Greece: Letter from anarchist Christoforos Kortesis, Koridallos prisons, September 2019
November 6, 2019by actforfreedom
If poverty is a crime, what are those who enforce and protect it?
In a department store of a large multinational company two individuals are attempting to remove a few products without paying because of the lack of money imposed on them. The store’s security guards become aware of this. When they are about to leave, the two individuals are asked to go through a security check and are shown to the investigation room that all the commercial chains have. Usually, the situation is resolved by paying the cost of the goods taken.
For anyone who has the least contact with social reality, the above description is neither a scene from a gangster movie or an excerpt from some science fiction novel. It is a snapshot of raw everyday life that we, a large chunk of society, experience and which has intensified at every level over the past years of economic and social crisis. Such petty theft in department stores and super markets are a necessary condition of survival for those who are strangled by the glittering world of “capitalist bliss”. Due to this economic dead-end that I also experience, I attempted to appropriate 180 euros’ worth of goods (related to my work, i.e. plugs and fuses) from the French multinational department store Leroy Merlin. However, as certain “features” were not as usual, the outcome of this attempt was not that anticipated i.e., pay for the products and put the issue to rest. Instead, I was illegally held for three hours, blackmailed and finally ended up being imprisoned until trial for one felony and four misdemeanours.
The particulars of how this story came about and evolved, both for me and the other comrades involved in the events, are none other than our political choices, our political identity and action. Our consistent and uncompromising choice of being an integral part of the anarchist movement, for at least 20 years.
To cut a long story short, for almost three hours the security company Ovit, following orders from their employer Leroy Merlin, detained me and my comrade Thymios A. illegally, threatened and blackmailed us to try to get us to implicate the employee and union member Giannis A. as an accomplice.
First, we were asked to pay for the products, a fact backed up by the existence of the receipt given by the store, to put an end to the incident. Due to the fact that we could not pay back the amount owed at that moment, we informed a comrade of the situation, who immediately arrived at the store and informed the security guard that he had brought the money. While waiting I informed the store’s security team of my previous conviction, explaining that the involvement of the police and possible arrest would lead to a new imprisonment, as actually happened. They reassured us – “on their man’s word”, something that counts in a patriarchal society – that this would not happen and that the matter would be resolved immediately given that such incidents occur on a daily basis.
After a long wait, the “friendly” climate suddenly changed with the arrival in the small room of the head of the security company, Konstantinos Drivas. After introducing himself, he said that he needed to contact the company’s management. During the time we were held hostage, Drivas was in dialogue with his employers, walking in and out of the room to talk to them. At some point, he notified us that they were no longer interested in the money and that their priority was to implicate an employee of the store, Giannis A., as our accomplice.
What had happened during all these hours to make them lose interest in the money? When they knew that I had unfinished business with the State, they thought that they had a weak link in their hands and that they should not let this opportunity fly away, so they called in an expert. Drivas, being a former military officer and trained in interrogation techniques using threats and blackmail to NATO standards – , was the right man to handle the situation, which is why he rushed to the store.
Presenting Giannis as an accomplice would allow his possible firing, putting an end to this sort of “gangrene” for the company once and for all, as the security boss characteristically mentioned. At some point, he asked us to sign an official statement indicating him as our accomplice, otherwise calling the police would be inevitable. After we signed a document stating that we had removed some products from the store and declared the equivalent amount but without mentioning the employee, Drivas, clearly irritated, ripped it to pieces. At the same time, Giannis had already been called and talked with the store manager, who was insistently asking for his resignation. Returning from the meeting where Giannis would not give in to the blackmail of implicating him in the event and so his dismissal wasn’t made possible, Drivas announced that he had already called the police. Realizing that during these three hours of threats and blackmail, they were simply lying to us, we stated that we were going to leave the store premises.
When Drivas became aggressive towards us, we informed the comrades who had arrived and were waiting outside the store to give the money for the products. We did not wait to be delivered as trophies by Leroy and its leeches to the police but tried to escape from our illegal detention. At that point, Drivas exercised physical violence injuring our comrade Thymios A. Eventually, we managed to free ourselves and leave the store along with the rest of the comrades.
From that moment on, the repressive mechanisms of the police and the judicial authorities, which have other priorities, took over the situation. My implication in the event that took place in the Leroy Merlin department store triggered an alarm in the Hellenic Police who rushed to find me. The next day I was arrested in the centre of Athens.
