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Greece: On 17N and what it means to be a murderer – An interview

Greece. What follows is an interview with Natasa Mertika. She was tortured during the times of the junta.

Submitted to Enough 14.

Dimitris Koufontinas, member of the “Revolutionary Organization 17 November” (17N), stopped his hunger strike today.

We must talk about the terror. We must talk about the murders. We must talk about what violence is and what defines it.

We take excerpts from an interview with Natasa Mertika, a revolutionary woman who was active in the Labrakides group during the late 1960s. She shares the tortures she went through as a political prisoner at the hands of the junta servants.

There is the danger of forgetting under what circumstances the violent escalation in the ‘60s and ‘70s took place. People were still dealing with the ghost of fascism all over Europe. In the case of Greece and Spain, they were still right in the midst of it. It is our responsibility to try to understand the time frame and context in which such escalation could happen and, perhaps more importantly, why it happened.


CW: Graphic descriptions of torture, emotional and physical violence

Christos Vasilopoulos: When did your arrest take place and how?
Natasa Mertika: It was 3am on the 24th of September of 1967. At the time I used to live with my husband at Mytilinis street and I was hosting a cousin of mine that had recently given birth. My main concern at the time was that her milk production might stop. I couldn’t see my own situation. I thought that since I was pregnant, I wouldn’t be tortured.

CV: Were you visibly pregnant?
NM: No, I was just 3 months pregnant, but I did have my gynecologist’s papers that were proving it. When I showed them to Mallios, he said; “like we’d let you have one like yourself”. That was his answer. He obviously did not respect my situation.

CV: Did they ruin everything in your house when they entered?
NM: When they got in, I told my husband; “Until we see each other again nothing changes”. Then they found some PAME flyers inside Nietzsche’s book “The dawn of day”. I claimed that I had found them on the street at Ioannou Drosopoulou street, in particular, in Kypseli neighbourhood.

CV: So these announcements were the main incriminating element.
NM: Yes, but I had indeed found them on the street like I claimed. That was the truth. I still stand behind this statement as of today, because no one ever knows what might happen.

CV: Do you believe someone snitched on you?
NM: No, I don’t believe so. Because they didn’t find anyone else other than my husband and me. No one else that we were in contact with.

CV: You were 24 years old at the time. Were you politically active? Is that why you might have been a suspect?
NM: I was part of the Labrakides group. This might be why they started looking for us. They didn’t arrest anyone from the ones we were hiding, like Babis Theodoridis, Benas, Missios, or Giorgos Felekis. All of them used to live very close to our house. However, they didn’t catch anybody. And not only that, but when my little brother hurried to warn them that we had been caught, even then, none of our comrades ran away. Which was unfortunate, of course, because we might had talked. Giorgos Felekis, who’s still alive, came to me after years and told me “I’m so glad that you didn’t talk and I could make a family, Natasa”. It was unbelievable. He told me now that we’re old.

CV: Did they bring you right away to the Bouboulinas station?
NM: No, they first brought us to the station of Kypseli neighborhood, at Iakinthou street, where the commander told us; “Tell me everything, because if you go to the other place things will be very different”. We didn’t have anything to say, and when they took us to the other place the commander was proven right. Things were very different there indeed…

CV: Who picked you up at Bouboulinas station?
NM: Mallios and Babalis. A few days after they separated us with my husband, they moved him at the Rethymnis station. I stayed at Bouboulinas this whole time.

CV: Did they beat you on the first night there?
NM: Yes, they did beat me from the first night on, very badly. Before the dawn of day, I saw blood and I realized that the worst had happened. I screamed and they took me to Alexandras hospital under a false name. I, of course, gave my real name when I got to the doctors. The doctors cared for me as much as they could and put compresses on my feet because they were swollen from the falanga . They were very swollen. Unfortunately, the fetus couldn’t handle this, and they had to give me a dilation and curettage, with barely any anesthetics. I didn’t want to be given any anesthetics because I was afraid that I would maybe talk in my sleep. I didn’t trust anyone and anything. I still remember this sound. I still feel this pain. There was a cop by the door and the women in my room would say “she’s the policeman’s wife”. I had no idea what this was about.

CV: So, they filed you under a fake name so it wouldn’t become apparent that you had been tortured?
NM: But I told everything to the doctors and gave them my real name. And they must have given it to the BBC because that channel reported my arrest.

CV: So, they took you back at the Bouboulinas station?
NM: Yes, they brought me back at Bouboulinas, in isolation again. The second time is easier you know, because you already know what to expect. I stayed in isolation for 47 days. I would sing to myself, tell jokes, talk, so I wouldn’t have to just wait for them, so I wouldn’t have the stress of them coming back. Sometimes I would even sleep, so I wouldn’t have to wait for them.

CV: Was there a bed?
NM: Of course not. There wasn’t a single thing. Nothing, just concrete. A concrete block. Very narrow.

