basic details of a decade-old incident. They then bridled when defense lawyers read the very different descriptions they had given police in the hours following an attack” (p. 317).

The Armed Struggle as a Classically Greek Adventure

For historians, one of the major services Kiesling does is to identify each armed group (there were many), and their unique ideologies and major members. This is important because it allows readers to distinguish between old-school entities like ELA and 17N and today’s anarchists and anti-authoritarian groups present in Greece’s big cities. In contrast to the latter’s often vague, randomly violent goals, 17N had specific and rather tame ambitions for an ideal Greece of self-managing factory workers.

However, given the prevailing condition in society, fulfilling the dream would require an armed struggle on behalf of the people. In a sense, then, 17N considered itself as providing a legitimate social service, one with its own code of ethics and rules of engagement.

Born of opposition to the junta, and hardened by the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, 17N also had at its core a nationalist sentiment as victim of foreign high politics that was shared by many Greek citizens on this issue. (Notably, the author mentions that 17N was not apparently interested in the ‘Macedonia issue,’ despite the hyper-nationalism the issue generated in the early 1990’s, and he offers some possible reasons to explain this lack of involvement). In the big picture, the armed struggle sought to drive out the ‘Western imperialists’ retaining military bases in Greece, to punish their banks and corporations, and to prod corrupt and incompetent politicians to change their ways. Later on, when environmentalism came into vogue, that became another cause worth acting for.

Ultimately, however, the goals of the armed struggle were not achieved and, as the author notes in his eloquent last chapter, this organized violence ironically brought about the kind of repressive security laws and violations of civil liberties that had initially sparked their anger in the years of the Junta.

What also makes the adventure truly Greek is the roles that society played in reaction to 17N, and the public discourse of the revolutionary class itself. The press felt a certain duty in doing its part, printing what were often long and turgid manifestos written to justify attacks. The rationale for these attacks would change with events. Sometimes they were backdated for effect, and sometimes subsequent events would interfere with their intended effect. It was often exasperating for the revolutionaries, though their well-worn typewriters bore the brunt of it. After a bombing or shooting, Greek journalists would be on standby for yet another anonymous call directing them to a trash bucket on some random street, from where said manifestos could be retrieved. No doubt it was exciting for everyone, including the police looking for clues (while also criticizing, and even legislating against, media that published such manifestoes).

Revolutionaries could also be petulant sorts, angered by media that did not represent them as they would have liked, and jealous of each others’ successes. The main rivalry discussed is that between 17N and ELA, which in the early days shared certain members. This less-famous group never quite resonated in the public imagination, though, due perhaps to its preference for symbolic bombings that left few casualties, and possibly a certain lack of ironic humor that made their lengthy manifestoes more brittle and ideological. Further, the tirades and broadsides between various revolutionaries, all dutifully presented by some mainstream and alternative press, reveal a typically Greek polemical streak that can just as easily be encountered in the diatribes of rival Greek intellectuals in 15th-century Italy.

Indeed, even the author’s deep analysis of linguistic patterns in revolutionary proclamations is not his exclusively; he notes the many cases when Greek media conjectured on ‘who could have written what’ based on close attention to the specific language used. Language is perhaps the strongest uniting characteristic of the Greek identity historically, as has been witnessed from the time of Homer to the Koine to Katharevousa and beyond. And the popular identification of discovered 17N documents, given names like the ‘Parnitha Archive’ (a group of documents discovered on a mountainside in 1977), or the group’s carefully hand-written notebooks, discovered in an Athenian safe house much later, present the experience and history of the revolutionary struggle in the surreal classical contexts of palaeography and archaeology.

Another distinctive aspect that separates the Greek revolutionaries from others elsewhere was a certain sense of humanity. One of the major justifications for attacks on Greek targets (like shipowners) was fatal accidents involving workers, which the armed struggle sought to avenge less as a vendetta than as a warning to industrialists about the working conditions of their exploited laborers. In operations, the targeting of ‘innocent’ victims was discouraged, to the extent that operations would routinely be cancelled or delayed due to the presence of non-targeted bystanders. Bomb threats were almost always called in well in advance, and the mostly symbolic targeting of Western banks, companies and Greek state entities was almost always conducted late at night, when no one would be injured. This kept collateral damage to a minimum and became such a part of the social fabric that Greeks today are hardly concerned when news of a random explosion at a shuttered bank is announced.

As the author relates, 17N members were profoundly shaken on the two instances (only!) in which their attacks led to the deaths of non-targeted individuals. These cases provoked anger and disapproval among the Greek nation, that population which 17N felt duty-bound to serve. The author does not attempt to confer any moral legitimacy on the group, but discussion of it does serve again to reflect a certain unspoken understanding Greek society about who might be considered fair game, and who would be definitely off-limits. If this was terrorism, it at least had clear rules, which is often not the case with most terrorist activities past and present in the world.

Tactics and Methods: the Historic Legacy of 17N

Arguably the most interesting and important aspect of Greek Urban Warriors is its documentation of 17N operational tactics and methods. Possibly because of his legal obligations as a former diplomat, the author does not rely on US records or assess the country’s own intelligence and investigative efforts in any detail. The oft-inept Greek services, discussed in somewhat more detail, do not get a ringing endorsement. The British – who entered the picture following 17N’s last big hit, the killing of the UK defense attaché in 2000 – are noted for their more effective approach, which sought to win more public sympathy and involvement, based on their experiences in Northern Ireland. However, the fact remains that were it not for one mistake (the injury and hospitalization of a senior 17N member while handling explosives), the group might still be intact today.

In any case, the purpose of the book is not to approach the story by focusing on the methods of the authorities- that would require a whole separate volume in itself. Rather, the author concentrates on how a rag-tag bunch of partly village-born revolutionaries transformed itself into a highly effective and lethal organization, marked by secrecy, cunning and daring. Indeed, reading about the 17N network of safe houses, secret meetings (and ‘Plan B’ secret meetings), surveillance methods, covert communications, ruse and disguise, one wishes to know even more about the inner workings of the group.

While its astonishing robberies (relieving a museum of its rocket launchers, robbing banks in disguise and sipping coffee on the way out, stripping a military base clean on Christmas Eve undetected) make 17N seem something like the revolutionary version of the Pink Panthers jewel thieves, there are major differences. Unlike the latter, whose multi-ethnic members have had serious military training (many with experience in the 1990s Yugoslav Wars) and vast amounts of funds to play with, 17N was a chronically poor revolutionary group that had to rob the occasional bank just to survive, and that did not have serious military backgrounds or foreign collaborators. They did not recruit mercenaries, and they kept a deliberately small and self-contained entity. They were a reflection of their broader social ideal: self-reliant.

Indeed, even if one cannot feel a moral or ideological sympathy for 17N and its political murders, what this book shows, in its minute description of its operational methodology, is a certain professionalism that emerged over a long process of trial-and-error, self-criticism and ingenuity. The group taught itself how to retrofit ordinary household items for explosive purposes, to deceive and elude authorities on a regular basis, to organize its finances, and to be patient enough to cancel long-planned operations when necessary- all remarkable achievements given the context. Most incredible, though, is the ‘world record’ Kiesling notes at the end of the book. Not only did 17N avoid arrest for 27 years, for much of that period key members were completely ‘underground’- hiding in plain sight, yet invisible to the police who hunted them. To have done this, in a country as small and as close-knit as Greece, is a truly astonishing achievement.

As he concludes the book, Kiesling does note that, in fairness to the authorities, the now bygone period of the ‘armed struggle’ was also characterized by primitive policing capabilities and an absence of the all-pervasive surveillance system that the world has come to accept in the wake of 9/11. Subsequent technological ‘progress’ that also increasingly is eliminating privacy, it might be said, is another limiting factor for aspiring revolutionaries and terrorists. The restrictions imposed by this total change of systems, the author alludes, means that future would-be revolutionary organizations are foredoomed to short careers.

Thus, in an unusual (and probably unintended) way, the chronicling of modern Greek history in Greek Urban Warriors can also be understood as a requiem for an earlier and simpler time, when political violence was more predictable and its progenitors more charitable than is the case today.

The Illegal Immigration Industry in Greece in 2015: a Strategic Overview Editor’s note: readers should also see our earlier studies of this phenomenon, including an update from 2010, an interview with Frontex operations chief Klaus Roesler (from 2011), as well as our Special Security Report: Illegal Immigration in Greece and Domestic Security (2011). For a wide range of Greece security-sector coverage, buy our Studies in Greek Security 2006-2011 on Amazon Kindle.

By Ioannis Michaletos and Chris Deliso

The much-discussed illegal immigration phenomenon in Greece presents a security challenge to the country and to Europe in general, and this is the aspect of the issue most discussed in the national and global media.

However, human trafficking is also a major financial industry in its own right, estimated in the billions of euros. The revenues and services that characterize this industry are both legal and illegal, and astonishingly enough are generated from activities performed all the way from Brussels to Bangladesh.

Indeed, it is the broad convergence of organized crime, the gray economy, politics and white-collar activities that truly characterizes the Greek human trafficking industry, making it an indispensable part of overlapping licit and illicit economies for many countries- maing it a key global industry today.

The following structural analysis of the issue does not consider the security aspect, which is also fundamentally involved with the wealth transfer system that characterizes it. Rather, as we have presented assessments of the security aspect in previous years, we can now concentrate on the structure of organized crime and distinguish its actors and locations, and differentiate its activities, reaching some financial value estimates in the process. Further, we will consider the other beneficiaries of the phenomenon, which include law-abiding Greek citizens employed across the whole run of the public and private sectors.

Finally, we will note the financial benefit of immigration on political parties and local and foreign officials, activists and administrators. The vital financial contribution that the illegal immigration sector makes to these groups is almost never considered, precisely because the ‘legitimate’ actors tend to frame the entire public discourse on the issue.

Since they also control the effective administration of, and reactions to the industry, these entities do not like to draw attention to the fact that they are, in a very tangible and existential way, dependent on the continuation of the criminal industry.

Illegal Immigration in Greece: Structure and Major Transit Routes

Illegal immigration in Greece is mainly characterized by its transitory nature. Greece is the central axis in the “Anatolian geopolitical corridor,” collecting and distributing Asian, Middle Eastern and African immigrant masses into the EU, through primarily Italy but also the Balkans.

The process, which has been developing over the past 25 years and in particular over the last decade, is also marked by a distinct and heavy presence of transnational smuggling networks which are more or less interwoven with the criminal structures that deal in narcotics, arms and counterfeit products between East and West.

