The violence gripping Greece is not only economic, but also physical. Last week a young Pakistani man was murdered on the street by two men on motorcycles. Along with a collection of armory – bats, guns and knifes – found in the murder’s home was a collection of pre-election Golden Dawn leaflets. Predictably the government condemned the murder – politically however their strongest condemnation was of Syriza (The Coalition of the Radical Left) who they accused of making political capital from it, rather than the Golden Dawn, who were directly implicated. Of course they condemned the murder – they could hardly announce that they welcomed it – but actions speak far louder than words and the racism and terrorism of the Greek state escalates by the day.
Wandering around Athens town centre this weekend with friends who were visiting, they were shocked to see what has now become a commonplace sight – people with dark skin tones being lined up against a wall, surrounded by police, prior to being marched off. As one of my friends attempted to take a picture of this from the other side of the road, the police immediately reacted, shouting in Greek, pointing and motioning towards her. Thankfully she was able to scoot off round a corner before they were able to give chase returning to gather the men together as they prepared to take them away.
Police randomly stopping Black people in the street, demanding their details and performing searches as a means of intimidation no longer shocks anyone who lives in central Athens …but it should. For in addition to the racist violence of Chysti Avgi street gangs, the behaviour of the police makes the streets very unsafe places to be for anyone who isn’t white. Venture onto the streets with a Black skin and you may well find yourself detained at a police station for many hours, and even perhaps days. Venture onto the streets with a Black skin and without the necessary paperwork and you may find yourself locked up for months at a time in a concentration camp.
The streets are also deeply unsafe for women. I see very, very few women on central town streets especially at night and it is rare to find a woman walking alone. The only exceptions I have noted are Somali women who have quite a wee street community going on very close to where I live and women who are involved in the street prostitution industry. The reasons for this are not hard to find: the street harassment is constant, men leer, kerbcrawl and make sexualised comments. Walking home alone after an event last week, a car pulled up along side me and a man shouted at me from the car in Greek. Hardly an unusual experience, but as it caught my attention, I realised that it was a police car. I ignored them and carried on walking as they followed me slowly along the deserted street for a good thirty seconds, only eventually driving off when I reached a main road.
For both women and Blacks the streets can be a scary place – the physical and sexual violence of racists and predators is amplified by the behavior of the police. The official website of the police posts daily updates on Operation Zeus – the “clean up operation” currently going on in Greece. It makes for horrifying reading.
- On the 14th January, 596 people were rounded up of which 10 did not have legal papers; eleven women were snatched from brothels accused of “violations of morals”
- On the 15th January, 267 people were rounded up of which 63 did not have legal papers; one person’s home was raided, and eleven women were snatched from the street and accused of prostitution.
- On the 16th January, 466 people were rounded up of which 5 did not have legal papers; 23 women were snatched from the street and accused of prostitution.
- On the 17th January, 442 people were rounded up of which 20 did not have legal papers; 15 women were snatched from the street and accused of prostitution.
- On the 18th January, 295 people were rounded up of which 18 did not have legal papers; thirteen homes were raided.
- On the 19th January, 287 people were rounded up of which 11 did not have legal papers.
- On the 20th January, 37 people were rounded up.
In one week that gives a total of 2,390 people snatched from the streets of which only 127 (approx 5%) had no legal papers and fourteen homes raided. Additionally forty-nine women were snatched from the street and accused of prostitution while eleven women were snatched and arrested from where they were being sexually exploited and abused. It should be noted that not a single one of the sexual predators that are currently roaming the streets around Omonia were picked up.
For many the safest area in Athens is Exachia, the radical area. Police are unwelcome there, the main square hosts a huge banner declaring that immigrants are welcome and there is a far higher presence of women on the streets and in the square than in any other urban area. Yet Exachia has become the new arena for state terror.
