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  • Writer's pictureColonel (Ret.) Natan Paz

Greece: A prisoner's hunger strike caused chaos in the country

The hunger strike of the Greek nationalist Dimitris Kupodinas, who was sentenced to life in prison, caused chaos on the streets of Greece. Experts claim that the event is giving rise to a far left wing, and may undermine the political arena in the country.

The violent protests, vandalism in the streets, and damaging government icons of this time, constitute the Greeks' toughest hour. Tragic events broke out over the past two months following a 66 day hunger strike of the life prisoner Dimitris Kupodinas.

The hunger strike began late January 2021 after the petition of the inmate to transfer to a different prison was denied by the prison authorities. Demonstrations in support of the prisoner Dimitris Kupodinas, exposed the weaknesses of the Greek imprisonment system, bringing to the surface dilemmas and issues regarding the question of how to deal with convicted terrorists in prison.

The State of Israel and Prison Authorities have been dealing with the threat of hunger strikes made by security prisoners in Israeli prisons for decades.

In the following lines we will discuss more about what a hunger strike of a Greek terrorist caused, and the manner in which the Greek prison system handled it.

The power of a security hunger strike

In Israel, a great deal of experience was gained in the manner the incarceration system handled prisoners' hunger strikes in general and security prisoners in particular. Overseas, in Athens, they have recently learned in practice, about the power of a life prisoner's lengthy hunger strike, a convicted terrorist who is a member of the most lethal terrorist group in Greece.

The protest of the inmate Dimitris Kupodinas made headlines causing a fundamental discourse regarding the prisoner's rights during a hunger strike, as well as spiked violent and severe street protests, vandalism, arsons and damage to government icons of the Greek government, while in the background, under cover of the events, a passionate political battle is waging. The inmate, Dimitris Kupodinas, 63 years old, who is serving 11 consecutive life sentences, began his hunger strike on the 8th of January of this year, following the denial of his petition to the prison authorities to move to another prison.

Dimitris Kupodinas was sentenced to several life sentences due to his affiliation with an extreme far left guerilla group known as "November 17th", and following the brutal terrorist activities he and his comrades had committed between the years 1975-2002. The left-wing terrorist organization is credited with 23 murders, including the murder of a C.I.A operative, of the head of the station in Athens, the murder of a British Attaché and several other horrific murders of Greek businessmen. The most famous of which, Pavlos Bakoyannis, who is no other than the brother in law of the current conservative Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

The inmate Kupodinas, petitioned and demanded to be transferred from a prison in the center of Greece to the "Corydallus" prison in Athens, the prison in which he was incarcerated together with his mates from the "November 17th" terrorist organization in 2003. The conservative Greek government refused to submit to his demand, due to the fact that he was transferred to the current prison after several severe disciplinary incidents which occurred in the past, including attempts to gain demands and changes for the better in his incarceration conditions by using hunger strikes.

Despite the fact that the Greek authorities are familiar with the prisoner and his abilities when it comes to his influence on public opinion and other inmates, it is evident that they did not expect his actions to lead to the events in the scale they have occurred. Upon making the decision to reject his transfer from the prison, Dimitris started a hunger strike and his condition began deteriorating rapidly. As the days and weeks wore on, his medical condition deteriorated to the point of endangering his life.

Although the prison physicians determined that the condition of the prisoner Kupodinas had extremely deteriorated and that his life may be in danger, the government and its leader Mitsotakis stated that they will not allow for "preferential treatment" and violation of the law.

Kupodinas's attorney, Adv. Yoana Kortovic, accused the Greek government of using blatant, vengeful and illegal tactics and filed an appeal against the continued punishment of her client as she claims. She further added that the prisoner's life was in danger and that the Greek government was gambling with his life.

Very soon, the government's strict attitude together with the deterioration in the prisoner's health condition, gradually escalated the protest activities of the left against the Greek establishment. On the 54th day of Dimitris Kupodinas's hunger strike, the chaos was at its peak and on the streets of Athens thousands of people protested violently. The raged protests spread on and threatened to bring the streets of Athens to a halt, as if the severe impact of the Corona pandemic was not enough.

The prison makes a direct impact on the streets and on politics

Following the violent outburst of protest, the police began to deal harshly with the rioters and the anarchist groups belonging to the radical left, who expressed empathy and total solidarity with prisoner Kupodinas's hunger strike. The streets were literally on fire. Molotov cocktails were thrown at police stations almost on a daily basis during the last couple of months.

The issue of the prisoner's hunger strike dominated the public discourse and the social networks in Greece. Lawyers, academics and journalists began complaining that their Facebook accounts were blocked after they published posts supporting inmate Kupodinas, or after they had publicly expressed their support in his legitimate rights. The protest was so profound that the issue even caused unusual statements made by Greek judges.

Relatives of the "November 17th" terrorist organization's victims, demanded that prisoner Kupodinas end his hunger strike, and stated that not only was the pain he and his friends caused by murdering their loved ones was enough, now his return to the public discourse after so many years only brings back more painful memories.

The longer Dimitris continued with his hunger strike, a real concern for his life increased. The left wing party "Syriza" warned the Greek government that

"Greece does not have to be the first European country in 40 years to have a prisoner on hunger strike die"

, while the "Center-left wing party for change" urged the government not to turn Dimitris into a "martyr" and a symbol of the struggle.

A dangerous prisoner who inspires terrorism

The prisoner Kupodinas who is also called "Poison Hand" by the Greek media, is no martyr by any means. He never expressed his remorse for the murders he committed in the name of the "November 17th" organization. Terrorism experts in the country were concerned that the hunger strike may encourage new violence since by doing so Dimitris encourages any-establishment groups to act against the regime.

"These groups are already recruiting new members inspired by the hunger strike of the prisoner Dimitris Kupodinas",

said Miss Mary Bossis, a professor of international security at the Piraeus University. "If he dies, we will see the resurgence of domestic terrorism in Greece", she added. The deadlock in the situation with prisoner Kupodinas hangs in the balance in light of the Greek political system's failure to deal with terrorism and terrorists in general and prisons in particular.

Since the 1970's, Greek political parties have been debating on how to deal with terrorists instead of reaching a principle agreement and formulating regulatory policy on the matter. Miss Bossis further added: "We should have never come to this point". The Greek opposition claimed that there is a law which allows moving a life prisoner to a non maximum security prison.

The government rejected this claim, criticizing the previous left-wing government claiming that it was too lenient with prisoner Kupodinas when it approved his transfer to a less secured prison already in 2018, something which proved to be a grave mistake.

When Dimitris ended his hunger strike after 66 days and chose life, it was evident that in the last couple of months, the Greek government received a type of professional "taste" of the Israeli conduct with the dilemmas on terrorists' hunger strikes in its prisons over the past decades. There is no doubt that this is not the last time they will need to address this issue in Greece.

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