Immigrants travel from their home countries via established land routes. Thus Afghans and Pakistanis tend to follow the route via Iran to Turkey, whereas Syrians and Iraqis cross over from their northern neighboring country.

In other land-entry cases, immigrants from further away (including North Africa and Nigeria) often travel to Turkey via air, a phenomenon aided by the visa relaxation process of the Erdogan government, which seems to have ambitions to make Turkey the center of an eventual ‘Islamic Schengen Zone.’ Chinese, Burmese and Vietnamese immigrants also travel by air routes, mostly to Istanbul. (Of course, as has been seen in the last years, a majority of North African migrants travel by ship on the hazardous journey to Italy and occasionally Greece).

Networks and Transport

The first step in the process, and thus the first player in the overall industry, is the external syndicate structure that transports migrants from other countries towards the Greek borders. The major center of these crime groups is Turkey, though not only Turkish nationals participate.

In the major cities of Turkey and in particular in Istanbul, Izmir, Bursa, Edirne and Mersin, as well as all the ones close to the tri-border corridor with Iran, Iraq and Syria, well-formed smuggling networks quickly assemble prospective “clients” and arrange transfers. Depending on the economic situation of each immigrant, his time schedule and the number of groups assembled, a long march via trucks, vehicles and trains takes form onwards to the Aegean shores. An alternative route to the Thracian land border along the River Evros has been greatly reduced due to fences constructed by Greek and Bulgaria authorities. Nevertheless, this land route is still active to some degree.

Thus given the recent land transport restrictions, immigrants are mostly transferred via the use of small boats from the Aegean coast and, in the cases of the Marmara Sea and the Turkish Mediterranean coasts, by old vessels carrying up to 1,000 people. In any case a smooth flow of around 250 people on a daily basis is ensured, which equals more than 90,000 incoming migrants per year in Greece alone. Depending on weather conditions, the authories’ counteractions and the iron law of supply and demand, numbers fluctuate from less than 30 to over 600 migrants per day.

Immigrant Arrival in Greece and Internal Redistribution

Once immigrants are in Greece, most of them are intercepted by the Coast Guard or Police border guards. The present law requires all of them to be identified, and then to be given a 30-day temporary permit before they are obliged to leave the country.

Almost none of them abide by this clause, however, having already been well informed about how to get to the major urban centers and especially Athens. In many instances smuggling networks have already placed their own correspondents in the Greek islands or near the borders, who take them in the ‘right direction.’

Social Categorizations of Migrants

While casual observers tend to view all immigrants as the same, they are actually divided into stratified social classes within the greater immigrant population in Greece, depending on various factors. Thus a sort of ‘caste system’ exists, one with its own rules and obligations.

Once arriving in the urban metropolis of Athens, immigrants are classified according to their economic and social status. Those with little money quickly become “soldiers” of essentially ethnic mafia groups, forced to sell counterfeit products, small doses of drugs, work in makeshift garment production facilities, cleaning, tourism support and so forth. The rest are usually people who have relatives or friends already established in Greece or in other EU countries, and arrange for them to find a shelter or send them money via Western Union and similar cash transaction platforms. Odd jobs, and in many instances, small-time street criminality are also combined.

The vast majority of both the above categories have the goal of getting into the general European Schengen Zone, and just use Greece as the first basic stop on the journey. Anecdotal and empirical research point out that all are aware of the low employment opportunities in Greece, and thus that their original aim is specific countries of Northern Europe such as Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands.

The Next Network in the Process: External Traffickers and Domestic Logistical Support Structures

At this stage another type of smuggling network comes into places: the one transporting people from Athens, a peripheral illegal immigration hub of European importance, further into Europe.

This sector of crime utilizes a thriving forged papers market (for EU-country identity cards and passports). The interlude period during which the immigrants are in “limbo” provides further secondary roles for migrants, and income for housing slum lords, providers of sexual services, narcotics and cheap tobacco suppliers for a large number of predominantly young Asian and African males. The cheap prostitution of migrant women also necessarily involves the participation of Greek male ‘consumers.’

Organized crime in Greece has literally boomed over the past 10 years, in large part due to the opportunities involved in getting access to the in-transit and outgoing smuggling networks. In Athens, these tend to be dominated by Greeks, Albanians, Pakistanis and Kurds of different nationalities.

Further, the Syrian crisis has created a new Syrian smuggling base as well. Egyptians and Bulgarians are also getting into this illicit sector in larger numbers, usually having secondary illegal sector involvement at the same time.

Also involved are ‘Pontian’ Georgians, who ironically were among the first to ‘come home’ to Greece after the end of the USSR, legally nationalized in the 1990s by the Greek state, at the same time that Turkey was making its own strategic opening with its ‘long-lost kin’ in Central Asia. The Georgians’ native connections in the Caucasus and Black Sea areas also presented ideal conditions for a small number of them to expand the reach of Greek organized crime.

Wider Greek Societal Involvement in the Immigration Business- and the Industry’s Financial Scale

It is by no means only foreigners or adopted minorities who are involved in this crime sector, however. Greeks have an essential, if often subtle or indirect, role to play to make the whole process run smoothly. It has to be noted that seemingly legal professionals such as attorneys, municipal state officers, policemen, taxi and truck drivers and small shop owners are also involved by assisting or supporting the phenomena, due to the need for their services by the smuggling networks at different stages of the process.

A rough estimation is that each of the 90,000 average annual migrants, in the past year alone, generated some 20,000 euros worth of gross labor product into the shadow economy, in both illegal and legal sectors. That’s 1.8 billion euros in all, and not even counting the vast amounts of cash (paid or to-be paid) in transfers outside the country at the entry stage or remittances.

It is estimated that at least half of the 90,000 annual immigrants manage to “escape” each generating an additional 5,000 euros per head for services to exit-route smugglers and the other auxiliary sectors mentioned. That is an additional 450 million euros, bringing the grand total of the human trafficking sector in Greece to approximately 2.2 billion euros annually. And even this estimate is a very conservative one, considering that the revenue breakdown concerns just the annual ‘new crop’ of migrants, without accounting for the pre-existing and “trapped” ones. Although the numbers fluctuate, there are roughly one million illegal immigrants living in Greece at any given time.

It is thus very difficult to quantify the true reach of illegal immigration smuggling in the county, due to the impossibility of identifying the total scope of interactions and interlinkage between the licit and illicit sectors that make the whole process run smoothly. But certainly the money involved is substantial.

Logistical Transport Support for Traffickers: Vessels and Vehicles

The sophistication and influence of the smugglers can be shown by the fact that they tend to be always equipped with the necessary means of transportation and have ample human resources. Yachts from Turkey have been noticed traveling the entire Aegean and Ionian seas to reach groups of immigrants massed at specific points, and then take them across to Italy. The same can be said for speedboats, including luxurious, ‘unsuspicious’ ones.

Of course, it is very difficult for the Greek or Turkish coast guards to identify such craft, considering that the vast majority of yachts in the Eastern Mediterranean are legal- tour boats, privately-owned sailboat, competitive sailing craft and other recreational vessels.

Further, many wealthy foreign tourists (who often require privacy and discretion) visit the region on their private yachts; many such craft fly foreign flags and have foreign registration from countries all over the world. In the warmer months, the density of such craft in the Aegean and Mediterranean – where national and international waters cross in complex ways – makes the surveillance and identification process very difficult.

Back on land, an unknown number of warehouses in both Turkey and Greece are rented for the purposes of hiding people, while thousands of vehicles are used for transport. Hefty commissions are paid to drivers willing to take the risk. The include commercial truckers, taxi drivers, and even regular private citizens.

The Travel Documents Industry: A Global Phenomenon

In Greece, forged papers are steadily progressing in quality, and are available in all corners of the country. In these cases, quality is set to match price. Also, specifications for accuracy can affect price (for example, while a forged or stolen British passport not really matching the buyer’s features might cost 250 euros, a more accurate one might cost 2000 euros). It is up to the economic capabilities of the migrant in question and the degree of perceived risk they are willing to take on at border checkpoints.

New developments in recent years involve an increased participation from the Southeast Asian production market. In some cases, industrial printing facilities in Thailand, China and Bangladesh are able to manufacture superb fake copies that are then sent to Greece for distribution. In the recent period, these have included excellent Bulgarian passports that law enforcement services in countries from Turkey to Mexico have detected- in the possession of both economic migrants and terrorists alike.

Also, the Islamic Hawala system of banking is increasingly proliferating in Greece and Europe in general, and is another indication that the “Athenian illegal immigration” hub is now the link between the already established Hawala operators in northern Italy, southern Germany and the Low Countries, uniting them with the Middle East, AfPak region and Southeast Asia.

Exact Locations of Immigrant Criminal Activities in Athens

An investigative study in preparation has revealed that particular areas of the Athenian urban metropolis have a significant density of immigrant-controlled or operated businesses. In the perimeter of the Omonoia Square and the Kypseli area, around 70% of the small shops owned by illegal aliens are, in fact, fronts for organized crime or at least partially involved in providing all sorts of supplementary assistance for the purposes of illegal immigration and money laundering.

Further, specific newly-established ‘immigrants’ rights’ NGO’s were identified in a 2011 Greek National Intelligence Service (NIS) report as being basic facilitators of illegal immigration. There further exists a class of individuals (both Greeks and foreigners) who provide necessary services: they may rent apartments, sell merchandise to immigrants or provide protection services to vulnerable ethnic groups- sometimes enforcing the turf of one criminal group against another, or against political forces that are ironically enough also engaged in such criminality.

Therefore, the phenomenon of migrant trafficking creates the conditions for a wider infiltration within the urban fabric of society, and gradually absorbs a wide range of people in semi-legal activities. That, along with the ongoing economic depression in Greece, further empowers the organized criminal groups, who will gain a tighter grip in specific neighborhoods of urban Athens, Piraeus and Patras in particular, but in other places as well.

An Unconsidered Major Participant in the Greek Illegal Immigration Industry: the International Super-Structure (Public and Private Institutions, Corporations and NGOs)

The most ironic aspect of the illegal immigration industry in Greece is that it provides substantial income for not only organized crime bosses and complicit local actors, but for significant numbers of white-collar domestic and international actors. Considering that these actors shape the official response mechanism to the problem of immigration, and thus the public discourse about it, it is no surprise that they do not tend to discuss the inherent profitability of their enterprise.

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 interest.