When my friends and I went for a drink later that evening in Exachia, we watched as huge numbers of armed police dressed in full riot suits, helmets and equipped with tear gas canisters moved in en masse to the area. In response to no definable threat they suddenly started nabbing people from the square and dragging them away bodily. Later reports suggest that thirteen people were snatched and later released. The following night again sat in a bar in Exachia, just prior to meeting another friend in the square we saw dozens of motorcycle police from the notoriously Chrysti Avgi infected Delta units descend on the area. Rushing out of the bar, we watched them beat people in the streets before throwing flashbangs in our direction, forcing us to run quickly up the street, all the while fearing that other police may be waiting in side-streets with teargas.
Teargassing is common here and people routinely carry gasmasks and neutralising agents to demonstrations to lessen its effects, but 10 pm on a weekend night relaxing in a city centre social hub is not where you expect to be randomly attacked with chemical weapons, beaten and dragged off to a cell. When it was safe to return, we warily went back to the square, where people with streaming eyes were choking. The police had teargassed and then invaded the square, beating people and dragging them away – in all twenty two had been snatched.
Yet neither of these attacks have been reported in the Greek press. Had this been Strathy Polis (bless their little cotton socks) attacking people on Ashton Lane with chemical weapons, beating bystanders and dragging them off to the cells, it would have made the front page of the Herald. Hell ….even the BBC might even have considered it mildly newsworthy so long as there wasn’t too much snow in England. But the Greek press is very highly selective in what it reports.
The political violence it will report on is that aimed at mainstream parties and obedient journalists. This too is escalating. There have been a massive number of actions in solidarity with Villa Amalias and Skaramanga since the evictions started last month – banner drops, symbolic occupations, radio station invasions and solidarity marches are just some of the tactics used by peaceful protesters to highlight the increasingly critical situation in Greece – none of which are covered by the mainstream media. It does however report on this month’s wave of violent attacks aimed at members of the ruling coalition.
On the 11th January there were a spate of arson attacks aimed at journalists who have connections to the current regime. Responsibility was claimed by the Lovers of Lawlessness. Between the 11th-13th January a three day spate of arson attacks including attacks on six of the offices of New Democracy and PASOK (the main members of the ruling coalition), ten ATM machines and two bank branches as well as vehicles from the diplomatic corps, the police and the Hellenic Post service. An unnamed group claimed responsibility. More mysteriously, on the 14th January shots were fired at the Headquarters of New Democracy, a week later still no responsibility claim has been issued, neither has a responsibility claim emerged for the attack on a shopping mallon the outskirts of Athens on Sunday.
These four attacks are being conflated within the mainstream press, however astute observers have noted that the last two do not fit the general pattern of left-wing violence, which tend not to be firearm based, tend to be aimed at political or state authority rather than commercial targets and prioritises the minimisation of casualties; prompting commentators to speculate about what the real motivation of these attacks might be – noting that there is a history of the “deep state” within Greek society, and its intervention cannot be ruled out in this instance.
Syriza has publically stated that there is little to be gained by the left from the gun attack on New Democracy questioning whether it is yet another diversionary tactic to distract attention away from the Leguarde List scandal which grows by the day, while New Democracy seeks to make political capital from them – demanding that Syriza “gives up its hooded children” implicating them in the violence. An insight into the government strategy was given to the New York Times at the weekend by a senior official who spoke only on condition of anonymity. Acknowledging that the raids on the squats had incited the violence and that any further escalation could inflame the situation further he claimed that it was necessary to demonstrate that the government would move forcefully – suggesting that “militant trade unions” might be next in the front line should they oppose Samaras’ austerity and privatisation measures.
In December, the government announced that it was setting up “Urban Patrols” to monitor areas with high levels of immigrants. At the weekend, in an interview on Egyptian television following the anti-fascist rally, a government spokesman announced that a new unit of the police would be established to attempt to counter street violence - acknowledging the fascist infiltration into the Hellenic Police Service, he suggested that this would be from an entirely different source. Given the lack of details about the contract which has been signed between the Greek Government and Blackwater, this is somewhere on a scale between deeply worrying and fucking terrifying.
For it is not the hooded children of Villa Amalias who should be feared, but those who live in far bigger villas cloaked in the legitimacy of the state.