After beating me in the face and head and putting a hood on me, I was led to Piraeus General Police Directorate. After the arrival of three security guards and the financial director of the Leroy Merlin department store that testified (falsely) as witnesses against me, I was charged with three misdemeanours. The paradox, here, lies in the fact that while it results from their testimonies that we were held hostage for more than three hours, they were not charged with illegal detention.
Immediately after, a police task force charged with public surveillance performed an extremely thorough investigation in my house, confiscating objects that were quite irrelevant to the previous day’s events but are related to my political identity and activity. The next day, the public prosecutor, Maria Aggeloudi upgrades the charges and increases the number of defendants by taking advantage of the prevarications and lies of the (false) witnesses, laying the groundwork for my preventive detention. Building up one’s career by destroying the lives of others is common practice in judicial circles. The question that needs answering here is how can we talk about predatory theft when there is no sign of violence on our side and the stolen goods remain inside the store.
Two days later, Georgios Pantelidis, the investigating magistrate, focused on my political activity and my past during the interrogation process rather than the actual facts of the case I was being prosecuted for, questioning me about the actions of the organization Revolutionary Struggle (E.A.), about the actions of the political collective I participate in, about the anarchist standpoint on violence, whether or not we are being funded by illegal acts, thereby giving my prosecution and preventive detention a political character. Alongside the public prosecutor Kamiliaris, who only asked me the names of the rest of my comrades – which of course I didn’t provide – spat on a piece of paper the justification for my preventive detention which carried an unprecedented rational, the criminalization of the economically weak.
…we, with our ideas…..
The conviction that moved the various pillars of authority can only be fully explained in the light of class antagonism. Therefore, to the very reasonable question that might occur to someone – “why were you treated like that?” – the answer lies in our personal and collective view and life stance against the present system of authority.
The reason why Giannis A. is being targeted by Leroy Merlin and Ovit has to do with his being in a worker’s union in the trade sector, his choice to strike as well as his being in solidarity with his co-workers targeted by their employer. Since the outbreak of the global crisis on economic, political, and social levels, there is an effort from those in power to dismantle even the façade of the “social contract”. In this manner, they are trying to take back everything that gained in the past decades of struggle. In Greece, the austerity packages voted was an onslaught of antisocial measures against the working class through which the dominant class, part of which are the big multinational companies such as Leroy Merlin, was empowered. The intensification of labour, the layoffs, the wage cuts, the criminalisation of unionism (also included in the articles of the bill against terrorism since 2010) are some of the pieces that complete the puzzle of the bosses’ legal terrorism.
While alienation rules among the classes of the repressed nowadays, unionism as a means of struggle has lost some of the characteristics of dynamic collective struggles. Trade unions have become a means of personal financial gain and social upgrading through the employers’ unions or political party affiliates concerned with the reproduction of their delegation role and party interest.
However, even in this social situation there are examples of selfless struggle. One of the consistent struggles of the past few years is the one against the abolition of the Sunday day off and the liberalised working hours in the trade sector. Giannis A. has from the first moment been an integral part of this struggle through his participation in workers’ collectives organized without hierarchies (as well as in the Workers’ trade union of Piraeus) as a worker and a striker that actively contributes to workers’ resistance against the unaccountability of the bosses. He stands by his co-workers who are targeted by the employers, setting an example of collegiate-class solidarity. All of his choices mentioned above are truly hostile to the interests of the business group.
As Leroy couldn’t find anything on him so that they could fire him, they tried to implicate him as an accomplice in my initiative to expropriate goods, basing this claim on the fact that we had talked to each other when I was in the store, which was recorded on camera. For any normal person, greeting a friend that works in a store is a usual thing. On the other hand, someone whose mentality is equivalent to a cop’s, this seems suspicious. It is the same logic that the police counter-terrorism unit applies in the trials of anarchists when they claim that “a normal life is a cover for someone’s criminal conduct…” This is not an exaggeration or a mistaken interpretation on the part of the security guards but a conscious choice that targets Giannis A., something that also has many implications and consequences. If this was a legitimate accusation, it would automatically give the company the opportunity to fire him, thereby getting rid of the internal “gangrene”, at the same time send an intimidating message to anyone that struggles for his/her rights against bosses, a terrorizing message and depoliticisation of those who resist, turning them into common criminals. Giannis A.’s incrimination continued, as was expected, from repressive mechanisms as well. At first, he was called to testify as a witness in the case, but the next day with the upgrading of the charges, because of the political profile of the offenders, he was charged by public prosecutor Maria Aggeloudi with the felony of abetting the predatory theft.