Conclusion: A Projected Increase in Illegal Immigration and Organized Crime in Greece- with Ideological or Financial Benefits for All

Our projection for the coming period observes, first of all, the ongoing turbulence in the Middle East, and especially the ongoing Syrian and Iraqi wars with ISIS. This is being worsened by the terror group’s expansion to Libya, as assessed by in this special report. The chaotic situation in Libya, which is already spilling over into Tunisia, affects the entire Maghreb and the Sahel territories. Boko Haram’s continuing rampage in northern Nigeria has also spilled into the bordering countries, which will increase trends toward economic and political stability that feed the immigrant exoduses of Africans long witnessed in Greece.

Therefore the most likely trend, with the quantitative increase in migrant numbers, will be the further consolidation of the mafias involved and their further grip on such a ‘growth market.’ In line with this, it is expected that the ‘legitimate actors’ who provide services to the criminal networks will increasingly depend on these connections. If a similar condition arises with politicians linked to the industry, it could end up affecting the traditional balance of power in the country.

We must also note that this is occurring at a time in which narcotic prices in the EU have dropped due to oversupply, while other sectors do not tend to have such a dynamic trend ahead.

Politically, the issue which has been at the top of the public agenda and discourse in Greece for several years, will regain momentum and it will cause serious complications to the newly elected Greek coalition government of the SYRIZA-ANEL parties that essentially have diametrically opposite ideological positions regarding the management of the immigration phenomena.

While the recently-established coalition is in agreement over defiance of the foreign-imposed anti-austerity measures, their different orientations towards immigration are fundamental and deep. Therefore, any intensification of public discourse or political activity from other parties on this topic could create friction within the coalition, leading to further political instability- which, ironically, benefits the organized crime sector further, as it damages the conditions required for attracting foreign investment and job growth.

Outside of the parties themselves, the overwhelming percentage of the Greek population continues to show little tolerance for immigrants and the situation in general, especially at a time when the poor economy has dealt a serious blow to national pride and self-confidence, creating an ideal condition for hostile reactions to the ‘others’ already seen to be a menace to society. In general, the migration increases will cause further intergovernmental strains and a possible significant rift between public opinion and governmental structures. This will benefit the extreme-left and extreme-right parties the most.

If there are benefits for Greek and foreign mafias involved in the trade, and for politicians seeking to capitalize on exploiting it, it is ironic to note – as discussed above – that the major financial beneficiary will be the dominant superstructure which heavily influences the country. This includes public-sector institutions (such as the EU and UN bureaucracies), their private-sector contractors (which tend to be multi-national corporations and foreign contractors), and both privately- and publicly-funded NGOs and academic bodies covering the issue.

As noted, this will increase their activities, policies and publications in proportion to the perceived threat to Europe. While it is not possible to begin to estimate the totals in this continuing transfer of taxpayer (and tax-exempt foundational) wealth, the international superstructure’s participation in the ‘immigration economy’ does seem to perfectly illustrate a wise old saying: ‘the house always wins.’ Special Report: The ISIS Expansion in Libya and Threats to the Mediterranean and North Africa

By Chris Deliso, Ioannis Michaletos and Matteo Albertini


ISIS-affiliated militants’ recent attacks on oil fields in Libya, coupled with the gruesome murders of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by terrorists there earlier, confirms that the terror group is expanding operations in a new theater, far from its home turf of Iraq and Syria; there it is under more concentrated attack from the Iraqi army, backed by Iran’s military and Shiite militias. After its rapid gains last summer, ISIS has been on the defensive following months of allied bombardment, and needs to expand to new theaters to sustain its momentum and perpetuate the apocalyptic theology that, as a recent study by Graeme Wood in The Atlantic revealed, comprises the ideological core of the whole ‘Islamic State’ project.

ISIS in Libya has also been depicted in some media as posing a new trans-Mediterranean terrorist threat to the West, particularly via Italy and Greece. This threat has fueled calls for a military intervention or at least a coastal blockade, the latter being more likely than the former. Yet it is not even necessary for ISIS to reach European shores to still pose a major new threat to Western interests, economy and regional stability.

Much still remains unknown about ISIS’ strategic intentions in Libya, and what kind of impact it will have on an already fluid situation marked by infighting between two rival governments. The group’s intentions and relative strength will be tested over the next 3-6 months; broadly speaking, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better, especially if the recent comments attributed to Boko Haram leaders pledging allegiance to ISIS prove to be true.

So far, international diplomacy and efforts to train and supervise Libyan national authorities have proved ineffective and limited due to security realities. Very few foreigners remain in Libya, which is negatively impacting the reliability of information coming from the country. The internationally-recognized Libyan government’s desperate pleas for arms have been stymied by mandated policy prerequisites from the West. UN-sponsored negotiations between rival Libyan administrations began in 5 March in Morocco and are set to continue with the goal of forming a national unity government. Further, the issues of a possible liquidity crisis leading to loss of services and imports, or of elimination of the remaining gas and oil supply needed to generate electricity, are being highlighted by experts- both would lead to a situation of total chaos that groups like ISIS could exploit.

In the cumulative analysis, it is most likely that ISIS’ strategic goal is not to take over Libya as a functional state, but rather to destabilize it so much that neighboring states have to intervene more heavily than they have already. The terror group will thus use increased fighting with the neighboring Arab states as a means for attracting recruits to its cause, while trying to destabilize those countries (especially Egypt). This will be done partly to sustain jihad momentum, since ISIS faces eventual losses in Tikrit and Mosul as Iran becomes more seriously involved in taking care of business. The ultimate goal of ISIS may be to provoke destabilization in Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria, and eventually hook up via the Sahel with Boko Haram and other jihadist groups, creating a wide arc of instability spanning the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Red Seas. Even if this eventuality is highly unlikely to be realized, one thing is for sure: ISIS does not lack for ambition.

The following analysis, based on numerous interviews with security experts, institutional leaders and business figures, assesses the likely upcoming tactical decisions of Islamic State activity in Libya, its potential for further destabilization and acts of violence, and the effect that this presence can have on regional security and economy. This estimate also examines some potential scenarios related to possible terrorist events affecting international commerce and European security in general.

A Predictable Eventuality: Background on Libya, Syria and the Establishment of a ‘Two-Way Channel’

First, it must be noted that no one should be surprised by what is happening now. From the beginning of the so-called ‘Arab Spring,’ it was obvious that the overthrow of secular Arab dictators like Moammar Gadaffi would create a huge security vacuum, one that would eventually be filled the strongest and most violent actors.

While certain Western countries believed that their policy of ‘spreading democracy’ would work out, those security services in those countries closest to the action were more cautious. In March 2011, when the NATO bombing of the Gaddafi government was gearing up, reported that “Greek security planners are preparing for other risks that could accompany a protracted conflict, including refugee crises, arms smuggling and other forms of organized crime.”

That report also cited Moammar Gaddafi’s second son, Saif Al-Islam, who presciently warned that Libya “could become a ‘second Somalia,’ afflicting the Mediterranean with the scourge of piracy and bringing more opportunities for terrorists to attack European targets.” This warning was largely disregarded because he was, after all, the son of the man NATO was trying to overthrow.

The Libya intervention fatally linked the destinies of both Libya and Iraq when some of the massive flow of arms sent by Qatar (and others), as well as North African jihadists, were channeled from Libya, with the blessings of certain Western governments, on to the new war in Syria against the Assad government. However, the lack of airstrikes and different geo-political situation of the Middle East meant that Assad has clung to power, while the divided opposition militias were eventually surpassed by ISIS – and its foreign fighters – who have operated with a brutality unprecedented in modern warfare.

The personnel flow from North Africa to Syria has meant that the original one-way channel has become a two-way one with the arrival of ISIS in Libya, with firm communications and logistics established. Further, the all-encompassing ideology of ISIS means that the idea of foreign fighters in leadership roles has been re-imported to Libya as a guiding concept. On 3 March, Newsweek cited Libyan government sources in claiming that over 5,000 foreign fighters have come to Libya amidst ongoing public calls from ISIS for new recruits.

“ISIS have allegedly appointed two emirs, both foreign nationals, to oversee both sides of the country,” the magazine reported. “The ‘Emir of Tripoli’, a Tunisian known as Abu Talha, controls the group’s operations in the west and a Yemeni national Abu al-Baraa el-Azdi [is] based in the town of Derna, which the group controls.”

After 2011, international media focus on Libya had moved away to follow the worsening Syrian civil war. Attention only briefly returned in a very specific context- with the now infamous 11 September 2012 Benghazi attack on a US diplomatic compound. The murky nature of the event sparked a firestorm of conservative criticism in the US over Hilary Clinton’s mishandling of the situation. (The event also made the late, great French adventurer/novelist Gérard DeVilliers look prophetic, or at least very well-informed in one of his last books, The Madmen of Benghazi).

However, the claim of an alleged cover-up by the Obama administration, with the memorable phrase, ‘Hilary lied, Americans died’ became essentially a matter for internal political discourse and did not lead to any serious public re-examination of the future of Libya. Indeed, it was not until January 2014 that the State Department designated Ansar Al-Shariah, the militia believed responsible for the Benghazi attacks, as a terror organization. And only relatively recently (in June 2014) did US Special Forces successfully capture the militia’s leader, Ahmed Abu Khattala in Libya.

With the extraordinary amount of media interest, Congressional committees, and constant rhetoric from Democrats and Republicans over Benghazi, it became clear that assessments of the event were ultimately more geared towards scoring political points and securing legacies than towards the status of Libya itself- a reality worsened by preparations for the midterm elections and concomitant politicization of events. It is impossible to know how much time and energy was misused because of the scandal, but it is likely that it was enormous and that it definitely contributed to a certain ‘Libya fatigue,’ in which events in the country were seen through the lens of the Benghazi attacks, or simply ignored altogether.

This slowly started to change with the sudden and violent arrival of ISIS in summer 2014 in Syria and Iraq. As has been shown, the group’s expansion into Libya was predictable; the fact that steps were not taken to neutralize the threat in a timely manner indicates a lack of preventive measures, and a failure on the policy level.

To appreciate the longer-term factors that allowed ISIS to emerge in the current period, it is also quite revealing to read this 2012 Italian Defense Ministry report by Arturo Varvelli; it concerns Libya’s future in the context of Italian national security. The report underlined the growing importance (already by 2012) of political Islam, and concludes that the failure of Islamists to take over government by that point had less to do with a supposed desire for Western freedoms than it did with the deep divisions within the Islamist electorate. By failing to recognize this in time, the West missed an early-warning sign. And the internal divisions within the Islamist bloc have indeed helped lead to the development of a more radical element now oriented towards ISIS’ ideology and practice.

