Greece: Protesting football fans rampage in Thessaloniki

In an unexpected flareup up of football violence, fans of two local football clubs, Iraklis and PAOK, clashed in the center of Thessaloniki, Greece on April 26, 2011. They attacked storefronts, apartments buildings and parked vehicles, while riot police flooded the downtown area with tear gas. The trouble began when Iraklis fans converged to protest against the revocation of a license to play in an upcoming championship, in an area where PAOK fans usually gather to protest.

Residents expressed their outrage on Twitter and blogs, and wondered whether the rise in tension may also be connected to the growing despair over the financial crisis in Greece.

The following video shows an overhead view of the initial clashes near the historic Galerius Arch, including an exchange of flares between opposing fans:

Some residents used Twitter to warn off passersby,

@kontaxi: αποφύγετε την πλ. αγ. σοφίας και περιξ..δακρυγόνα-σπασίματα-κάδοι πήραν φωτία…

@kontaxi: avoid Aghias Sofias Sq. & environs… teargas – vandalism – trashbins on fire…

while others found themselves suddenly caught in a warzone, trying to protect themselves and their belongings:

@Armenoui: Πεδίο μάχης εμείς προσπαθούσαμε να προστατέψουμε τα σπίτια μας, αμαξια μηχανάκια..να σβήσουμε κάδους!

@Armenoui: A battlefield, we were trying to protect our homes, cars and mopeds.. to put out fires in trash bins!

@Armenoui: Ντροπή τους!! Δεν με νοιάζει αν ήταν ΗΡΑΚΛΉΣ ΠΑΟΚ ή ότι άλλο..εμπειρία απαίσια που θέλω να ξεχάσω! #fail

@Armenoui: Shame on them!! I don't care if they were IRAKLIS or PAOK fans or whatever.. a despicable experience which I want to forget #fail

@Armenoui: Αυτο τ σκαλακι αφού δεν τα κατάφερε κ ΔΕΝ ΠΈΤΥΧΕ τον μπαμπά νομίζω ότι δικαιωματικά μας ανήκει!Κάτι βγήκε απτο σημερινό.

@Armenoui: Since this stepladder managed to MISS dad, I think it rightfully belongs to us. A silver lining in tonight's goings on.

Teargas and smoke from burning trash bins engulfed a large part of the city center:

@StellaKarag: Όλη η Τσιμισκή μυρίζει δακρυγόνα. Αίσχος στους (ανεγκέφαλους) οπαδούς οποιασδήποτε ομάδας που κάψανε κάδους & όχι μόνο στο κέντρο.

@StellaKarag: All of Tsimiski St. reeks of teargas. Shame on the (brainless) fans of any team that burned trash bins, and not just in the downtown area.

Even some football fans were taken aback:

@quatzacoatl: Το ότι θα'τρωγα δακρυγόνο εξαιτίας του Ηρακλή δεν το περίμενα.

@quatzacoatl: I didn't expect to get teargassed because of Iraklis.

Freelance photojournalist and protest chronicler Craig Wherlock (@teacherdude) provided a comprehensive report of the clashes on Twitter on the following day, and posted a video of warzone-like footage, recording the immediate aftermath of the clashes:

@teacherdude: Riot and clashes with police in central Thessaloniki, Greece when fans of Iraklis FC protested over revoking of their licence to play
@teacherdude: There were also clashes between between PAOK fans and Iraklis fans which were broken up by riot police
@teacherdude: Still there was a lot of mindless violence from the Iraklis fans who attacked cafes and apt blocks for no apparent reason
@teacherdude: Extensive use of tear gas and flsh grenades by Greek riot police in Thessaloniki during demo which turned into riot. Video to follow
@teacherdude: Starbucks, MacDonalds attacked in Thessaloniki, Greece during football fan riot last night.

Both McDonalds and Starbucks have been repeatedly vandalized and torched by petrol bombs in recent years, during political protest rallies. Wherlock recounts this and two unrelated events in coffee shops in the space of 12 hours on his blog, and connects the violence to the mounting financial crisis gripping Greece:

The strangest thing about these riots was the composition and actions of those taking part, in contrast to other such clashes the participants were all ages, from kids of no more than ten to middle aged guys, nor were the targets of their wrath only the usual ones such as banks and government buildings but also included a seemingly random assortment of supermarkets, cafes and apartment blocks. The one thing that was sure was that the thousands who took to the street were outraged and their anger once started spiralled out of control, perhaps reflecting deeper frustrations many Greeks feel over how their lives are going. Pummelled by austerity measures and an economy in free fall many people are incensed by what is happening in the country and so looking to lash out.

Chronically beset by economic troubles, Thessaloniki is currently plagued by rising unemployment, at 25% [el], a downturn of local markets, of up to 40% [el], and dipping tourism income over the last two consecutive years [el]. Outbursts of vandalism may well be blamed on the financial crisis, just as they may also exacerbate the effects on the local economy.

Football riots in downtown Thessaloniki, April 26, 2011 – Photo by George Gatos ©

Frustrated, the co-host of a local Opencoffee event, George Gatos, compared a tourist video about the city with images from the night of the clashes:

Στο βίντεο έχουμε περιγραφές για το πως βλέπουν τη Θεσσαλονίκη οι ξένοι επισκέπτες αυτής, αν φυσικά είναι τυχεροί και δεν δουν αυτά που βλέπει ένας κάτοικος κέντρου στις 22:00 το βράδυ της Τρίτης μετά το Πάσχα [..] πέσαν μερικά δακρυγόνα, κάτι μπουκάλια, μερικές πέτρες και το πάρτυ έφυγε παραπάνω… Πέτυχα δυο ακόμα γνωστούς, ανταλλάξαμε τις εμπειρίες μας. Τον έναν τον κυνήγησαν γιατί φορούσε κάτι πράσινο, η άλλη ήταν μέσα στα αυτοκίνητο της πολύ κοντά στο σημείο που έγινε το ντου. Είπα να πάω σπίτι. Εκεί δίπλα κόσμος μαζεμένος και ένας σωριασμένος στην είσοδο πολυκατοικίας. Ήρθε το ασθενοφόρο, ζούσε αλλά δεν είχε επαφή. Αυτοί είναι μόνιμοι επισκέπτες της περιοχής, κι αυτοί άρρωστοι. Όχι με την ομάδα, με τη ντόπα.

The video contains descriptions of foreign visitors’ impressions of Thessaloniki, if they're lucky to avoid seeing what a downtown resident sees on a Tuesday night after Easter, at 22:00. [..] Some teargas rounds, flying bottles and rocks. Later the party moved uptown… I ran into a couple of acquaintances and we exchanged stories. One was chased for wearing green, the other was inside her car close to the clashes. I thought of going home. Nearby, a clump of people were gathered around a man slumped in the entrance of an apartment building. The ambulance came, he was alive but out of it. These are regular visitors to the area, who are also addicted. Not to a football team, but to drugs.

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