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NATO and Greece, Clinton's visit

27 November 1999


ATHENS, Greece--Bill Clinton arrived in Greece Nov. 19 like a thief in the night. His motorcade moved down darkened boulevards carefully cleared of people. Armies of police guarded him against any contact with ordinary Greeks. But the voice of the people could not be silenced.

While the U.S. president wined and dined with Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, police loosed barrages of tear gas against thousands of workers, students and retirees trying to march to the U.S. Embassy. Among those gassed were elderly veterans of the Greek anti-Nazi resistance in World War II.

Despite the gas and repeated police attacks, protesters regrouped again and again and marched through downtown Athens to the city's central Omonia Square. Over 80 people were arrested, many of them at pharmacies where they had gone for medical aid. As of this writing, they are still being held.

In the aftermath of the protest, the Greek government has mounted a violence-baiting campaign against the Greek Committee for Peace and the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), which was a major force in the demonstration. But it was the state and its heavily armed police that unleashed the violence that night.


The media have played up Clinton's carefully scripted comment about the "right to protest as long as it's peaceful." But at every stop on his Balkan tour, protests have been met with fascist-like violence.

While he was in Turkey, police beat and arrested hundreds of protesters in Ankara, the capital. They had not been released as of Nov. 22.

In Sofia, Bulgaria, where Clinton went after leaving Athens, protests were also banned and over 100 people arrested. Blagoesta Doncheva, a former anti-communist "dissident" who has written eloquently about the Bulgarian people's suffering under the new capitalist regime, including a recent op-ed piece for the New York Times, was thrown into a mental ward.

Clinton will also visit the NATO-occupied Yugoslav province of Kosovo. There, Serbs, Roma people, Turks and other minorities are being systematically murdered and driven from their homes by NATO- sponsored gangs, even as the imperialist occupiers claim to be combating national oppression.


In Greece, too, the regime tried to stifle protest. In the week before Clinton's arrival, a masked gang attacked a Communist Party neighborhood office in Athens, beating three people. Another KKE office was firebombed. Officials and the media also created a climate of fear with constant warnings about violence. But their efforts at intimidation failed.

The Greek people hate NATO. Nearly 700,000 Greeks were murdered by Nazi occupiers during World War II. When the Communist-led Greek resistance, in alliance with Yugoslav and Albanian partisans, succeeded in driving Hitler's armies out of the Balkans, the imperialists feared a revolution and sent British troops to occupy the country.

Britain, a supposed ally, imposed on Greece a regime of Nazi collaborators headed by a hated royal family that had spent the war under British protection. In 1948 and 1949, tens of thousands of Greek anti-Nazi fighters were murdered, imprisoned or driven into exile by mercenary forces armed, trained and financed by the U.S. and British imperialist governments.

The Truman administration created NATO in conjunction with this war against Greece. The U.S. military's first use of napalm bombs was against Greek villages. U.S. planes also bombed Yugoslavia in this period. Over 100,000 anti-Nazi fighters were held in concentration camps for the next 20 years.

In 1967, when the Greek left had regained its strength, Greece's NATO military carried out a coup. Col. George Papadopoulos, leader of the fascist junta that would rule the country for the next seven years, was on the direct payroll of the CIA. This was finally revealed by the New York Times in 1976.

Fascist terror did not crush the people's resistance. On Nov. 17, 1973, tens of thousands of university students defied tanks and guns to challenge the junta, which fell the following year.

That same spirit was very much alive in the streets of Athens and other Greek cities before and during Clinton's visit.


On Nov. 8, 10,000 people had stood in the rain in Athens's Constitution Square for a mass trial of the U.S. president and other NATO leaders. The judges were 20 justices of the Council of State-- the Greek Supreme Court. Famous entertainers served as other officers of the court.

Clinton had ignored a subpoena delivered to the U.S. Embassy a week earlier by a march of several thousand people.

After hours of eyewitness testimony about the U.S. bombing of Yugoslavia, the presiding judge asked if Clinton were guilty of war crimes. The entire crowd responded "Guilty!"

On Nov. 17, the anniversary of the 1973 student uprising, tens of thousands of marchers, mostly youth, filed past the U.S. Embassy. They loudly denounced Clinton as the butcher of the Balkans, called for an end to NATO and demanded that the U.S. military get its bases out of Greece and its troops out of Yugoslavia. The march was organized by the communists, but even youth from PASOK, the social-democratic governing party, felt compelled to join.

And then on Nov. 19, the night of Clinton's arrival, tens of thousands of protesters, many waving red flags, gathered in three squares in downtown Athens in defiance of a police ban.

The main rally, in Constitution Square, was opened by Bill Doares of the International Action Center. Doares saluted the Greek people's history of resistance to fascism and war and their solidarity with the people of Yugoslavia.

"The profits of Wall Street depend on wars of destruction," he said, "and only mass action can stop the Pentagon's drive toward new and bigger wars. In this great task, the Greek people are leading the way." Doares also condemned Clinton's hypocrisy in preaching about "human rights" when the "U.S. has more people in prison than any other country--70 percent are Black and Latin--and the biggest companies profit off their slave labor." He drew loud applause when he called for international action to stop the execution of U.S. political prisoner Mumia Abu- Jamal. Pictures of Mumia dotted the crowd.

The main speaker was Athanasios Pafilis, General Secretary of the Greek Committee for International Peace. Pafilis condemned the "stability pact" signed at the conference of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Istanbul. The pact asserts the "right" of the U.S. and NATO to intervene in any country where they deem there are "human rights violations."

Pafilis spoke of the long and bloody history of U.S. intervention in Greece and honored some of the country's anti-fascist martyrs, including Grigoris Lambrakis, a vice president of the Peace Committee, who was assassinated in 1963.

Pafilis asserted that the police had no right to stop the people of Greece from marching in protest down their own streets.

At 6:30 p.m., the moment Clinton's plane touched down, the minister of public order still refused to allow a march. The lead contingent of the demonstration, made up of construction workers and shipbuilders, then forced its way through police lines. The authorities responded with volleys of gas bombs.

Despite the police attack and arrests, the Greek people's opposition to NATO and the Pentagon's war plans was heard around the world. [Note: The U.S. media have minimized this extremely important political development, but the demonstrations were top news in Europe.]

Clinton came to Greece from Turkey, where he had dominated the conference of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Why the United States, which is not part of Europe, should have been there at all the president did not explain. But the reason is clearly that the continent is under U.S. military occupation. NATO is the justification for this relationship.

At a press conference, Clinton appealed to Greece's elite with visions of a partnership with U.S. corporations in robbing the rest of the Balkans. But for the Greek people, U.S. military and economic domination has meant high prices and a 13-percent unemployment rate.

It also means a $2-billion military budget, much of which is spent on U.S. arms. The Nov. 21 International Herald Tribune admitted that military spending "exacts a heavy toll" on the Greek economy.

Clinton admitted that 94 percent of the Greek people opposed NATO and the war against Yugoslavia. He said that was "an example of democracy." He didn't explain why it was democratic for the U.S. to impose its war policies on Greece despite this overwhelming opposition.

Clinton also made the amazing statement that "southeast Europe is undivided and at peace for the first time in 50 years." Only a few months ago the U.S. launched the first war this region has seen since Washington's 1948 intervention in Greece.

Filip Karamalis, a young worker who took part in the Nov. 19 protests, told this writer, "U.S. imperialism will not pass. We shall stand fighting. All the Greek people are against NATO, against the European Union and U.S. policy. Clinton is trying to act like Hitler. But Hitler could not conquer the Balkans and neither will NATO."

International Action Center.

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