The Clear and Present Danger: The Threat to Libya’s Oil Fields and Energy Infrastructure

A major and existential concern regarding ISIS in Libya is the group’s ability to disrupt energy production and supply which, if fully realized, could lead to total state collapse within three months. It is not expected that the group can easily achieve this militarily, or it is even in their own interest, but it is necessary to at least outline how it could happen.

Recent major media reports have concentrated on ISIS-affiliated militia’s attacks on oil fields in eastern Libya. An attack on the Mabruk field in February left a dozen people dead. All in all, the Associated Press reported on 5 March that 11 oil fields have become ‘non-operational’ after recent attacks, citing the National Oil Corporation. The NOC has invoked a force majeure clause, by which the state from contractual obligations due to forces beyond its control. All oil workers were removed from the targeted sites.

As with everything else, the situation is being complicated by the existence of two rival governments: the internationally-recognized authority, exiled to the far eastern city of Tobruk, and the Islamic-backed ‘Libya Dawn’ outfit that took over Tripoli last year. Both are increasingly accusing each other for Libya’s problems and continue to attack each other- a state of affairs that has helped to create a vacuum that Islamic State fighters are happy to fill.

The National Oil Corporation immediately blamed “Islamist-backed authorities in the capital Tripoli for failing to protect the oil fields.” According to an NOC statement, “theft, looting, sabotage and destruction” have recently increased at Libya’s oil installations. The National Oil Corporation warned that a continued deterioration might force it “to close all fields and ports, which will result in a total deficit in state revenues and directly impact people’s live, including with power outage.”

Damaging or taking over such energy infrastructure by ISIS replicates tactics used successfully in Iraq and Syria. In Libya, Islamic State-affiliated militants first targeted the oilfields at Bahi and Mabruk, using their base in the central city of Sirte to attack the Dhahra oilfield as well. In attacking the Dhahra oilfield, reported Time, ISIS fighters were seen “trading fire with guards and blowing up residential and administrative buildings before eventually retreating.” Evacuations were required and it is expected that ISIS will control this field too.

However, these fields had already been shut down for several weeks, which is why Libya expert John Hamilton does not believe the recent ISIS activities here will have a sudden or crippling effect on the economy. A London-based director at consultancy Cross Border Information, which produces an African energy sector newsletter for clients, Hamilton recently shared his thoughts with on the oil field attacks and the general situation.

“The As Sidr and Ras Lanuf terminals have been under force majeure and closed since Christmas day,” he notes. “So there is not much damage to the industry. They haven’t been operating, and no one is going to start them anytime soon. As far as impact on revenues, this has no effect.”

These terminals are set along the coastal road southeast of Sirte, ISIS’ current stronghold. Noting that the militants targeted the northwestern corridor of the Sirte basin, Hamilton points out that “it is obvious that these fields were attacked since they are the closest fields to where the ISIS, former Ansar Al-Shariah forces, are located.” If the current trend continues, he notes, the geographically contiguous fields “are next to be attacked, as these are the most strategically exposed- these are very strategically set places, as they supply Tobruk.”

Here it is important to note that the major fields attacked (Dahra, Bahi and Mabruk- and now, al-Ghani) are actually the closest to Sirte; they lie at the northwestern edge of a vast arcing basin that passes southeast, under the gulf dividing Sirte from Benghazi, and ends with a handful of fields directly linked to Tobruk to the north. (See this oil company website for a detailed map). Should it get far enough inland, ISIS could thus attempt to choke off the supply of fuel to the internationally-supported government. However, Hamilton notes that “in order to get them, they would have to cross areas controlled by groups loyal to the government in Tobruk.”

Implications of Energy-Sector Attacks on ISIS’ Geographical Focus

While Sirte is on Libya’s central coast, the Dahra fields are considerably further south (170km inland). And the previously-attacked Bahi oil field is over 250km from Sirte. Again, it should be remembered that these are the closest of more than 20 oil fields that sprawl southeast towards the Egyptian border, in a very large country.

The major issue for assessing ISIS short-term tactical goals is to identify whether the group will continue to concentrate on energy disruption, or on other goals and locations. This will have an effect on its geographical presence, and potential to come into conflict with rival militias, should it try to spread out along the coast or down towards the desert. In comments for, Ludovico Carlino, MENA Analyst at IHS Country Risk, states that ISIS most probably “will try to press southward and increase cross-border attacks, to draw in regional powers.”

On the other hand, were ISIS to try and fight its way along the coast, it would meet with “constraints… as two actors are already fighting for control of this asset. The biggest risk would be to unify enemies against you,” notes Carlino, who also considers that ISIS may want to explore possible “Sub-Saharan linkages” with established hiadist groups like Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Mali, and ultimately even Boko Haram in Nigeria. Even previous to the latter’s recent purported pledge of allegiance to ISIS, more sophisticated media usage was linked to a deepening connection between ISIS and Boko Haram by experts such as Rukmini Callimachi, an expert on the latter group and West African correspondent for the New York Times.

In any case, the Italian analyst believes that “since the situation in Libya is really unstable, this will weaken effects to stop ISIS, and in six months they may well be stronger. But they will face a challenge to expand, since they don’t have all the actors on their side, and if they try the same approach as in Syria, it won’t work.”

If the territorial strategy of ISIS is indeed designed to damage the energy infrastructure, this means that other major cities will be relatively safe for now from direct military attacks, though they remain susceptible to coordinated terrorist attacks. In the east, ISIS’ notable possession currently is parts of Derna, the latter of which Egypt bombed in retaliation for the murder of Coptic Christians. It is likely that Egypt will bomb this port city again, and that Western naval authorities will continue monitoring maritime traffic there heavily. This is a key port for illicit vessels trying to access Greek waters.

Despite the relatively small territorial area under its control, ISIS has succeeded in carrying out suicide bombings elsewhere in the country, such as January’s deadly attack on a Tripoli luxury hotel popular with foreigners. And the eastern town of Qubba was the scene of another suicide bombing that killed 40 people in late February. This indicates again that destabilization of the state – and, indeed both rival governments – through energy control and scattered terrorist attacks may indeed be ISIS’ strategic goal in Libya, as a means to other ends.

Scenario for State Failure: Energy and Liquidity Crises

According to recent comments from Libya’s oil minister, Mashallah al-Zewi, national oil production is now less than 500,000 barrels a day (a quarter of ‘normal’ production). The Libyan economy has gradually adapted to shortfalls, though for how long remains a big question. John Hamilton, who traveled to Libya frequently between 2007 and 2013, underscores the significance of the National Oil Corporation’s recent warning. If ISIS attacks continue, the government “might be forced to shut down oil production, having a negative effect on electricity and fuel. Then Libya is completely screwed.” Without fuel to create electricity, civil infrastructure would cease operating- causing a humanitarian crisis that would dramatically increase the flow of refugees to neighboring states and by sea to Europe, and likely lead to a chaotic situation favorable to armed terrorists like ISIS.

In this context, Hamilton adds that an ENI representative recently told him that gas operations are continuing normally from the Italian company’s holdings, near the western border with Algeria. Regarding the two self-declared governments and their militias, he notes that “neither side has yet targeted gas production. That is the difference between ISIS and everybody else. Everybody else is fighting for Libya, so they’re not going to do anything as stupid [as cutting off gas supply]. ISIS is fighting for a beachhead to attack the West, to attack Egypt and to connect with Boko Haram.”

Nevertheless, he says, “I don’t believe that ISIS is strong enough to defeat the forces arrayed against them.” However, he adds that by putting itself in the middle of the standoff between Tripoli and Tobruk, ISIS “could split Misraha off from the people in Tripoli by continuing to attack oil fields.”

In addition to the danger of an energy cut-off, Hamilton makes an interesting point about a less discussed subject: a possible public-sector liquidity crisis. “The great unknown question is whether the social fabric is will hold out” in that case. “It is very difficult to get a clear picture [of the government’s holdings]. Some say Libya will not exhaust reserves for at least 18 months, others say sooner. The truth is that Libya has a large amount of currency, but a high proportion of it is not liquid. They need to be sold to convert- importing fuel, wheat and medicine is getting increasingly complicated. It requires paperwork. You can’t pay an oil dealer with US Treasury bills, after all. So every month as they spend more of their reserves, the available currency for importing wheat, diesel and medicine is diminishing. They’re having to cut already- there have been massive power shortages because they haven’t got fuel to generate enough electricity.”

The British energy consultant is careful to distinguish state reserves from the holdings of the private sector. “There is a massive amount of cash in Libya in the private sector redistributed through militias. Increasingly people will use those resources to survive. That is not going to solve the problem, though- militias will not import diesel tankers, after all.”

In such an eventuality, it is likely that civilians will become even more dependent on the militias to provide basic services than they already are. This is the kind of situation which ISIS has successfully exploited in Iraq and Syria.

“If I was advising Western governments I wouldn’t tell them to give up negotiations [between the rival factions], but I would also be telling them to prepare for a humanitarian crisis, to prepare to send food, blankets and emergency equipment.”

According to Libyan businessman Tarek Alwan, owner of London-based independent consultancy SOC Libya Ltd, the private sector is also looking to safeguard its options. “The great majority of potential investors have already pulled out of country,” he said for “I have not seen any Western investors entering the market, though there are some businesses from risk-taking countries that are perhaps thinking of entering. Some Libyan businessmen have already taken the necessary steps to face such a terrible situation, by either moving some of their assets or cash abroad.”

While the European Union and member states, particularly Greece, Malta and Italy, have been taking some measures, in the event of a large-scale humanitarian crisis it is unlikely that they would have the capability to organize and execute such a mission alone- particularly if aid workers were to come under fire from jihadists on the ground. The result would be a mass exodus of impoverished people in all directions, and a chaotic internal situation.

Oil, Antiquities and other Assets: Further Opportunities for Terrorist Expansion

Whether or not Libya faces an imminent collapse due to the general infighting and violent arrival of ISIS, it is obvious that the terror group will attempt to profit from its presence in the country in both financial and ideological ways. This is where its activities intersect with transnational organized crime.

First of all, regarding oil, it would be much more difficult for ISIS to monetize energy supplies in Libya than it has in Iraq and Syria. The same conditions do not exist in Libya as did in ISIS’ original theater, where oil smuggling across the Turkish border became for a while a source of generous revenue. For example, Jason Pack, a Cambridge researcher on Libya, recently told Time that “there’s no way to smuggle oil in Libya… the difference from a place like Iraq is Iraq has a long tradition of oil from the Kurdish region going in trucks to Turkey. Libya has no such tradition.”