My “sinful” past was the factor that played a catalysing role, in my opinion, in the development and upgrading of the case. For the police-judicial complex I constituted a problem for the “healthy” body of society and for that reason a group was immediately formed charged with locating and arresting me, a fact that follows from what the cops said. Someone would have to be naive to believe that for every theft complaint, the Greek police unleashes manhunts. The investigation in my house had a disciplinary character as well, since it was impossible to look for the stolen products as they were never taken from the store, they confiscated political texts, records from the assemblies of the political group I participate in, an antique typewriter, digital storage units and a bulletproof vest which was a means of self-protection. The degree of exaggeration in the attempt to upgrade my prosecution can be observed in the charge of weapon possession that was imposed on me for two uninstalled curtain rods …. that were presented as wooden bars!!
The investigating magistrate in turn, showed a disproportionate interest in the organizational structure of the political group I participate in, about the views of anarchists on the use of violence, the relation of my connection with Revolutionary Struggle and other issues irrelevant to the attempted theft.
For the justification of my detention, it would be impossible for the investigating magistrate not to include my former conviction for participating in a revolutionary organization. A charge that I denied from the beginning and continue to do to this day. A conviction based on logical leaps and ambiguities. In this conviction, whether I accept it or not, the judges see the practice of the monopoly of violence by those in power being questioned by those who are being repressed. Those in power recognize the attempt of those being repressed to destroy the system of exploitation that they themselves are a part of. A system that constantly tries to arm itself with dedicated laws, dedicated services, dedicated courts and dedicated treatment for prisoners, making use of every available means that the legal arsenal disposes of. Therefore, Aggeloudi and anyone related to the judicial mechanism, does not need orders from above to tell them how to handle a case, as she knows – being a cog in the repressive mechanism – who their enemies and their friends are and acts according to their interest.
All the above gives prominence to the political dimension of my prosecution. My targeting and the handling of the case in this manner, does not imply a personal vendetta, of course, even though they have an impact on my life, but an overall and multi-level attempt to eliminate the anarchist-anti-authoritarian movement.
Part of this effort is the criminalisation of the relationships between comrades and friends, the criminalisation of solidarity and mutual aid that is a fundamental element of the way we act and relate to each other in the present, as well as of our social program as anarchists. Thus, the choice of some comrades to arrive at the store to pay the required amount and their protest about the three hours’ hostage-taking we experienced, was qualified as “gang behaviour” and “harbouring of criminals”.
These comrades acted in a way each and every one of us that shares our worldview would act. This choice of ours is the practical dispute of the “values” of individualization, of isolation, of the solitude that those in power enforce on contemporary societies.
The repressive authorities with the assistance of the unofficial interrogation employee, Konstantinos Drivas, being unable to understand that not everyone acts in their centralized way of thinking and maintains soulless human relations, attempted to present the aforementioned course of events as parts of a cohesive plan on our behalf, which is untrue. In fact, they attempted, in the cover note from the police to the prosecutor’s office, to apply different roles to this plan by describing that I tried to guide the others during our exit from the store. Let me inform them that we build our relationships in a completely differen manner to drill sergeants, cops and judges, and that we do not follow orders from our superiors simply because there are no superiors and inferiors, there is no hierarchical order. Therefore, if they are looking for edifiers, leaders, chiefs, sergeants, directors and presidents, they should look in the actual gangs and terrorist organizations that they are members of.
… and you with your money and your guards …
Our time is one of those historic periods consisting of the madness of getting rich, the international immunity of multinational capital, the emergence of antagonisms through military conflicts, the explosion of inequality, composing the insane universe of the modern human subject.
Throughout history, the aim of those in power has always been to appear as the only way out of these “natural” phenomena, by reversing social reality with conjuring tricks. Being in disguise, bearing the mask of redemption, tricking those of goodwill, they continue through the centuries to commit all their bleak crimes against humanity and the planet. Thus, capitalist brutality is portrayed as the free-market economy, the immunity of capital as globalization, unemployment and lay-offs as the flexibility of the labour market, the crushing of the poor as fiscal consolidation, concentration camps for migrants as hospitality centres, police brutality as protecting civilians, poverty as lack of socialization and so on.
The socially responsible facade of the large multinational companies such as Leroy Merlin floats in this gutter of antonyms. It attempts to hide behind fancy advertisements and successful events the repeated predatory theft they commit against thousands of employees. Through the flexibility of working hours, dozens of work accidents, a cheap rented workforce from the slave-trading company MANPOWER, extension of working hours without payment of overtime, attempt to enforce nine hours’ work (instead of eight), lay-offs of employees suffering from health issues (the case of an employee that suffered from MS), repealing of the Sunday day off, targeting of trade union members etc., Leroy Merlin exposes the true dimension of the crime committed every day at the expense of those exploited by the voracious beast capital. This is the “growth potential” and the “sound entrepreneurship” that ridiculous businessmen are called to implement by ridiculous politicians. This condition of greedy enrichment by the few at the expense of the many inevitably creates, sooner or later, the desire to question the sanctity of individual property. The obstacle that stands in the way of this contestation is security, the twin sister of property. Emperors, queens, politicians and every personified authority, have always had at their disposal armies, guards and the police.