CV: Did they bring you up to the roof?
NM: Yes. In the corner of the roof terrace there was a broken ledge. This is exactly where Babalis would hold me by and tell me that if I wouldn’t speak, he’d throw me off the roof. I truly believed that he’d do it. I grabbed him so tightly from his flesh that I must have made him bleed. I was thinking that my weight would take him down with me. This is how I’d claim my death, that’s what I was thinking. That’s what happened on this roof. Of course, he didn’t throw me down. He took me back inside and kept torturing me in the wash house. That’s so the women who were at the gynecological clinic wouldn’t hear our cries. That’s why they would turn on some engines at the roof. They would turn on scooters they had put there so our screams and cries couldn’t be heard.

CV: Were they using bugs?
NM: I had become an expert in bugs. When I got to my torturer, Mallios, to be interrogated, he was like a man made of glass. I was very afraid of him. He started banging my head against the wall. I was staring at an ashtray with the Olympic circles on it, which was on his desk. I had put well in my mind that I should only be thinking of that ashtray so I wouldn’t speak. At some point I yelled “the ashtray”. He thought that I spoke and he stopped, while all I had said was just “the ashtray”. A paranoia. When they brought me some water and I felt a bit better I looked at his tie and saw that it was bugged. He saw me starring and he hit me and then said; “I’m full of bugs because of you”, and I said; “I didn’t have bugs at my house, this is where I got them”. Why did I say that? I didn’t keep the rule of silence, which is a law for the prisoners. I shouldn’t have said anything. I shouldn’t have answered.

CV: Did he get angry?
NM: Yes. He totally smashed me.

CV: For how long?
NM: I couldn’t count the time. I didn’t have a sense of time. I couldn’t count time when I was at their hands.

CV: Would his face change? His expressions? Because you mentioned before that he looked as if he was made of glass.
NM: Mallios wasn’t a random person. He was trained by the CIA, they taught them how to torture. Mallios was chosen by the CIA and he wasn’t a random person. I insist.

CV: What would he hit you with?
NM: Spanos would give me the falanga torture. He would hit my soles with a stick that wouldn’t leave marks, and my whole body would ache.

CV: Does the tortured believe that they’ll make it through at first?
NM: Yes, but I wouldn’t want to talk any further about that, would you mind?

CV: Not at all, just because you mentioned this sneaky method…
NM: It’s horrific. Your entire body aches and you must not wear shoes. It’s a law. Dakos, a comrade of mine who did put shoes on, had his foot explode on him, he was left paralyzed. Later on, I invited him to come to the Council of Europe (CoE), and he said “Natasa, no”. And I understand him. I do.

CV: Was there a moment where you thought you’d pass out? Was passing out a relief?
NM: Absolutely. The only thing you want at that moment is to die, to be relieved. The only thing you’re not afraid of is death.

CV: Would one of them be giving orders and the other one would beat you?
NM: Yes. I remember them saying; “hit her x amount of times”, and I was counting them in my head. I would count and count and he hit me even more times.

CV: What kind of questions would they ask?
NM: Where did you find them? Who are you hiding? You’re hiding your boyfriend – because there always had to be a boyfriend that had to be protected. It’s their style. They never believe that it could be something else. It would never cross their minds that we might be fighting for our own ideology, for our rights, for freedom. It was never what we were truly fighting for.

CV: Were there people who were tortured even more than you?
NM: For sure. I believe that others were tortured way more than me. It’s just that, for me, it was the miscarriage and my inability to have a child again from then on. That was cruel. What was tragic was that in the CoE, before our deposition, the doctors examined me and found that my fallopian tubes were closed and I’d never be able to have a child again. And that examination was agonizing. It hurt so much… So, it wasn’t just that I lost the baby, but the cruelty that I couldn’t have one again. Even though I love children.

CV: Did you ever meet one of your torturers again, later in your life?
NM: At the time, when the junta had fallen, I was at Alimos beach and saw Spanos in front of me. My torturer. Honestly, I felt paralyzed. I just saw him in front of me while I was in the sea and I don’t know how I didn’t drown. I don’t know how I didn’t drown or how I got out. And once I was out of the sea, I puked. That was my reaction.

CV: Impunity?
NM: Yes. The torturers weren’t punished. They had it easy. They went on with their lives, and we were, unfortunately, forced to co-exist in the same society.

CV: Did you ever go to court? Witness against them?
NM: When they called Mallios and Babalis to court, they were sent to pre-trial detention at Chalcis prison for six months, because of me, because the fetus that I lost was seen as murder. Makrinos, the interrogator, called myself and Babalis to confront each other in court. This is where Babalis, the big Babalis, told me; “come on Natasa, did I ever really torture you?”. Babalis didn’t consider kicks and punches to be torture. He only considered the falanga to be torture. And Babalis never gave me the falanga torture. And so I told him that I’d only tell the truth, that they threw me down the stairs, tumbling. That I fell down all those steps and had a miscarriage. “I’ll only tell the truth”, I said. And I did.