However, the differences might also be more than just ‘tradition.’ In the case of Libya – which has different neighbors, and large areas of desert – the existent transport infrastructure and border security are also unique factors dictating where (and whether) contraband oil can be moved. Whereas Turkey was complicit for a number of years in jihadist penetration of Syria, and as a consequence did not suffer major reprisals from ISIS or Al Nusra, Algeria and Egypt – both of which have large and capable armies – are on continual high alert regarding Libya.

Any surreptitious fuel exports via Libya’s Mediterranean ports would be difficult as well; when some rebels tried to smuggle crude oil in March 2014, US Navy Seals quickly stopped the tanker south of Cyprus. According to the BBC, the deregistered, North Korea-flagged tanker had departed from the port of al-Sidra, near Sirte, the area ISIS now controls.

Another source of ISIS wealth in the Middle East has been antiquities smuggling. The terrorist group has used this for both financial and ideological gain. For example, while 2014 was full of stories about the group selling the most valuable movable historic items, they have shown the tendency to save non-movable ones for the propaganda value that comes when they film themselves destroying traces of ‘idolatrous’ non-Muslim civilization. This is an example of a current phenomenon which we could call ‘Selfie Jihad.’

Such attacks on sites have typically occurred when the group is on the verge of a military defeat, or is seeking to recover from one. The recent destruction of large items in the Mosul Museum, and the bulldozing of the ancient cities of Nemrut and Hatra were the most recent examples of this tactic. However, Western commentators (as with this CNN op-ed) have somewhat misunderstood ISIS’ driving purpose with such acts. While it may be true to call such destructive events as blows against common world culture, it is incorrect to remove these acts from the specifically Islamist nature of the ISIS quest. In their propaganda videos, these terrorists continually say that Allah is ordering them to erase non-Islamic sites, and this is considered a part of the ultimate narrative leading to the end of the world, and final victory of Islam, as explained the above article from The Atlantic.

Because of ISIS’ demonstrated activities in Syria and Iraq in accordance with this teleological perspective, it is expected that they will employ this tactic in any theater of operations- and will encourage supporters to destroy non-Muslim heritage markers anywhere in the world. In Libya, this means that several important ancient sites and museums are at risk, if the group strengthens its position in the country. However, if the current model is anything to by, any large-scale destruction will not occur (or, will not be broadcast to the world) unless the group needs a propaganda boost after a military defeat or needs to energize new recruits. For ISIS’ first priority will be establishing itself and fighting off rivals.

As Newsweek recently reported, the major possible targets in Libya are the ancient Theater at Sabratha in the far northwest, Leptis Magna between Tripoli and Misrata, and Cyrene on the east coast near Derna. Experts are so concerned, the magazine reveals, that Paul Bennett, chief of the UK-based Society for Libyan Studies, “wrote to Unesco’s director-general Irina Bokova, stating his ‘extreme concerns for the antiquities of Libya’ because of the very real threat of similar attacks by the terror group in the country.” Bokova’s only response has been to say that ‘we don’t have an army’- something that Libyan and foreign experts say is not a good excuse.

Libyan analyst Mohamed Eljarh confirmed this concern. “Given that a huge part of ISIS’s expansion strategy is their media exposure and propaganda, I fear that significant ancient sites such as the Roman ruins in Sabratha and Leptis Magna are the two sites with the highest risk of being targeted by ISIS militants,” said Eljarh for the magazine. “The group now has a presence in Sirte and Tripoli. This puts them in very close proximity to these two important sites of Libyan heritage.”

The brisk trade ISIS has done in Middle Eastern movable antiquities relies on well-established organized crime networks, because (as we have reported in the Balkan context in 2005) the major market for priceless ancient artefacts is in the West, at private auctions held discreetly for millionaires in law-abiding countries like Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The insidiousness of the symbiotic relationship between organized crime, terrorism and the ‘legitimate’ Western art buyer is seen in such cases.

Beyond Libya, ISIS has its sights set on Rome, and particularly the Vatican. Even well before the arrival of ISIS, the Holy See had been voicing concern over the threat to Christian art. In November 2012, powerful Gendarmerie chief Domenico Giani made a speech before Interpol’s General Assembly on this theme. Giani specifically pointed to the threat “in countries where revolts are under way or there are internal struggles fed by a hatred so strong that people try to destroy anything that represents ‘the enemy.’” Most recently, the Vatican’s security chief gave a rare interview in which he confirmed that the security services remain on ‘high alert’ regarding ISIS’ threats against the Vatican, made in the Libyan propaganda video depicting the murder of the Coptic Christians.

Egypt, in fact, is a target of similar value to ISIS in the long term. Aside from ransacking the country’s great museums and churches, there could be no more epic propaganda video for fundamentalist Islam than the destruction of the pyramids. In recent propaganda videos, ISIS has made allusions to President al-Sissi and the ancient “pharaoh.” The implication seems to be that the legacy of ancient Egypt and a modern secular democracy are indistinguishably evil, in that both are non-Islamic. While an attack on the pyramids is very unlikely to ever happen, ISIS’ past behavior and present rhetoric indicate clearly that a whole wider range of very vulnerable sites in the world may come under threat from ISIS or from individuals radicalized by it over the Internet.

Egypt has shown awareness of the problem of protecting the country’s ancient Christian heritage. has received new intelligence regarding a recent foreign visit to St Catherine’s Monastery in south Sinai, a priceless ancient structure that provides considerable revenue for the local inhabitants. Since the overthrow of Mubarak, Greek and Cypriot diplomats have felt a particular responsibility towards the monastery’s welfare, and now the Egyptian government has provided the first full-time contingent of soldiers to guard it. The recent visit, which included foreign diplomats resident in Egypt, was made from the beach resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh, and was designed to convince the foreigners that the area is not dangerous to visit. The Egyptian government was thus trying to distinguish the present safety of south Sinai from the north of the peninsula, where it is fighting jihadists.

There are other issues as well. Libya is also awash in illegal arms. The substantial flow of contraband weapons is often facilitated by bogus maritime companies using old vessels, plying the routes between Ukraine, the Western Balkans, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. The illicit weapons trade across the Sahara with groups like AQIM and Boko Haram also continues. Further, it is very well known that international private intelligence companies continue researching where all of Gaddafi’s money ended up, since billions of dollars remain unaccounted for. There are numerous scenarios in which private initiatives like these could employ misdirection deliberately, or else interfere by accident, in ways that are detrimental to the overall security situation of the country, though they would probably never be identified.

Human Trafficking and Political Debate over Libya in Italy

Beyond possible fuel, guns and antiquities smuggling, it is human trafficking from North Africa to Italy and Greece that Western security forces see as the single most important security issue on Europe’s southern flank. The potential for ISIS to infiltrate terrorists in with the undocumented migrant hordes on leaky barges is possible, and the idea received great media attention when London-based Quilliam Foundation predicted it in a report last month. Aside from the fleeing local civilians, and the report’s expectations that ISIS fighters from Syria and Iraq will also set sail from Libya, our present intelligence suggests that a large flow of Sudanese illegal immigrants are passing through Libya en route to Italy; however, many of these Sudanese, are actually Somalis, and it is almost certain that Al Shabaab members are also among them.

On a daily basis, numerous small and even larger craft are available and setting sail from Libya towards Greece and Italy, where organized crime operations control parts of important ports. Does this mean a symbiosis between terrorists and European crime bosses?

“To my knowledge, if you want to have some kind of human trafficking business you need some connections with mafia and criminal gangs,” notes the IHS analyst, Ludovico Carlino. “This means people in the south of Italy pay a fee to the mafia. In this case the mafia is engaged in more profitable ventures.”

The massive effect of illegal immigration on Italian society and politics is fueling calls for a military intervention. “The parties on the right are really pushing for a different solution, but the flow of migrants is not going to stop anytime soon,” Carlino adds. “Renzi said we cannot go completely from caring to doing, and that an intervention will only cause more problems, as you have to decide who to support in a complex situation with multiple actors. And, while most of the tribes are in central and south Libya, the biggest tribes are not involved directly in the current conflict.”

Other Italian analysts agree with the non-intervention view. A 20 February article by Giorgio Cuscito in the analytical magazine Limes discussed the risks related to a possible armed intervention there. Without a plan to restore political stability in the African country, the author argues, a military attack to counter militias affiliated to ISIS would be “counterproductive.” The perception, shared by many Italian politicians, is that another large-scale international military mission could “fuel the jihadist threat without resolving the current crisis,” and lead to a further risk of terrorism.

Most recently, the Italian daily Corriere della Sera published in interview with UN Libya envoy Bernardino Leon, in which he called for an EU-led coastal blockade of Libyan ports. “There’s a measure that the European Union can take right away: Come out in force to guard the seas off Libya. Italy can’t do it alone. It needs help,” Leon was reported as saying. However, the EU is risk-averse by nature, and as will be discussed below, has not succeeded in its own (soon-expiring) mandate of training Libya’s coast guard.

One clear example would be when ABC quoted EU foreign policy chief Mogherini’s latest comments on ongoing efforts with the UN to resolve Libya’s problems. Predictably for an EU official, she said that “this could mean also some naval presence, but we are in a far too early stage now to get into the details. We are discussing that internally, with the U.N., and we hope to be able to discuss that with the Libyan authorities soon in the future.” Virtually all Italians and Greeks would argue that it is, in fact, far too late to be still deciding what to do about the situation.

Piracy, Refugee Boats and Trans-Med Terrorism Threats

In our view, the most interesting and still undetermined aspect of Libya is not what could happen within it, but rather what could happen off of it.

North Africa’s Mediterranean coast has a historic affiliation with maritime piracy. The so-called ‘Barbary pirates’ of North Africa operated during the Ottoman period and, because of this political reality, contemporaneous Western accounts tended to describe all such swashbucklers as ‘Turks,’ though the pirate gangs included primarily North African Muslims (and sometimes non-Muslims) in their crews. Incredibly enough, these pirates raided as far north as Iceland, as one report from 1627 indicated. Christian captives were resold in the slave markets of North Africa, and the Italian coast and Greek islands were particularly hard-hit on a regular basis. Well over one million Europeans were enslaved by these Muslim pirates over the course of three centuries.

