Friday 18 January 2013

The ugly face of racism

Racist thugs riding their motorbikes at night, looking for another victim, is becoming a common phenomenon on the streets of Greece. The latest victim was a Pakistani worker who was murdered while on his way to work in the early hours of Thursday January 17th. The racists stabbed him to death.  Neighbours who heard his screams managed to get the bike's number plate and alerted the authorities who have arrested the perpetrators. The following were found in the house of one of them: Neo-Nazi leaflets, bullets, an airgun, knives, batons. So, despite the fact that the Greek police are trying to persuade us that the murder did not have a racist motive, the evidence suggests otherwise.

Will they be punished? That is a good question. To this day no perpetrator of a racist attack has yet been prosecuted in the Greek courts. The authorities are turning a blind eye to racist violence and it is estimated that 50% of the Greek police force voted for the Neo-Nazi party in the last elections. Victims are discouraged from filing complaints if they have been atttacked and are threatened with detention by the police.

Amnesty International has issued a report condemning Greek authorities for their inability to tackle racist violence.

Here are some figures which are only the tip of the iceberg given that most of these crimes are not reported.  87 cases of racist violence were reported in the period between January and September 2012, 50 of which were serious. 80 of those were carried out in public places.

The case of Mr Kapetanopoulos who witnessed four policemen savagely beating an immigrant is an example of the racism of the Greek police. Mr Kapetanopoulos felt compelled to ask the police why they were beating a man who was already on the ground. The result of his query was that the man was beaten even more savagely and Mr Kapetanopoulos was charged with four offences: giving false testimony; resisting arrest; attempting to kidnap a suspect; being an accomplice in a robbery. Commenting on the vindictiveness of both the police and the prosecutor, Mr Kapetanopoulos' lawyer made the point that the aim of all of this is not the prosecution of his client, but the wish to instil fear in the population so that they don't respond to and condemn racist violence.

It is not just immigrants who are the victims of racist abuse. As part of the Xenios Zeus government initiative to detain and arrest illegal immigrants, hundreds of people of colour have been stopped, detained and in a lot of cases, beaten up by the Greek police. (You can see more on Xenios Zeus, here , here , here and here ). The criterion is the colour of one's skin and consequently tourists have been stopped as well and in some cases, beaten up. Korean backpacker Hyung Young Jung was stopped by a scruffy looking man in a street of Athens. Thinking it might be some sort of scam he politely dismissed the man and walked on only to be stopped by a man dressed in police uniform a few moments later who asked him for his passport. Mr Jung showed his passport but also asked to see identification - he got a punch in the face instead. Within minutes he was on the ground being punched by the police officer and the man in plain clothes. He was then dragged to the police station and punched again before being led inside. A third attack occured on the stairs where there were no witnesses or cameras. When he was released a few hours later as he was leaving the police station, one police officer shouted: 'hey Korean, go back home'.

Mr Ukwuorji, an American citizen was also arrested despite the fact that he showed the Greek police his American passport. He was beaten up in the police station so badly that he passed out. Mr Ukwuorji has, with the help of the US Embassy, lodged a complaint. Six months later he is still waiting for an outcome.

In May last year, a visiting academic from India was also detained when he popped out of the University to get himself some lunch. Despite protestations from his Greek colleagues who witnessed the arrest, the police took him to the police station.

More than 60,000 people have been detained since operation Xenios Zeus was launched in August of this year, but only 4,200 people were found to be illegal immigrants - the rest were released.

As a consequence of  this, the last four months have seen a huge rise in the anti-racist/anti-fascist movement in Greece. There are over 400 organisations in cities, towns, even small villages, workplaces, educational institutions, all determined to stop the rise of this campaign of hatred. On the 12th of December, when members of the Neo-Nazi party threatened immigrants who owned small shops in Korydallos in Athens, 3,000 anti-fascists very quickly assembled and barred their way.

History has taught us that in times of austerity and economic crisis, the far right and its message of hatred gathers support. The rise of the far right in Greece, coupled with the racism of the majority of the police force and a state that is at the point of collapse, is a recipe that can only lead to disaster. It is not enough to condemn racism. Words are not sufficient anymore - action is needed.

Hasan was attacked in Athens by black-shirted men on motorbikes who knocked him unconscious. When he came to he was covered in blood. Only later would he realise that the men had left large gashes resembling an X on his back. Photograph by Giorgos Moutafis.

  • The Tourists Held by Greek Police as Illegal Migrants, by Chloe Hadjimatheou, BBC News, 10.1.2012
  • Kyriakatiki
  • To Vima
  • Kathimerini


Giorgos Moutafis, The Migrants' Odyssey,

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