A meeting held to discuss problems allegedly linked to the Roma population in the small Greek village of Anthili turned into an all-out brawl on Wednesday. The mayhem was captured on video by our Observer.
The meeting was called by the mayor Lamia, the nearby city which administers Anthili village. Two weeks earlier, the mayor had closed a large Roma camp just north of Lamia, which had caused an influx of families into Anthili.
Greece is home to about 250,000 Roma. Spread throughout the country, they live for the most part on the outskirt of cities. Some of them have kept their nomadic traditions and customs alive. However, many have taken up a sedentary and urban lifestyle. The nomadic Roma living in camps tend to live on the margins of society and are frequently the victims of discrimination.
Housing is a recurring problem for this community. Many Roma live in tents pitched on land that does not belong to them, and are sometimes forcefully evicted.
Photos and video taken by our Observer.
“The economic crisis has stoked the hatred of the Greeks towards the Roma”
Nick Parmenopoulos lives in Lamia and writes for the alternative news site Altpress Fthiotida. He filmed several videos of the skirmishes in Anthili.
The Roma of the village were not invited to the meeting, but they decided to attend nonetheless. They felt it was perfectly normal for them to go because the meeting was about them. But when they arrived at the city hall, incensed villagers barred their way, which led to a brawl. A dozen local members of Golden Dawn [editor’s note: a radical right-wing party that has become increasingly popular due to the economic crisis] were in attendance and also itching for a fight. However their leader told them not to get involved. The Golden Dawn members had come to the meeting because a local councilmember had asked them to ensure the security of the meeting, but they only watched. In the end, the police came in and broke up the fight. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt.A significant number of villagers are angry not only with the Roma, but also against Mayor George Kotronias because he ordered the closure of the camp north of Lamia, known locally as Xireas. About 200 Roma families had been living at this abandoned campsite, some for over three decades. When they were kicked out, many of these families went to find relatives or friends who had bought houses at the outskirts of Anthili. About twenty families had been able to buy these houses a decade ago due to subsidies provided at the time by the European Union.Among the villagers who attended the meeting, many complained that there were increasingly more Roma children in their classrooms and that they tended to be dirty, sick, etc. The principal of the school tried to explain that, legally, these Roma children were just as entitled to attend the school as the other children, which led to indignant shouts.The mayor indicated during the meeting that he had called a lawyer to arrange a relocation of these recently-arrived Roma into a new camp. But I’ve seen this camp, and it could at most only fit about ten to fifteen families…The economic crisis has stoked the hatred of the Greeks towards the Roma community. Many Greeks are convinced that Roma are not only thieves — which I think is only the case for a minority of Roma — but that they take advantage of the welfare programmes provided by the government. But the austerity measures implemented by the Greek government over the past months have considerably decreased these subsidies.And now, in Anthili, the craziest rumours are gaining traction. The Roma are saying that hundreds of members of Golden Dawn want to attack them and burn them alive. But there are also rumours that the Roma will attack villagers. To sum up, everyone is afraid of everyone.
Mayor George Kotronias addresses Anthili villagers.