Indeed, it is no accident that the iconic villages in Greek islands tend to be situated high above the sea, sometimes in semi-fortified positions, owing to the chronic fear of piracy. Very specific cases remain attesting to this past, as in the tiny village of Sykia (near the southern tip of Halkidiki’s Sithonian Peninsula, in the north of Greece), where local residents have a genetic prevalence for a kind of anemia more common to North African Arabs. (Neighboring villagers refer to Sykies as ‘Little Texas;’ perhaps the good-old pirate spirit carries over generations too).

So, are the halcyon days of maritime piracy returning with Libya’s descent into chaos? Before addressing this, it must first be acknowledged just how busy the Mediterranean Sea is. Websites like and use AIS data and Google Maps to show the exact location, identity and destination of all (trackable) ships worldwide, in real time. Viewing such websites indicates the density and preferred routes of cargo ships, tankers ferries and other craft. Even a cursory view shows how congested the Mediterranean actually is. On any given day, there are plenty of targets for a determined terrorist or pirate craft to hit. However, unlike places like Somalia, the Mediterranean is well-policed by Greek and Italian navies and coast guards, and there are major NATO bases near Naples and on the island of Crete.

A Greek executive at a top merchant maritime company in Athens tells that “our biggest fear is attacks against ships such as oil tankers while they are docked in ports in Libya. For example, an attack with explosives, or abduction of the crew. In such cases despite vigilance, there is little that can be done, unless all ships have on board armed guards.”

However, terrorists would be less effective at large-scale piracy or attacks while on the high seas. “On a tactical level, should a crisis with ISIS emerge, the coast guards and navies of Greece and Italy, plus France and Spain are more than capable of dealing with them,” states an Italian FRONTEX officer for

The officer, who has more than 20 years of experience in homeland maritime security, adds that the terrorists “don’t have a navy, and cannot have one. Moreover, NATO patrols in the Mediterranean, which include the US 6th Fleet, is an added factor in the game. They will annihilate ISIS should they attempt piracy.”

The Greek marine executive agrees. “On a wider scale attacks by ISIS in order to disrupt sea lanes in the midst of the Mediterranean would be far more difficult on an operational level. Due to the ongoing illegal immigration flow, there are quite a few air and sea patrols by both FRONTEX and the Italian Navy. Also the Greek naval forces could be re-deployed on 8-12 hours’ notice from the Aegean to the region south of Crete. And air support can be achieved even quicker. Therefore ISIS would stand no chance against organized and heavily armed naval forces.”

Considering the formidable might of the European navies, and the previously stated likelihood that ISIS will concentrate on expanding inland along the oil route, maritime piracy or terrorism can occur in only two ways: via infiltration of immigrant ships; or via commandeering of small craft for incognito attacks against ports in Libya and possibly neighboring states.

This leads to different challenges. First, it may affect the conduct of the daily rescue missions carried out by the Greek and Italian maritime forces. A 16 February Huffington Post interview with Italian Guard Coast Admiral Felicio Angrisano revealed that present immigrant-smugglers are becoming increasingly dangerous. And “new rules of engagement” may be implemented in Italian maritime rescue operations. While the first priority remains “to rescue migrants in distress,” the Italian admiral said, the fact that a Coast Guard unit recently was threatened by smugglers with Kalashnikovs, on a refugee boat 50 miles from the Libyan coast, means that protective measures may have to be taken. This escalation could mean further delays in implementing a coordinated policy, because of long-standing divergent views over rules of engagement and use of force between EU, UN and individual state authorities.

And these will not be the only actors. There is a high likelihood that, as the situation worsens, Libya’s neighbors will take the initiative if the West fails to do so. “On a strategic level, a destabilization process in the Mediterranean that will lead to further inflows of illegal immigrants will surely have societal effects for neighboring countries, plus any terrorist attempts,” adds the FRONTEX official. “But the EU and NATO have the necessary resources to deal with that in the long-term. Let’s not forget that countries like Algeria, Egypt and Israel most probably will also act against ISIS if it attempts to destabilize the maritime region. Therefore, the impact of ISIS’ potential actions will be minimized.”

All of these considerations affect the possible operational tactics and capabilities of ISIS on the Mediterranean. Given the constant surveillance and naval presence of NATO, Italy and Greece, it is most likely that terrorists could succeed by commandeering small craft that either do not show up on the radar or that seem ‘legitimate.’ This would be similar to the Mumbai attacks, in which Pakistani terrorists were able to infiltrate the city undetected after commandeering a normal-looking Indian fishing boat. The 2000 attack on the USS Cole, carried out by a suicide bomber piloting a small craft, comes to mind as another example. It might be remembered that following that attack, terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden called on Muslims to carry out similar ones.

This tactic would be easiest to execute if targeting Libyan or neighboring North African ports. It would also be technically possible, if much more difficult, to target Gavdos (a Greek island south of Crete, and the southernmost point in Europe) or Lampedusa, though neither are strategic military targets. High-value military targets like NATO’s bases near Naples and Souda Bay near Chania on Crete are probably too distant for a successful attack.

However, it must be remembered that migrant boats, at least, constantly target the region. In summer 2011, while the NATO bombing of Libya was raging, local authorities in Palaeohora in southern Crete noted that a small migrant vessel had crashed on the rocks east of the town. That is a considerable distance for the typical old wrecks used by immigrant-smugglers. It is not inconceivable that a well-funded terrorist entity like ISIS could acquire speedier small craft. The question just remains whether they perceive any European target in striking distance.

Philip Ingram is a former military intelligence officer who served for 27 years in the British military, and now works as a journalist and managing director of Security Media Publishing. He recently spoke with on a wide range of security issues related to Libya. According to Ingram, “the scenario is possible but there are no reports that have been brought to my attention suggesting it is currently being planned.  However, the same people smuggling groups that moved the likes of the IS Mufti from Turkey to Libya are the ones filling old freighters with refugees and sending them to the Italian coastline with no crew on board. There has been unconfirmed chatter about the potential for people infected with ebola to be sent [to Europe in] this way.  So the militants are thinking about it but they have other priorities at the moment.”

A high-profile recent piece in the Wall Street Journal called ‘When ISIS Starts Hitting Ships’ also pointed out the danger of terrorist beachheads in Libya’s port towns. “ISIS’s prospects for significant naval power are remote,” read the article, which comes to a similar conclusion as the experts quoted presently. “But small boats, fishing vessels, smugglers, and merchant craft that carry concealed weapons could hijack, sink, or rake commercial shipping including cruise liners in the central Mediterranean. This would divide the eastern part of the inland sea from its west and expose Europe’s southern littoral to attacks and kidnappings.”

There is worse, however. According to Philip Ingram, ISIS terrorists may have the capability already to use a radioactive ‘dirty bomb’ to incapacitate a port. Among Ingram’s research partners is Global Risk Awareness, a cyber-intelligence company that uses sophisticated software to index and track terrorists’ Dark Web activity, and can thus follow organizations in closed social media circles- often getting information directly from the jihadists and their supporters themselves. (The company will soon launch a new database and mobile app for intelligence clients).

“There has been a specific threat in the past month from Islamic State to use medical-grade radio isotopes as part of a dirty bomb,” says the former military intelligence officer. “Around the time of the threat, they mentioned a number of European cities and US cities. Radioactive substances used in hospitals, universities or industrial complexes are almost certainly in the hands of IS.”

Further, he adds, “a relatively small amount could be used to ‘contaminate’ a conventional explosive device, spreading radioactive contamination over a wide area. In a city or port this would be extremely difficult to clean up. It is certain IS and their associates have the capability and have very recently expressed an intent to use this type of device.”

In this light, it becomes clear that ISIS does not require any particularly large or mobile craft- it does not need a navy to cause havoc as such isotopes, viruses, guns and other materiel are carried by individuals, making any refugee boat or small craft capable of presenting a massive security threat. The question thus becomes not capability, but intent. It remains to be seen how ISIS chooses to define its ‘Mediterranean strategy.’

Whether or not the terrorist group does anything serious, the simple threat of it is already spooking global business. After the publication of the Wall Street Journal article on ISIS targeting shipping, maritime insurers in the US took note. One internal communiqué from a top maritime insurance firm, obtained by the authors, notes that the prospect of piracy or terrorism off Libya “bears watching since if it happens it will happen without notice and since there are no War Watch Rates- our response might be individually by carrier rather than Industry Standard.”

Another US-based maritime insurance executive adds that, in the case of piracy, “the call as to whether any action would be considered a war action or that of a terrorist depends a lot on where the event occurs and who are the principal insurers. The reason that it could be important to insurers is that not always do the same companies write War Risk vs. ‘every day’ loss.”

In the case of Libya, the insurers would be in London- and most likely, insurance giant Lloyd’s (a request for clarification to this company was not immediately returned). The British energy consultant, John Hamilton, confirms that “the insurance companies will be first to wake up to this [possibility of piracy].” In other words, we should watch any moves made by maritime insurance companies to get a better estimate of the accuracy of a threat since, after all, estimating maritime risk is their bottom line.

“A lot of this insurance is regulated by Lloyd’s- they have a Joint War Committee that decides if places are going to be classified as war zones. Right now, Libyan ports do come under that category, and any vessel to those ports is obliged to inform its insurers and to negotiate special premiums not covered,” he adds.

The worst-case scenario for not only Libya, but for all international commerce and transport, is if ISIS is able to act in a way that scares the market into hiking prices at a significantly further distance north of the African continent. “The key question is whether the insurance market is going to extend the zone out into the Mediterranean, and how far,” says Hamilton. “Cruise ships might be able to skirt the area. But Libya is having to pay more to get vessels, and if this [high-priced insurance coverage zone] extends into the Mediterranean, you’re talking about a total state breakdown, even further than it is right now- areas of the Mediterranean could become treated like Somalia.”

Western Diplomatic and Training Programs in Retreat, as Negotiations Continue

The West is pinning hopes on the outcome of UN-sponsored negotiations launched in Morocco from 5-7 March. The negotiations, which marked the first time the two factions sat down together, seek to reach any kind of deal between the rival governments in Tripoli and Tobruk. The latter’s recent appointment of Khalifa Haftar as military chief, however, has somewhat alienated Tripoli as he has targeted Islamist militias in previous battles. Nevertheless, Deutsche Welle has now reported that international officials signaled the two sides may be able to achieve a unity government, specifically because of the new urgency presented by ISIS.

Until the two sides can come together, however, international activity will continue to be restricted. Concerns over foreign diplomatic safety in Libya were visible even before the infamous 2012 Benghazi attack and have only grown worse since. Italy was the last Western state to leave, early this year, while the US has been operating from Malta. A senior British official with broad regional authority told that the UK has “an embassy-in-exile” in Tunis, but that other than observing the situation, the remit at present is limited to “consular management issues,” which are chiefly “legacy issues involving Brits that have remained in Libya.”

