On the 31st of October, a barber on Achernon Street in the Agios Panteleimon area of Athens was attacked by one of his neighbours after a prior racist attack, reports vary as whether this was identified as a specifically chrysi avgi (Golden Dawn) action or general casual racism of the type which can escalate quickly in a city which has substantial racial tensions. Each night since, there has been a gathering of up to two hundred fascists in the area, a number of them arriving armed with wood sticks and iron bars. Clearly identified as fascist by the slogans they were chanting and the t-shirts that some of them wore. Last night (2nd November), the gathering escalated into extremely violent attacks on local shops and individuals.
When the fascists initially gathered, police were quickly on the scene – watching from the sidelines. A computer shop, owned by an Egyptian man was destroyed. The fascists smashed their way through its plate glass windows, using their weapons to destroy the computers inside, throwing them out onto the street. Even the shop fittings were destroyed, as the owner, his assistant and his pregnant wife could only watch the carnage – the police took no action, merely standing by allowing it to happen.
In another local shop a man attempting to protect himself and his livelihood drew down the shutters, but before he could fully pull them down, the mob forced them up, entered the shop trashing the contents and stabbed him. His condition is currently unknown.
After these attacks, the police formed a line between the fascists and those protecting the community, however allowed masked up Chrysi Avgi supporters though the line to attack, then allowed them back to the other side to join the main group. When one man grabbed a branch from a nearby tree to defend himself from a fascist attack, the police allowed his attacker to move back through their line and beat the man with the branch with truncheons – leaving him with a head wound and bruising
When another man who lives in the area attempted to get through the police cordon to reach his home, the police denied him access, first asking for papers – an intimidatory tactic which is frequently used as a method of police harassment, then telling him that he should wait for people in the street to clear before entering. When he pointed out that he lived in this area, and that the people who were in the street did not, but had come from all over – and asking why he was not allowed to reach his home, when others who had no connection to the area were allowed free access through the cordon, they asked him if he had ever visited the Acropolis, telling him that this was now his chance and that he should wait until Chrysi Avgi had left before entering his home.
As the main conflict died down, the police then asked supporters of Chrysi Avgi to point out “troublemakers”. When fascists pointed out who they wanted arrested, they moved in following their instructions, arresting twelve people, including the owner of the computer shop which was smashed and his pregnant wife, taking them to the immigration police headquarters. None of the fascists who had destroyed the shops, beaten the locals or stabbed the shop owner were arrested.
Although this is not the first time that the police have turned up and done nothing to prevent the attacks on shops and individuals, this is an escalation. They are now actively facilitating fascist actions, allowing them to attack with impunity, protecting them from being driven out by the locals and using state power to remove from the community anyone whom the fascists would like. No reasons were given for these arrests, they were simply bundled away – the reasons to be made up later.
Talking to some members of the Egyptian community, there is a great level of concern at this escalation. Although they note that there have been racist attacks for some time now, they say that there has been a major escalation since the election in May, when Chrysi Avgi gained seats in the parliament. Previously, they say, although these attacks took place, they were more random, but now they are co-ordinated and police facilitated. Moreover they talk of the government losing control and allowing the fascists to create a populist narrative against migrants and non-Greeks to distract from their own failings.
A number of those who turned up to protect the community in the face of the attacks yesterday were Egyptian, who live in the area and are familiar with the owner of the computer shop and have used his service, as were a number of those arrested. The main feeling within that community is hurt that Greek society is not protecting them. They point out the high taxes that they pay to the government in rates, electricity tax and insurance, yet this money is not spent on ensuring their security, but to enable those who destroy their businesses. They talk of the close historical links that Greece and Egypt have shared, fighting together in the second world war, and of the substantial Greek community in Egypt, particularly Alexandria. That relations between the communities have always been good, yet things have become so soured.
Any talk of Chrysi Avgi attacking “foreigners” is corrected, it is not “foreigners” which are being targeted, but those with darker skin. And indeed MichialLuliacos, the leader of Chrysi Avgi, has stated that those who are from outwith Europe, even if they are good citizens, are the enemy of the Greek people; but that those who come from within Europe, even if they are bad citizens, are their friends.
Last week, Ilias Panagiotaros, a MP for Chrysi Avgi stated that ” We are in civil war, and people who do not see this are like ostriches with their head in the sand….Greek society is ready to have a civil war”. For once, he may well be right. People here talk openly of bad things coming, that this is just the beginning and that things will get much worse before they get better. The escalation of the attacks in the past few months, coupled with the collusion between the fascists and the police becoming more and more open is polarising Greek society, even between ethnic communities there are tensions as each community alleges that it is other communities which are the problem not them – demonstrating a level of internalisation of the “migrant threat”.
Again tonight, fascists and their supporters gathered just metres from the smashed shops – chanting and threatening those around. On passing through, it was horrifying how ordinary many of the people looked, people that you would pass by on the street without thought, yet joining a baying mob in an area where violent attacks were becoming commonplace. There seems no end in sight to the tension, and no will from the state to protect those who face harassment, intimidation and violence.
Things are indeed likely to get worse before they get better, how much worse remains to be seen.