Greece: Wave of Racist Attacks on Immigrants in Athens

In the past days, right-wing extremists in Athens, Greece have launched pogrom-like attacks on immigrants in the downtown Athens area. It began on May 10, 2011, one day after a 44-year old escorting his pregnant wife to the hospital was mugged and stabbed to death. There is no evidence as to the identity of the killers, but racist gangs have gone on something like vengeance spree on immigrants -or even foreign-looking Greeks- who they hold generally responsible for rising crime and unemployment in Greece.

A protest against the killing of the expectant father on May 10, in the same location where the mugging happened, drew a crowd of hundreds that eventually led to the attacks.

A man injured in racist attack after protest in Athens, 12 May 2011. Photo by Epoca Libera, copyright Demotix

A man injured in racist attack after protest in Athens, 12 May 2011. Photo by Epoca Libera, copyright Demotix

Dozens of people have been injured in the past days, and there has also been one death, which is still being investigated for motive. There has been a marked increase in incidents of violence against immigrants and asylum-seekers in Greece in recent years, but this degree of openly racist violence in the streets is unprecedented.

Twitter has erupted with reactions from citizens.

Media reports

Media professional @doleross provided live news coverage of the attacks on immigrants following the protest around 18:00 on May 10.

@doleross: Σε “κυνηγητό” κατά μεταναστώνστην 3η Σεπτεμβρίου έχουν επιδοθεί οι συγκεντρωμένοι για την δολοφονία του 44χρονου.Εμφανίστηκαν τα ΜΑΤ #rbnews

@doleross: Demonstrators against killing of 44-year old are on immigrant “manhunt” on September III Street. Riot police appeared.

@doleross: MEGA τώρα: Ακροδεξιοί στην 3η Σεπετεμβρ. δέρνουν και κυνηγούν μέχρι μέσα στα σπίτια τους αλλοδαπούς. Η αστυνομία δεν επεμβαίνει. #rbnews

@doleross: MEGA TV now: Right wing extremists on September III Street, beating and chasing immigrants, even into their homes. Police not intervening.

@doleross: Πληροφορίες αναφέρουν ότι ομάδες “τιμωρών” έχουν βγει κ σε άλλες περιοχές της Αθήνας κ άλλων δήμων, “αναζητώντας” αλλοδαπούς.#rbnews

@doleross: Reports that “vigilante” squads are scouring areas of Athens and other municipalities, “seeking” immigrants.

Greek expats summarized the distressing news. Film producer Yanni Koutsomytis tweeted in English:

@YanniKouts: Racial violence erupts in downtown Athens following killing of a 44-yr Greek man. Ultra-right groups indiscriminately attack immigrants now

Greek new media theorist Nikos Smyrnaios observed in French:

@smykos: Grèce, une société au bord de l'implosion: un homme assassiné sauvagement à Athènes => des extrémistes racistes pourchassent des immigrés.

@smykos: Greece, a society about to implode: a man savagely assassinated in Athens => racist extremists chase immigrants.

Eyewitness reports

"This is Greece". Twitpic photo by Nektarios Sylligardakis.

"This is Greece". Twitpic photo by Nektarios Sylligardakis.

Eyewitness reports of attacks on immigrants between 19:00 and 21:00 were sparse, but dramatic:

@nsyll: Κυνηγούν ποιον είναι λίγο μελαψός

@nsyll: They're chasing everyone a bit dark

@potmos: Σπάνε 1-2 καταστήματα “ξένων” τώρα Αχαρνών

@potmos:They're smashing 1-2 shops of “foreigners” now, in Acharnon Street

@bezesteni: Καμμια 50ρια φασίστες και περίεργοι μεσήλικες Ηπείρου και Γ´ Σεπτεμβρίου. Αρκετοί νεαροί με μαυροκόκκινα στην Αχαρνών και τα γύρω στενά.

@bezesteni: About 50 fascists and middle-aged onlookers, Ipirou and September III Street. Several youths wearing red and black in Acharnon Street and adjacent alleys

@zairacat: damage control: μαθαίνω ότι υπάρχουν πολλοί μετανάστες χτυπημένοι στα εφημερεύοντα νοσοκομεία.

@zairacat: damage control: have been told many beaten immigrants admitted to hospitals on call.

The wave of racist attacks in Athens continued the following days, with one killing of an immigrant man possibly linked to racial motives [el], arson attacks [el] and a second anti-migrant pogrom following a protest [el].

Reactions on Twitter

Sharply divided, the Greek twittersphere reacted to the news of he lethal mugging and the racist violence that followed with a mixture of outrage, apprehension and resignation.