According to the official, it is hard to know for sure how many British citizens are still in Libya as they are no longer required to register. But he estimates that there are “around 50 Brits still Libya, mainly dual nationals. There may be a few diehards working as private security contractors but they are low. Oil workers are still there but likely to be protected behind hired security and local militias.”

Most significantly, from the institutional perspective, is that the European Union’s mission for training Libyan border guards (EUBAM) is now on death’s door as well. An officer involved in that mission, which has also migrated to Tunisia due to safety concerns, recently told that the EU’s Libya mission “is on shut-down mode, and most of us have finished with the mission until it restarts- which is unlikely.”

When it set up shop in Tripoli in May 2013, EUBAM was given a two-year mandate to advise the post-war state on land, air and sea border security. According to the official European External Action Service information (.PDF), the mission moved to Tunisia in August 2014, “due to the political and security situation in Libya.” Thus while the mission had worked with ‘hundreds’ of relevant Libyan officials until then, whatever gains it may have achieved are no longer relevant. It is not clear why the mission was mandated specifically for two years in the first place, and whether its non-continuation now is an admission that no further improvements can be expected (EEAS Communications did not reply to a clarification request in time for this publication).

However, an EU official based in Brussels and specialized in domestic security and counterterrorism tells that the bloc is taking increased measures against the possibility of both terrorism infiltration of migrant boats, and reining in foreign fighters. “We have been working on this issue since June 2013, and the European Council… has put in place different measures.” (These measures are outlined in the official factsheet on foreign fighters).

Regarding the possibility of terrorists infiltrating Libyan migrant ships, the EU official adds that “I have not seen any evidence about this, and to my knowledge this is not discussed here for the moment. We already have in place all the security checks for third-country nationals, and when refugees arrive, the member states have to identify them. Frontex and Europol are helping on this. In addition, national law enforcement agencies have also access to the fingerprints according to the new Eurodac regulation.”

Regarding the possible threat of general ISIS attacks in the Mediterranean, the counter-terrorism official adds that “it is difficult for us to assess it. This is more a question for the member states, as they have intelligence information on this. We are not operational so we cannot assess the threat…. we are now more focused on the EU citizens fighting in Syria and returning to the EU, as they are a bit more complicated to detect when they come back- and that’s why we are now trying to improve the checks at the external borders of the Schengen area.”

Looking Ahead: International Operations and Libyan Security

However, from the policy perspective, it is likely that the disagreements over competencies and degree of intervention will continue to divide not only the member states from the European bloc, but also the political parties within the member states themselves. Previous to the February elections in Greece, which brought into power a coalition led by left-wing Syriza, a party advisor told that the new Greek government would push for a revision to the Dublin Accords that stipulate member state responsibilities for immigrants, and call for it “within six months of taking office.” This has not happened yet, but it is clear that the southern European states most affected by mass migration have a very different orientation towards the problem than do the other, more distant European states.

At the same time, whatever political or military solutions are agreed to the Libya problem, the security services of the front-line countries – and especially Greece, Italy and Spain – will prove instrumental to meeting the threat posed by ISIS in the Mediterranean theater. Their local knowledge of the maritime environment, and their previous experience with migrant patterns and behavior, may make or break Europe’s capacity to neutralize the threat. However, as said, the situation in Libya is likely to get worse before it gets better, and will require increasing monitoring and attention for the foreseeable future.

The 2014 Greek Protests over Syrian Chemical Weapons Destruction and their Political Impact, with Complete Timeline of Events

By Chris Deliso

The internationally-negotiated decision that saw the Syrian government’s chemical weapons stock neutralized by hydrolysis in the Mediterranean Sea in August 2014 caused widespread public anger in Greece and Italy, from the moment it was announced several months earlier. However, under strong pressure from the Samaras government, major domestic media were discouraged from reporting about it. The issue was also relatively underreported in the international mass media, as well, particularly in the crucial early months before the event became a fait accompli.

Given the media’s relative indifference, the issue was kept alive, and did receive considerable public attention, primarily through the work of grassroots activists. The Greek popular outcry took the form of public protests and criticisms from everyone including common citizens, fisherman, marine biologists, politicians and other public figures. The protests peaked in July and August, when the actual operation was carried out on the US Navy vessel MV Cape Ray, in an area southwest of the island of Crete, in international waters between Greece and Italy.

At the time, the controversial nature of the mission was exacerbated by the US military’s acknowledgement that since such a process had never been attempted, an ideal result could not be guaranteed- though everything would ‘probably’ end safely. Greeks and Italians, particularly those who live near the southern coasts, considered this plan irresponsible at best and demanded their governments cancel a project they believed to be dangerous to the environment and to their livelihoods.

A Political Issue during the Political Off-Season

During the politically-slow summer months, the chemical weapons issue was one of the few major points of criticism (other than the ruling coalition’s tax and economic policies) targeting the Samaras government. However, after the US Navy and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced on 13 August that the mission had gone according to plan, with no apparent environmental damage, the issue was quickly forgotten and disappeared from the media altogether.

Nevertheless, despite the disappearance of the issue from daily politics after the summer recess, the following previously-unpublished list of all Greek protests and similar actions against the chemical weapons destruction policy indicates that the organized resistance did have a sustained and significant role in increasing latent mistrust of the unpopular Samaras government, which is now facing forced elections on 25 January.

Therefore, while Greek activists were in the end unable to change their government’s sponsorship of the hydrolysis plan, the nationwide publicity that their public protests and social media campaigns generated indeed helped bring together a wider range of citizens to the side of the opposition SYRIZA, which jumped ahead in the polls after European Parliamentary elections of early summer.

Thus, in the cumulative analysis, the opposition-led protests and public actions seem to have helped in sustaining support for SYRIZA, and even winning it new voters, during the typically slow summer months, when opinion polls were put on hold. One result of this was that Samaras and his team received a rude shock when, returning from vacation in early September, they were confronted with new data that put SYRIZA even further ahead of the Nea Dimokratia-PASOK coalition.

The Chemical Weapons Issue and Larger Perception Shifts

The prime minister, fearing further protests over his unpopular economic and financial agreements with international creditors, was forced to move Troika talks to Paris; immediately after this came the spectacle of police in riot gear shutting down large parts of Thessaloniki, ostensibly to safeguard Nea Dimokratia luminaries who came to speak indoors to their own staged audience, at the annual HELEXPO opening in September, despite a lack of any significant protesters on the streets outside. Such activities indicated the kind of paranoia gripping the government.

Samaras’ decision to offer up Greece as the willing recipient of toxic chemicals became a self-serving stratagem: he used it to project an image of Greece (and his government in particular) as being a ‘key NATO ally.’ However, this decision was also made at a time of general pressure on the country due to the slow pace of mandated economic reforms and privatizations. Therefore, the same economic predicament that Greece found itself in at the time eliminated any leverage the government might have had to prevent the operation from occurring. As such, the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons off of Greek shores indicated the government’s relative weakness, not strength.

Institutional Arrogance and the Further Politicization of the Issue

Interestingly enough, however, even though the reportedly successful naval hydrolysis operation had been forgotten by media by November 2014, Foreign Minister Venizelos went out of his way to bring it up again in an op-ed for the pro-government Kathimerini (republished on the Foreign Affairs Ministry website here).

In the 2 November piece, the widely despised politican pontificates on ‘national consensus on foreign policy’ and the meaning of ‘true patriotism,’ tacitly denigrating SYRIZA (and the many ordinary citizens who shared their environmental concerns in the hydrolysis matter). After citing examples of what he considers cases of positive national consensus in action, Venizelos specifies the chemical weapons concerns as a contrasting one:

“…the reckless public debate carried out a few months ago regarding the supposed environmental hazards in the Mediterranean from the operation for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, under the control of the UN itself and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – an operation that was accomplished in complete safety – is a reverse example.”

The total condescension evident in this statement indicates again why so many Greeks have had enough of their current leaders and their mindset of unquestioned superiority over their citizens. It should be remembered that while many people who protested or expressed concerns about the chemical weapons plan were not members of SYRIZA, the party is set to win many more votes than otherwise might be the case, and especially in Crete and the Peloponnese, specifically because of the government’s inability, or disinterest, to understand that this was an issue that motivated even apolitical Greeks to act.

An ‘Atmosphere of Distrust’

The most widespread public concerns over the Samaras government’s plan were felt in the area closest to the destruction: Crete. This large and independent-minded island has historically always demonstrated a mistrust of authority, whether it was the Venetians, Ottomans or today’s government in Athens. The chemical weapons affair only drove the island more towards the opposition. But environmental concerns were felt elsewhere in Greece as well, and helped form international alliances with communities sharing their concerns, particularly in southern Italy. Indeed, the Italian (along with the Spanish) left has become one of SYRIZA’s key allies, and in 2014 the chemical weapons issue was one of those that had an effect on increasing their mutual cooperation.

Primarily, as sources indicate, a large part of the damage the Greek government sustained was unnecessarily self-inflicted. The problem was the perceived absence of participatory democracy- something further enhanced by Venizelos’ definition of public debate as ‘reckless.’

Indeed, one senior SYRIZA foreign policy advisor told recently that “the local community was not consulted or informed about the chemical weapons decision- they were entirely marginalized in the process. This includes not only the local political leaders, but also regular citizens, fishermen whose livelihoods depend on the sea, people in the tourism business, environmentalists and others. This lack of consultation created an atmosphere of distrust of the Samaras government.”

The SYRIZA advisor further characterized the hydrolysis imbroglio as a ‘tactical defeat’ but one with positive effects for party activity, especially in Crete. “While the public’s opposition did not lead to a change in the government’s policy,” noted the advisor, “it did increase the existing widespread public distrust of the Samaras government, and the desire for a different kind of leadership.”

SYRIZA has put an emphasis on local activism and maintains an image of listening to local population’s needs, something that the aloof incumbent government is often criticized for not doing. The fact that the chemical weapons issue had such a strong local focus made it one that was ideal for political strategists to use, to emphasize the differences in approach between the ruling and opposition parties.

