Crackdown on Greek COs was expected and may intensify

Since the beginning of the year, a crackdown on conscientious objectors (and maybe draft evaders in general) has taken place in Greece. The arrest of 44 year old Nikolaos Karanikas in February, followed by that of 37 year old Haralampos Akrivopoulos in March, and of 30 year old Menelaos Exioglou in April, were the first after many years of relative calm. In this period, COs who were total objectors or refused to accept a punitive alternative service were still prosecuted and sentenced (some times in absentia) - to suspended prison sentences, in military courts - but without arrests.

All three of the recently arrested (and later released) COs, had already been sentenced in the past (Karanikas was also jailed back in 1995, before the right to conscientious objection was even partially recognized). Their arrests were made by police, under the procedures for “a recent crime”, (a procedure that had not been used against COs for years), Solidarity with Menelaos ExioglouSolidarity with Menelaos Exioglouas the Greek State are interpreting draft evasion and desertion as continuous crimes. That means that in theory, a Greek conscientious objector (and a draft evader in general) may live most of his life, from the age of 18 to the age of 45, in fear of arrest at any time. On the other hand, the fact that Karanikas was acquitted, and the trials of Akrivopoulos and Exioglou postponed (although they continue to receive orders to draft), indicates that both internal and international solidarity - especially from Amnesty International, WRI and the European Bureau for Conscientious Objection - can still play a role in preventing worst situations.

More trials to come

Apart from the arrests that can occur at any time, there are at least 2 scheduled trials of objectors in May – including that of 47 year old conscientious objector Dimitris Sotiropoulos, charged with “insubordination” (draft evasion) in a period of general military mobilization, for which he was prosecuted in 1994! Sotiropoulos is not at risk of arrest as he is no longer liable for conscription, since 2008 when his third child was born (Greek law exempts persons with three children from military service) but the criminal case against him is pending, and he might receive a suspended sentence.

Considering the number of total objectors in recent years, especially anarchists, we should expect many more trials (or even arrests) in the next months.

A general regression

Furthermore, the overall situation for Greek COs has worsened in recent times. In 2012 there was an increase of rejections of applications for CO status, by the Ministry of Defence.
Even COs serving the 15 month-long alternative service are facing more problems than before, complaining of a delay of months, and complicated procedures, in order to obtain the monthly compensation of 223 euros – something vital for them considering that they also have to pay rent, as they are sent away from home. Meanwhile, the Neo-nazis in parliament, and several blogs, have spread lies about “COs who receive more money than the soldiers”.

An expected crackdown

Nikolaos Karanikas Solidarity 6 March 2013Nikolaos Karanikas Solidarity 6 March 2013The crackdown on Greek COs was to be expected considering the general political and social situation in the country. Acute financial crisis and harsh austerity measures have led to a fierce attack against the whole spectrum of human rights, civil and political, as well as social and economic. Increased and massive repression (including repression of almost every demonstration, torture of detainees, massive arrests of immigrants, even imprisonment of prostitutes for being HIV positive); a polarization of the political situation (with both “radical” left and the neo-Nazi party multiplying their force), and a general rise of nationalism both in government speeches and in many of those who oppose the government and the austerity measures, are some of the aspects of an “explosive” social situation. The incredible rise of Nazism, (7% in last years’ election, more than 10%, and are the third party in the polls nowadays) combined with almost daily attacks against immigrants and refugees, leftists, anarchists, LGBT people etc. is the most dangerous phenomenon. The current government (a coalition of the rightwing party, the “socialists” and the “democratic left”), under pressure from the Nazis, has showed zero tolerance against all social movements, particularly against anarchists.

It would be naïve to expect that in the middle of this “Armageddon”, conscientious objectors would remain untouched. Furthermore, the dramatic financial situation renders the fine of 6.000 Euros against draft evaders, a useful source of money for the government, if we remember that there are dozens of thousands of them.

An urgent international campaign needed

For years, Greek COs have failed to build a mass movement. The left has supported only the issue of their rights, while failing to adopt conscientious objection as a political stance or to demand the abolition of military service. Many young men preferred to avoid the military service through medical exemption, and the anarchists only in the last years have returned to work seriously in this field again, opting for total objection, but despising those who opt for alternative service.
It is true that conscientious objection was perhaps the only social field where some victories and some slow progress were achieved, but that was partially an achievement of international solidarity. Nowadays, with the Greek social movements suffering attacks in all fronts, it is doubtful whether Greek COs alone can face this crackdown. Of course what will happen to them depends largely on what will happen to this country in general, but in any case an urgent and serious international solidarity campaign is needed more than anytime before, if we don’t want to witness far worse situations.

George Karatzas