A Week in Racist Hell: a wave of violence marks the start of the new parliament in Greece
Greece is in the throes of a rising tide of racist pogroms. To get a taste of the violence, let us take a snapshot of what has been happening in the Greek streets in the seven days since the elections of 17 June, looking at a selection of incidents of racist violence. The reading is breathless, but the reality is, of course, much worse.
But, let us look at the conditions in the streets:
- 17/6, early hours: from among the crowds celebrating the footbal victory of Greece over Russia in Euro2012, there emerges a group of 70, attacking immigrants in Omonoia Square, in Central Athens. They stop buses and attack non-Greek passengers, punching and kicking them, threatening anyone who tries to oppose them. Similar attacks take place further west in the city, in Attiki Square, at the hot-spot of Agios Panteleimonas, and at the junction of Acharnon and Galatsiou, where immigrants get attacked in a nearby park by a group of bikers. The latter’s weapon of choice are their helmets. There are also reports that few minutes earlier, the same group had vandalised and torched the local kiosks of the two radical left parties, ANTARSYA and SYRIZA.
- 17/6, early hours: in Chania, in the island of Crete, a gang of four attacks with knives and metal bars two Algerians, 23 and 27, who were sleeping on the beach of Nea Chora, steeling from them their mobiles and blankets. The victims end up in hospital.
- 17/6, 23:50: a group of Golden Dawn supporters attack an immigrant in the Athens underground station ‘Attiki’. The attack is videoed by a passer-by, who pretends to be talking to a friend on the phone (the subtitles translate what the fascists shout and what the immigrant cries). The attack is only a slice of a wider night of violence as the GD crowd celebrates the electoral success of its party.
- 17/6, election night: At the police headquarters in Athens for the second time in two months the elite police units were offered the opportunity to disprove all common association of the police with fascism and they declined it, casting their ballot overwhelmingly in favour of the neo-fascists of the Golden Dawn. In some cases up to 50% of local police units voted for the neo-fascist party!
- 17/6, late evening: Chania, again. A homeless 25 year old Egyptian immigrant is attacked with a metal bar. The assault is so brutal that the victim had to undergo emergency operation during which doctors remove his kidney. Three days later, police arrest a 39 year old Greek for participating in the attacks. (His is the only perpetrator’s arrest reported regarding any of the attacks included in this list)
- 18/6, 15:00-15:30: two teens punch non-Greek street-sellers in Alimos Baths, and hit them with clubs. Bathers just stand-byand observe. Only 4 girls react verbally against the attackers.
- 18/6, 21:30: A 23 year old Pakistani cycling back home from work along the motorway between Corinth and the resort of Loutraki is stopped by two Greeks on a motorbike, who ask him if he is indeed Pakistani. He denies it because he knows that this is the typical way that racist attacks start. Few minutes later a group of six, on three motorbikes, chase him down and hit him with a wooden club. The victim survives, ending up in hospital. When the incident is reported to the police it is dismissed as an inter-Pakistani feud. The police then go on to arrest 10 sans-papiers [immigrants without documents] as they visit their wounded friend in hospital.
- 20/6: Two kids attack street-sellers in Palaio Faliro, just a few kilometres from Alimos.
- 21/6, 15:30: In Kalamaki, on the same stretch of the Athens seafront with Palaio Faliro and Alimos, a group of ten thugs dressed in khaki attack immigrant street-sellers
- 23/6, 13:30-14:30: a GD gang on motorbikes, reach Agios Giorgios Square in the Athens suburb of Nikaia and go to every shop owned by a non-Greek and threaten them to leave. They warn them that in a week’s time, if they are still there, there will be violence. They also go around asking for names of landlords who rent rooms to immigrants. Their ‘visit‘ is closely observed by the police who intervene at no point.
- 23/6, evening: In the industrial/slumhouse neighbourhood of Elaionas, close to central Athens, an incident between local Greeks and non-Greeks soon escalates, as a group of 20 thugs appear and start chasing the non-Greeks. They hit them with clubs, and then they go to 4 immigrants’ houses and vandalise them.When police arrive, they arrest the sans-papiers and drive off. A wounded immigrant has to wait for the head of the Pakistani community in Greece to pick him with his car and take him to the hospital. By 23:00 the tensions in the neighbourhood reach new heights and the local ‘ordinary’ Greeks attack the remaining immigrants. When police arrive they arrest 20 more sans-papiers.
To finish off this small snapshot of immigrant life in Greece, let us mention the following story, that came on the final day of the first post-election week. It gives a taste of how it is for immigrants trying to leave Greece, as all fascists and most Greeks wish them to do.
On June 23, two immigrants were discovered dead, hidden in a truck that came off the Patras to Ancona, Italy, ferry. The two Afghanis had died from suffocation while 18 of their co-travellers were hospitalised with varied degrees of injuries and respirational problems.
Hardly any of the above stories – apart from the case in Chania – was reported in the mainstream media.
The escalation in violence comes partly as a result of the wider rise of racist, neo-fascist and anti-immigrant politics in Greece in the last months. The elections of 17 June saw for the second time in two months the neo-fascist Golden Dawn (GD) entering the Greek parliament with a slice of the general vote that nears 7%. They also brought to power the conservative New Democracy, under the leadership of Antonis Samaras, a persistent advocate of anti-immigrant and nationalist positions. Theoretically, Samara’s Far Right tendencies should be kept in check by his coalition partners of the socialist PASOK, and the reformists of the Democratic Left. But the former have clearly shifted to the anti-immigrant camp in the last couple of years, and the latter suffer – at best – from the same delusions that all reformists do, forgetting also on the way that they are the smallest party in this political menage a trois.
But there is also a clear strategic decision by the Far-Right to create, through escalation, a perfect racist storm, where separate incidents will gradually combine towards a nationwide pogrom that will not only force immigrants to abandon the country, but that will shift the whole political agenda to the Far Right.
They have to be stopped. This is a far more urgent challenge than the opposition to the austerity measures.