CV: Averof prisons don’t exist anymore, but they were full during the junta period.
NM: It is so bad that these prisons were destroyed. They should have been kept as a monument to democracy. On the other hand, all of Greece is full of prisons. Once we made this calendar, where we counted 15 prisons of political prisoners in the whole of Greece. But especially Averof prisons should have stayed. It was part of history.

[…]

CV: There is an insignificant share of people that tries to influence society by saying that all this didn’t happen, that there were no deaths, no injuries, no tortured. That you did not exist.
NM: Were we intangible? What were we then? Actors? We existed, and as much as they want to hide history, we are here, and we will be reminding it to them. Not only us, but also the ones who are gone will still be present through their written testimonies. Will Glezos ever leave our conscience? Will Fyssas ever be gone? Will Panagoulis be gone? Will Amalia Fleming be gone? Will Kitty or Periklis be gone? Nobody will be gone, we will be here and we will be their nightmares.

With Mertika’s, and other brave people’s witnessing, such as Korovesis and Kitty Arseni, the tortures of junta were revealed and it was convicted by the CoE, since it couldn’t pretend anymore that it was protecting democracy.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

On the 14th of December 1976, Evaggelos Mallios, commander of the Greek police, especially known for his actions in the junta period when he was serving the General Security of Athens, was assassinated by the 17N organization. One month later, the Revolutionary People’s Struggle (ELA) assassinated Petros Babalis, torturer in service of the Greek junta. It seems that 17N and ELA co-decided on the assassinations a month after the court decision to let the two junta torturers free of all charges.

As we are all confronted with the resurgence of authoritarianism over Europe, we must consider what enabled those who were in power back then to rule as they did. As we see a growing support for a strong authoritarian state, we must allow ourselves to be reminded by history of where that road will lead us. An important part of preventing going down the same path again is recognizing the importance of militant organization and intervention alongside grassroots social movements.

We witness the police reigning in impunity everywhere. Police violence and even police murders, rarely, if ever at all, have consequences for the perpetrators. We simultaneously see a rapid decline of respect for human rights and censorship of media outlets is becoming commonplace. The world has grown numb to images of drowning kids. The closure of independent press institutions does not seem to worry many. Our supposed leaders have no objection on making trade deals with other regimes that are outright dictatorships. We must realize that those who claim to represent “democracy” have, even to their own presupposed standards, lost all of their legitimacy.

The scariest aspect of it all, might well be that it is those who present themselves as ‘democrats’ who strip laws that were made to protect us from the hands of state terror. The cynicism in referring to a juridical system that is by now fully designed to serve those in power (meaning those who have the money) and to crush anyone that does not fit their mold of what they want “the citizen” to be, is a warning sign and a red flag that can’t be ignored.

It might not be those who call themselves “prime minister” who are outspoken fascists. Instead, they hide behind their police forces which are proven to be hotbeds of far-right extremism all over Europe. They consciously militarize these institutions. They go live on TV to speak out their support for those policemen that have “such a hard time protecting democracy” while managing to fully ignore the police violence that regular people have to deal with on a daily basis.

We must realize that it’s these “democrats” that are, in fact, too cowardly to openly admit what they truly are. They hide behind the police apparatus as if it’s a guard dog with rabies which they are happy to unleash whenever it suits them, yet they refuse to take any accountability. We know damn well what they are and history has taught us what is the suitable reaction to those who practice such politics. We do not care what you call yourselves. We do not care that you are too ashamed to affiliate with your elders who served the junta. We see your politics for what they really are and we know that the only way to stop this is by resisting.

Whether museums for the state terrorism committed in the past exist or not, we have not forgotten our political past. It is not Dimitris Koufontinas who is the murderer. It is you, Kyriakos Mitsotakis. It is you who is the murderer. Leading and siding with those who reign terror now, as well as those who reigned terror 50 years ago. Already perfectly comfortable with the idea of Dimitris dying under your responsibility. A conscious, cold-blooded decision rooted in revenge. We will not forget.

The deeds of 17N are the justice that democracy has failed to deliver.

Freedom for Dimitris! Cops out of the universities! We will stand in unity against the neo-fascist European political machine by any means necessary.

In solidarity,

Some anti-authoritarian comrades

Notes

p.s. we have no affiliation to Natasa Mertika. We took the liberty to translate this interview as we feel it is an important document that confronts us with the realities of fascism and dictatorship. Considering that it was 17N that avenged those who made her and many, many others live through what undoubtedly must have been some of the darkest moments of contemporary political history, we felt it is appropriate to share her experiences beyond the Greek language sphere

The original and full interview in Greek can be found here: https://www.mixanitouxronou.gr/i-martyria-tis-natasas-mertikas-poy-vasanistike-apo-ti-choynta-kai-apevale/

(1) The Labrakides group was a communist anti-war youth organization in the early ‘60s before the junta came into power. It was named after communist, athlete and peace activist Grigoris Labrakis who was assassinated by para-state forces in 1963.
See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grigoris_Lambrakis

(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foot_whipping

(3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_Europe


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