Comment at end
16th November, 2009
European Members Of Parliament Under Threat Of Assassination
At least three members of the current European Parliament are living under the threat of being killed for their political views.
We spoke to Italian anti-mafia MEP Rosario Crocetta, former Greek reformist Education Minister Marietta Giannakou and Spaniard Carlos Iturgaiz who has taken on the Basque separatist terrorist movement ETA.
They talk about repeated assassination attempts, and the toll life under threat takes on their family lives.
Rosario Crocetta MEP: Fighting the Mafia
“It’s not a threat, it’s like being condemned to death,” says former Sicilian Mayor Rosario Crocetta. When he became mayor of Gela in 2003 he conducted an unprecedented fight against the Mafia: “I revoked big contracts, started to control sub-contractors and asked for a confidential dossier on the possible mafia connections of each company participating in public tenders. I even stopped the construction of the new Courthouse, worth €50 million, because I discovered that there were infiltrations. That was completely new. ”
After 9 months in the job, the police intercepted a phone call in which a local “entrepreneur” was plotting to kill the Mayor. Fear didn’t stop Mr Crocetta: “More than 120 people denounced intimidation and extortion and we contributed to the arrest of 950 Mafiosi. I even fired the wife of a local boss working in the municipality. That was the worse insult for them. ”
Reaction from the Mafia to this slight was quick: “On 8 February 2008, my birthday, I received a phone call from the police informing me of the third attempt to kill me.”
The threat didn’t end with the Mayor’s mandate: “The Mafia has a long memory. The last assassination attempt against me was in April this year. ”
“The mafia is an international organisation”
He feels vulnerable in Belgium, where he doesn’t have a bodyguard. “The Belgian authorities say I’m not under risk when I’m here, I hope they’re right. But the mafia is an international organisation. ”
He goes on, “You have to give up your normal life. I had to give up my new car, because there was the risk of exploding together with it. I live 300 metres from the sea, but I can’t swim anymore. I can’t go out for an ice-cream. I can’t even go out on my balcony.”
He keeps fighting against the mafia in his new role as an MEP. He asked Parliament’s President Jerzy Buzek to create a special committee “to understand the state of the art of mafias in Europe” warning that special attention is needed during the crisis. “The main problem for companies nowadays is credit. Criminal organisations have big liquidity, so they can unfairly compete with legal companies. They are specialising in doing legal business with illegal systems,” he said.
Marietta Giannakou MEP: “At 0432 four consecutive explosions took place”
How would you react if woken by the Police to say that a bomb has been placed at your home? For Greek MEP Marietta Giannakou of the centre right EPP group it became a reality on 29 October.
“At 0420, the police came to our house, they rang the bell, and told us there was a bag with unknown contents at the entrance. In the beginning we were told to leave, but we were concerned that the bomb might explode as we came out or be detonated by remote control. ”
She describes the bombs going off: “Everything happened really quickly, because at 0432 four consecutive explosions took place, breaking all the entrance windows and heavily shaking a steel door. Four people have been arrested since, and more warrants have been issued.”
Why all this hatred? According to Ms Giannakou, this goes back to 2004-2007 when she was Minister for National Education and Religious Affairs, when in her own words “with a total of 21 laws she modernised the situation in Greece and adapted the universities to European standards”.
“I am not afraid”
Her enemies say Ms Giannakou “provokes” them by staying in politics. She considers these terrorist groups (the continuation of groups like the “17th November”) are easily mobilised by internet: “When a young man was killed by a policeman in December last year, within half an hour extremists were on the streets of all the Greek cities,” she remembers.
Asked about how the incident has affected her life, Ms Giannakou admits that she “does what she was doing before”. “I am not afraid because politicians are public figures and it is natural that they inspire the sympathy or the hatred of some people who have reasons and interests to want something different. I am proud of what I did and I will continue doing it.”
She is of course worried about her 91-year old mother and her 17-year old daughter living with her in Greece, but luckily “the first one is a real personality who is not afraid and the latter is a child who immediately after the bombing went to school. “This is the answer to terrorism,” says Ms Giannakou, “not being afraid”.
Carlos José Iturgaiz MEP: “A Dantesque image, with all the bones flying in the air”
“I’ve lived under the threat of the Basque separatist terrorist group ETA for many years. Those killers threaten any person who doesn’t want to dance to their tune, especially those who are against the independence of the Basque country and their criminal methods. They don’t want to hear about democracy, freedom and human rights; therefore we’re their targets,” says MEP Carlos José Iturgaiz.
“I have been living with bodyguards for 15 years, since I was Secretary General of the EPP in the Basque Country. Any person belonging to a party who’s against ETA can be a target of terrorists. I realised it when I saw that my name was written in the streets of the country in rifle sights. Then the Interior Ministry confirmed it to me,” he says.
“They tried to kill me several times, I know of two. Once during a demonstration against an ETA kidnapping, I was in their sights but someone stood in their way and they didn’t shoot. The second time, they put a bomb in a cemetery where we used to go every year to commemorate 7 EPP colleagues killed by ETA. They put the bomb in a flowerpot, but one of my escorts had a security device that detected it. The police couldn’t find the bomb, because it was hidden, and ETA made it explode later. It was a ‘Dantesque’ image, with all the bones flying in the air,” he explains.
“You can’t live in a castle surrounded by crocodiles”
He says, “I know that I will always be in ETA’s sights. Even if now I’m an MEP, ETA doesn’t forgive. And we don’t forgive them either. But you can’t live in a castle surrounded by crocodiles. You have to change your habits: you can’t always go to the same bars, you have to be careful when choosing your place in a restaurant, you cannot leave at the same hour every day and you have to alternate your routes.”
He describes the impact it has had on his family life: “Your life and that of your family changes completely. For example I remember that when my son was born, the first people to congratulate my wife were the bodyguards, because they accompanied her to the hospital! In a normal family, parents go to the park with their children or pick them up from the bus stop. I couldn’t. I couldn’t put my sons and other children in danger.”
What a world!
There are also national members of European parliaments under death threats. Geert Wilders comes to mind. And here in Britain we ask who’d want to be in politics because politicians have a bad name over the expenses issue.