Over the past few months, as Greece has sunk deeper into crisis, racist attacks against immigrants have risen sharply. Unsatisfied with the police’s response to this violence, residents of Athens have taken to patrolling a neighbourhood where thugs are known to beat up immigrants and cause damage to their shops.
They call themselves “anti-fascists”. Their sworn enemy: Golden Dawn and its sympathisers. The far-right party, once considered to be on the fringe, has surged in popularity since winning an electoral foothold in parliament in June. Golden Dawn’s sworn enemy, meanwhile, is illegal immigrants, which they blame for the country’s economic woes. Just last month, one of the party’s leading lawmakers led a group of his men into a street market, where they demanded to see permits from any vendor who looked foreign. They even destroyed one of the stalls and scattered the merchandise. Vendors at the market said police stood by and watched.
After several such incidents, the government scrapped the police protection that Golden Dawn lawmakers had enjoyed since their election, as all lawmakers do in Greece. However, many human rights groups now accuse the police of looking the other way and even discouraging victims of violence from filing complaints. Sometimes, as an amateur video filmed earlier this year shows, police officers have even participated in violence against immigrants.
Anti-fascist demonstrators patrolling Athens on September 30. Passersby - apparently immigrants - cheer them as they drive down the street on their motorcycles.
“The police pushed the anti-fascists off their motorbikes and started beating them”
Potmos (not his real name), 33, is a systems network administrator. He is part of Athens’ anti-fascist movement.
Responding to calls made on online media and through Facebook, anti-fascists have so far organised three patrols on motorbikes, each one bigger than the next. Some people assume we are all anarchists, but in fact there are people from different political persuasions – I believe all of them, however, are on the left. But we have no specific agenda apart from combating violence against immigrants. Everyone can join. Many of the volunteers are children of immigrants. Each time, we meet in Exharchia, a neighbourhood where many immigrants live and where Golden Dawn thugs carry out their “crackdowns”.The first two times, things went well. I myself did not ride a motorbike, but many of my friends did, and I joined them at the meeting point in Exharchia to support them. The patrols were planned on nights when we had heard Golden Dawn members were planning crackdowns, but they were nowhere to be seen. Our goal, in fact, was to dissuade them from coming out. Neighbourhood residents I spoke to were quite happy to see somebody was on their side.“Golden Dawn thugs were breaking the window of a store that apparently belonged to immigrants”The third time, however – which was our biggest patrol, with about 100 people on motorbikes on September 30 – things didn’t go so well. As my friends on bikes told it to me, they arrived at the spot where Golden Dawn members had planned to meet and saw four or five thugs breaking the window of a store that apparently belonged to immigrants. Some of the anti-fascists got angry and attacked them, pushing them away with force. The police, which had followed the motorcade, at this point attacked the anti-fascists and arrested four of them. Everybody else drove back to the meeting point, but they were ambushed by more police. What happened then was brutal – the police pushed people off their bikes and beat them. One person was badly beaten and was hit by a flash grenade. In the end 15 people were arrested. [They were let out on bail Friday. The Minister of Public Order, in a statement, referred to them as "extremists" and claimed they were being "mentored" by opposition parties.]“Those arrested were beaten, shot with Tasers, and even burnt with cigarette butts by police”They were charged with assault and disturbance of public order, which becomes a felony if you’re hiding your face - which was the case here, though not purposefully, as they were wearing motorcycle helmets! They were also charged with possessing weapons. And what were those “weapons”? The flags that were attached to their motorbikes! [Chrissa Petsimeri, a lawyer who represents several of those arrested, said that they were also accused of throwing stones at the police, a charge they deny.] During their five days in detention, several of them were beaten, shot with Tasers, and even burnt with cigarette butts by the police. [The lawyer, who took photos of these wounds, says she will be using them in court. She also added that the two women among the accused were called insulting and sexist names by the police officers, while the men, forced to strip naked, were allegedly hit on their genitals.]Despite this setback, there are plans for more motorcycle patrols. We’re hoping to avoid any violence or clashes with the police next time. Until the police can do their jobs and protect everyone who lives here, these patrols will go on.
Anti-fascist demonstrations have also recently taken place in other cities across the country, including Thessaloniki.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Gaelle Faure.