Activists Achieve a Measure of Success, Despite a Lack of Media Exposure

As the following previously unpublished list of public activities surrounding the chemical weapons issue reveals, there was a steady and sustained stream of events that had an effect on changing opinions, from Crete to Brussels to Italy. However, the result could have been much greater, activists believe, had the mainstream media covered the issue more seriously. The suspicion that the government through the first half of 2014 influenced media to downplay the dangers of the operation, or not to report on it altogether, was widespread. One dispatch from Cretan activists in July, made available to, indicated what they felt this meant for the national awareness of the issue:

“People in Crete thought that the Greek mass media would be sensitive to such a serious issue and give publicity to it, but the mass media did not. In many places in Greece, people do not know about the hydrolysis in the Mediterranean Sea, even though it affects them too. The news reported on TV does not cover the gatherings in Crete. As a result, people in other places in Greece have no idea about the issue.”

Activists at the time stated that the Greek government had quietly but forcefully urged the media to not report on the issue. By July 2014, the situation had become farcical: locals pointed out that even at a moment when an unprecedented international military operation was about to take place near their island, the most widely-reported news story from Crete concerned a missing pet crocodile that turned up in a lake.

This offbeat (and irrelevant) story was breathlessly reported in several major international media bodies, as well as in the Greek ones. Nevertheless, despite the relative lack of media coverage in Greece (and in the rest of the world), the following list does attest to the fact that a significant and sustained campaign of activities did occur in 2014, and that it did have a galvanizing effect on local political activism as well.

Whether or not the currently opposition SYRIZA prevails in this month’s elections, it is certain that the drama over chemical weapons destruction has had an important, if underreported, role in bolstering their voter base in specific areas of Greece and among specific electorates

Full List of March-July 2014 Events and Activities in Greece against the Chemical Weapons Destruction Plan (in reverse chronological order)

28/7/2014: A press conference is held to present the review of the activists’ movement with the three boats which had gone to find the US Naval vessel transporting the chemicals in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Crete.

27/7/2014: The three boats that had gone to find the US Naval vessel transporting the chemicals arrive back at the old port of Chania.

26/7/2014: Two of the three following boats reach a point at sea of 120 miles west of Crete.

26/7/2014: The boat called Agios Nikolaos returns to Palaeohora because of bad weather.

25/7/2014: Two boats leave from the old port of Chania (in northwest Crete) while another one, Agios Nikolaos, leaves from Palaiohora (in southwest Crete). All of them go to find the US Naval vessel transporting the chemicals to be destroyed by hydrolysis. Many people come to the ports to support the movement.

22/7/2014: At an open assembly in the Labor Centre of Chania, local people decide on the details about sending three small boats, manned by local Greeks, to try and locate the large US Navy vessel transporting the Syrian chemicals, as a symbolic show of opposition. The assembly nominates a group of people who will be responsible for the communication with the people on the boats and for dealing with any problems that might arise.

20/7/2014: For a second day, local people block the entrance to the NATO naval base at Souda Bay, near Chania.

19/7/2014: Demonstrators congregate in the center of Chania, at the agora, and from there are transported to Akrotiri and the NATO base at Souda Bay. A symbolic blockade of the naval bases starts.

17/7/2014: The group of people who are leaders of the whole movements against the hydrolysis of Syria’s chemicals visit the Russian and the American Embassies in Athens.

11/7/2014: A demonstration is held in Syntagma Square in central Athens.

28/6/2014: Greek mayors send a letter to the US president, expressing their concerns about the chemical weapons destruction program.

25/6/2014: A benefit concert is held in Heraklio, Crete for financial support of the movement against the destruction of chemical weapons off the Cretan southwestern coast.

21/6/2014: Greenpeace and the WWF Hellas communicate with OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemicals Weapons) in order to be informed by OPCW about the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons at sea.

The representatives of WWF underline the following four concerns.

  1. No estimation of hypothetical environmental danger has been made regarding the scenario that the hydrolysis of chemicals weapons at sea goes wrong. No estimate has been made concerning whether the operation could have any adverse consequences for the environment.
  2. There is a general absence of legislation concerning this operation.
  3. There is serious danger of an accident, disorder in the operation and environmental dangers for the Mediterranean Sea as a result of this operation.
  4. There is a need for much more information about the operation’s progress. There has been a demonstrated lack of negotiations with local authorities and local institutions.

Further, representatives of Greenpeace from Greece and Italy underlined the security measures for the operation that should be taken. They have sent a letter to OPCW regarding this. They also underline the need for early and valid information about the operation.

Representatives of both Greenpeace and WWF Hellas underline that the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs must take responsibility, and must disclose the relevant information. These representatives state their opposition to any operation that would have environmental dangers. They ask OPCW to give information to the public about the operation and to act with transparency, according to the relevant international treaties.

17/6/2014: Konstantinos Pylarinos, head of the Association of Former Members of the Hellenic and of the European Parliaments, has a meeting with Karolos Papoulias, President of Greece. Two days before, Pylarinos and this Association had passed a resolution declaring that the operation of hydrolysis of chemicals weapons would be in violation of Greek and international law. It noted that the Greek government is also responsible for this case.

10/6/2014: An event titled, “the impacts of chemicals weapons on people’s health” is held at the College/association of Doctors in Crete’s capital, Heraklio. The event has been organized by the Heraklio movement against the destruction of Syria’s chemicals weapons and by the Maragopoulou Institute for Human Rights.

10/6/2014: The mayor of San Ferdinando, an Italian town in Italy near the port of Gioia Tauro where the Syrian chemicals had been held, announces his opposition to the destruction of chemicals weapons at sea, and his comments are noted in Greece.

8/6/2014: A group of protesters assemble in the port of Heraklio, Crete. It is organized by the student body of the local sailing team, the 47th open sea school of Heraklio.

6/6/2014: A major movement “Zakynthos renaissance” supports people from Crete who protest against the hydrolysis plan for destroying the Syrian chemical weapons.

5/6/2014: A protest is held in Gythio port by the Association of Fishermen from East Mani (southern Peloponnese).

5/6/2014: A mass congregation of thousands of local people opposed to the hydrolysis operation gathers in Chania.

5/6/2014: An Italian group named “Mesogeios SOS” (or Mediterranean SOS), based in San Ferdinando, in Calabria connects with Greek citizens to protest against the misinformation being given to them about the danger of hydrolysis.

011/5/2014: An open discussion is held in San Ferdinando, Italy about the planned programmed for destroying Syria’s chemicals weapons in the sea between Greece and Italy. Vangelis Pissias, a Greek candidate for MEP from the Green Party, takes part in this discussion through an internet feed. The coordinator is journalist Alfredo Cosco.

10/5/2014: An educational event is held in Gythio port in the south Peloponnese. People from Lakonia who are against the hydrolysis of chemicals weapons encourage the fishermen of the region to take an energetic part in the movement.

9/5/2014: A group of 50 SYRIZA parliamentarians in the Greek Parliament the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate change and the Minister of National Defense the following questions:

  1. Has the maritime region of the Eastern Mediterranean in fact been chosen for the hydrolysis of Syria’s chemicals weapons? Where exactly and when is hydrolysis planned to occur?
  2. Does the Ministry of Foreign Affairs plan to officially and completely inform the opposition, the other parties and the relevant commissions, and if so, when?
  3. Which measures have the Ministry of Foreign Affairs taken for the dangerous operation of hydrolysis, especially now that Greece is holding the EU presidency? Have coordinated movements with other Mediterranean countries been organized in order to prevent the hydrolysis? Has the Ministry of Foreign Affairs taken any initiatives, and how is it planning to make the best of Greece’s EU presidency as far as the hydrolysis issue is concerned? Does the ministry have the intention, even at the last moment, to take action in order to prevent the hydrolysis operation?
  4. Why is the destruction of chemical weapons not to be held in a country with the relevant technology and the technical know-how to execute it? How dangerous is hydrolysis to the maritime environment?
  5. Why is the destruction of these chemical weapons not going to happen in the country where these weapons are produced or in a country which sells them? Or, why will the hydrolysis not happen in the maritime space of countries which have the relevant technical know-how, if the operation is as sensitive as is being said?
  6. How many total tons of chemical gas are going to be destroyed?
  7. What is the constituent and predominant content of these chemical weapons? What is the amount of this content? How is this content going to be destroyed, since some of this content cannot be destroyed by hydrolysis?


4/5/2014: In a four-day event in Rethymno (north-central coast of Crete). Informational material on the chemical weapons issue is distributed in many languages.

3/5/2014: Citizens meet Ms Vlahou, a lawyer and prosecutor. They seek a judgment to research if the Greek government has penal responsibilities for the outcome of the hydrolysis operation, or if there is a legal government exemption.

29/4/2014: A report on the hydrolosis issue, which has been presented to the Areios Pagos (Greece’s Supreme Court), is given to the public prosecutor of East Crete in Heraklio.

27/4/2014: A congregation of citizens concerned about the possible hydrolysis program meets in Hora Sfakion, on the southern coast of Crete.

24/4/2014: A letter by Maria Damanaki, Greek commissioner in the European Commission for maritime affairs, questions the proposed chemical weapons destruction plan.

11/4/2014: A group of commissioners from Crete gives a report to Areios Pagos. The Greek Supreme Court. This report concerns the transportation, the temporary containment and the management of Syria’s chemicals weapons. It is also about the specifications of the operation of the ship in which the hydrolysis operation will be conducted.

This group of Cretan commissioners, after the meeting in Areios Pagos, goes to the Parliament. The group had asked Greek political parties to meet them and discuss the hydrolysis issue before the question of a SYRIZA MP in parliament. However, the only parties who accept to meet this group are SYRIZA and the Anexartiti Hellines (Independent Greeks). The ruling Nea Dimokratia and PASOK refuse to meet the concerned citizens.

After the official discussion in Parliament about the question SYRIZA’s MP had made, the group of Cretan commissioners asked to see the undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He accepted but he did not give to them any specific or solid answers to their questions. The group insisted it be given a responsible answer regarding why the hydrolysis should be conducted in this way (in Mediterranean Sea), and what the official opinion of the Greek government about the issue was. The only answer the undersecretary gave them was that the Greek government would closely oversea the whole operation.

10/4/2014: The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), in cooperation with the Spanish government, organizes an informative event on the US Navy vessel Cape Ray, which is in the Spanish naval base in Rota. It is announced that the hydrolysis of Syria’s chemicals weapons is going to be done on this ship.

23/3/2014: More than 10,000 people take part in a mass gathering in historic Arkadi Monastery in Crete. Groups representing the local authorities, universities, church, scientists, political parties, labor organizations, activist movements take part in this event.

9/3/2014: The first mass gathering occurs near the NATO base in Souda Bay near Chania, Crete.

2004-2009 Back Archives