The past one and a half century, security has become a field of profitability claiming its place in the world of supply and demand. The first of the private security companies in the mid-19th century acted as mercenary armies against strikers. The first and most notorious company for the atrocities it committed against the working class, was the Pinkerton agency in the USA, an agency that turned every strike into a bloodbath.
Today, the delirium of horror and fear that dominates the western world, creates the ideal environment for the economic expansion of such companies. It is no coincidence that last year out of 1000 European companies with the largest economic growth, seven of them were in the business of security. Fear, threats and crime are the driving force of their profitability.
In this favourable condition, dozens of such companies have been established in Greece in the last few years, and have been staffed by cops, drill sergeants, fascists and jarheads. OVIT inc. being one of them, which apart from the security of Leroy Merlin is also involved in public procurements for guarding hospitals and public facilities, with the most prominent being the one for the port of Mirina Limnos, a port also accessible to NATO ships. The founder and director of the company, Konstantinos Drivas, has special training in the field of extracting, collecting, managing and utilizing official information and intelligence as well as having participated in a series of military seminars following the standards of NATO. This constitutes important knowledge which he tries to pass on to other idiots through seminars in private training institutes. He is thus specialized in menace, blackmail and physical violence, whenever needed, and proved it to his employers in the afternoon of the 12th of July. Those that have plundered employees on a daily basis for decades and those with the blood of the NATO massacres on their hands… blame us!
Leroy Merlin and OVIT Inc dare to talk about morality, theft, violence and “gangrene”! Now, if that is not a reversal of reality then what is? As for their effort to deny their responsibility about the development of the case by blaming it on the State mechanisms, saying that they didn’t press charges, did not ask for the prosecution of my comrades or my detention, they should not labour in vain trying to hide them. The manager and the financial director of Leroy Merlin as well as the OVIT security team bear full responsibility for the outcome of this case.
The tweaked scales of Themis
The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread. Anatole France
Although the above quotation was written over a century and a half ago, it still ironically describes how in a world where inequalities are imposed, there can be no justice. Thus, “justice” by acquiring a profound substance through its laws and its functions is an integral part of the mechanism of repression, discipline and punishment of the ruling complex of State, capital, patriarchy against both the internal enemy and the dangerous classes. The violent downturn of recent years through burdensome taxation, the rising cost of living, the steep rise in unemployment, and perfunctory and precarious forms of work have created an environment of deplorable social groups that are boosting capitalist planning. So we are in a permanent state of debt-ridden hostages with the prospect of even being imprisoned for a few euro notes. At the same time, there is a systematic and orchestrated effort by all the pillars of those in power, to present the social imaginary that poverty is a condition that we are responsible for (which contains a dose of truth, as long as we do not destroy those who oppress us, we are also responsible). So various policy bumps throw us the good-for-nothings of our bankruptcy as “we’ve eaten the money together”, calling us scammers and scum because we do not pay tickets on public transport, calling us inept and lazy when we struggle for basics against the bosses and calling us lucky when we work for 300 Euros. It is the daily life of capitalism that 80% of humanity cannot meet basic survival needs.
For this reason, power compels to be classified as dangerous and harmful to the healthy social majority whole social groups bearing “dangerous” class, political, gender, origin and other characteristics. The major good in this treaty is public order, which appears to be a prerequisite for the proper functioning of the system and for the further looting of our lives. That’s why in periods like that which we are experiencing right now, there is an extreme shift of repression and punishment from practice to existence, with a typical example of people being incarcerated in prisons and concentration camps simply because they have no papers. So it doesn’t matter what you do, but who you are. Are you toxic-addicted and have small quantities of drugs? You will be imprisoned – Are you a ship-owner and carrying tons of drugs? You are free to go. Are you unemployed and owe a few euros to the public? Imprisoned – You are the Aristidis Floros of a business group and you have lost 256 million euros? But of course you are free to go. Are you an anarchist and you fight the system? Imprisoned – Are you a cop and killing fifteen year old anarchists? Of course you will be released. Are you a woman and resist your rape? Imprisoned. Are you a businessman – big procurer? Free to go …
The counterexamples are countless.
The judicial system acts as the fountain of Siloam in order to wash away the crimes of the rich, the prominent and their subordinates. At the time of the French frigate Hugues Mulliez, the son of a majority-owned family business group, which also includes the Leroy Merlin where he started his business career, killed two people and seriously injured another with his speedboat in Porto Heli, is free to go, while I am in prison because I tried to remove 180 euros’ worth of items from his department store.
Even though my detention preceded the tragic event of Porto Heli by approximately a month, the rational of the judges imprisoning me crudely explains the class characteristics of the judicial system, which claims that “given his inability to provide for his own livelihood, there is an intention to obtain illicit profits and an inclination to commit simple and aggravated robberies; this is an integral part of his personality”. In simple terms, my adverse financial state is directly connected with committing crime, which constitutes elements of my personality. They naturally circumvent the fact that my bank account is blocked due to my prior conviction (according to the counter-terrorism law, the wages account is considered a money-laundering account) making it impossible for me to take any job where the pay is deposited in a bank account, which acts as a means of financial exclusion (this measure is enforced against all the comrades convicted for participation in revolutionary organizations).
In the above passage, we see the criminalization of poverty to the fullest. In this inhumane situation an attempt to expropriate a small portion of the wealth that they themselves produce and violently seized by the dominant class. Petty thefts in department stores and supermarkets as well as other self-reduction practices (refusing to pay unjust taxation, to validate tickets on public transport, to pay tolls etc.) are phenomena that have intensified due to their appropriation by large parts of society over the past years of crisis. This motion contains in practice the vital part of the relationships governed by commercialisation that money is, but also the fundamental principle of property exploitation. Such “criminal” and “illegal” acts of contestation have indelibly marked the global history of the repressed, from the mythical figure of Robin Hood to the social thieves and anarchist bank expropriators, from the Brazilian peasant land expropriators to the self-reduction movements of the Italian autonomous movement. As a part of this tradition, the only theft I recognize as an anarchist, as a worker and a social being, is the one being committed in the human-to-human exploitation, by those that get richer at our expense.
Dystopia, the dominant normality
If we take a look at human history we will see a repetition, a pattern that we meet again and again, wars, exploitation, slavery, hunger, torture, death. The ambition for power and money leaves no room for the harmonic co-existence of humans, either between us or between humans and nature. There are certain periods, however, in which reality is more crude than in others. Such a period is what we are experiencing today, both locally and internationally. The law and order doctrine is being employed (at different levels of intensity) across the planet as it seems to be the means of survival and reproduction of the capitalist system since the last crisis. Over the past decade it has been imposed here with unabated intensity by all political administrators. Fiscal consolidation and growth came hand in hand with the counter-revolutionary strategy as the outbreak of the crisis coincided with the uprising that broke out after the assassination of the anarchist A. Grigoropoulos in December 2008. This strategy sets as a spearhead the multi-level attack of the entire State – parastatal/paramilitary/fringe mechanism on the anarchist-anti-authoritarian movement that has acquired significant momentum and social roots. New counter-terrorism laws, new police units, new propaganda scenarios came to reinforce the effort to eliminate and terrorize anarchists and all those who question governing policies. In this context, many anarchists found themselves in prison, dozens of squats were evicted, dozens of house raids took place. The extension of this context led to an entire village in Skouries being prosecuted by the counter-terrorism law, entire areas such as Keratea and Leukimmi turned into police-control/state zones. Even though there was a significant regression of the contestation movements in the period that SYRIZA was elected, the anti-revolutionary strategy continued with unabated intensity (with dozens of squat evictions), but this time with a socialist façade.
The return of right-wing governance has reinstated security and repression as a central political agenda. The first example of this policy is the handling of the case for which I am imprisoned and six others of my comrades are being prosecuted, with the full rigour of the law and extension of the indictment bill, the cops’ unprovoked attack of a demonstration in Koukaki, the abolition of university asylum, the much-publicized seize of Exarchia that began with the eviction of four squats in the area in the past few days, the kidnapping and threatening of a comrade in the context of the above operation and the targeting of Rouvikonas anarchist group.
Poverty, repression, oppression, fear, despair will continue to form the normality that authority has imposed upon us. However, it is not a matter of how they act but more what we do, how we will manage to get rid of, once and for all, mainly these notions mainly and on a second level the people that hold us entrapped in the quicksands of the system of repression and exploitation. Nothing stands before us, and also everything stands before us.
Either we fatally await our extinction, or we stride individually and collectively towards a world of equality, common ownership, solidarity and freedom.