The media were also blamed by many for inflaming racial hatred.

@doleross: Λάδι στην φωτιά ρίχνουν ανεύθυνα δημοσιεύματα από “ενηνερωτικά” πορταλς με τίτλους όπως: «Φόβοι για νέα “Δεκεμβριανά”» #rbnews

@doleross: Irresponsible articles by “news” portals fanning the flames, with titles like “Fears of new ‘December riots'”

@radicalalchemist: ΣΚΑΙ: “Απο τις κάμερες φαίνεται οτι είναι μαροκινής ή αλγερινής καταγωγής” Κάμερες που κάνουν και ταυτοποίηση στοιχείων φαντάζομαι έ?

@radicalalchemist: SKAI (TV channel): “CCTV footage shows assailants are Moroccans or Algerians” Cameras identifying people now?

@Cyberela: Θα το ρίξουν στο μεταναστευτικό κύμα των λαών της Νότιας Αφρικής και της Μέσης Ανατολής.

@Cyberela: They'll now blame it on the migration wave from Middle East and North Africa

A distressing allegation was made by Constantinos Alexacos:

@constantnos: Εδώ και μήνες υπάρχουν blogs φερόμενων αστυνομικών και ακροδεξιών που λένε ότι θα κάνουνε πολιτοφυλακή. Ουδείς ίδρωσε…

@constantnos: Alleged police and right-wing blogs have been warning for months about setting up militias. No one cared…

Some Twitter users pointed out core issues engendering violence in the city center. The demographics of entire housing blocks have changed, as right-wing groups have mounted more anti-immigrant campaigns.

@Anastasialadiab: Πόσο ανόητοι όσοι πιστεύουν ότι για την εξαθλίωση του κέντρουτης Αθήνας φταίνε οι μετανάστες κ όχι αυτοί που έδιωξαν τους Μόνιμους Κατοικους

@Anastasialadiab: How foolish are those who believe that immigrants are to blame for the degradation of Athens downtown, and not those who drove away the permanent residents.

And urged authorities to react to the growing humanitarian crisis facing Athens:

@mao_tse_tung: η τραγικότητα του σημερινού εγκλήματος μπορεί να γίνει εξαιρετική αφορμή για ν αρχίσει η προσπάθεια να αλλάξει η κατάσταση. Δήμαρχε ξύπνα!

@mao_tse_tung: today's tragic crime can provide excellent motivation in an attempt to change things. Wake up, Mayor!

While others mused on the self-perpetuating nature of violence:

@nsyll: όταν απαντάς στην βία με βία σίγουρα έχεις χάσεις κάθε δικαίωμα να ζητάς ανθρωπιά

@nsyll: when you answer violence with violence, you've surely lost all rights of recourse to humanity

As interest on Twitter abruptly moved on to other things for the night, like the popular Eurovision song contest, Helena Chari offered a damning deadpan:

@helena_chari: ελλαδα: ουτε euro, ουτε vision, μονο eurovision

@helena_chari: Greece: no euro, no vision, just Eurovision


  • Alicia

    Why are the attackers described as “right wingers”?

  • julia

    It becomes really annoying! Now, they start the endless complaining about discrimination. So that?! AS every there in this unfair world.

  • They were described as right wing extremists by police, the media & citizen reporters, they acted like right wing extremists, and right wing extremist organizations openly admitted to taking part in rallies that devolved into pogrom-like attacks on immigrants.

    • Aris

      Is this journalism? Interpretations and not facts? What are your sources? Specifically I mean.
      “They acted like right wing extremists”? “They acted like” is a fact? I also guess you haven’t seen “left” wing extremists in your life. Have you? Or were you looking the other way perhaps?

      It is very a-la-mode now-a days to provoke and associate the frustration of citizens loosing their country with the left or the right, and attach “racism” xenophobia” and all the rest of human rights bullshit that serve as trojan horse to invade and demolish a society.
      I call this pure and mean propaganda. Feeding on the public with biased opinions like parrots.
      If you do not live in Greece, go visit and find out for yourself. If you do live in Greece, I bet you live in the northern suburbs of Athens, far and away from where the “unlucky” 44 year old was massacred by three North Africans as the video from nearby cameras and now in possession of the police shows.

      One thing is sure, oneiros, that you need an oneirokriti.

  • Adde

    @ Oneiros Perhaps you are right, but I think Alicia asked the question because of this :

    And if what is written in this article from balkanalysis is right, I finally understood why the greek police didn’t intervene vigourusly to stop the attackers.

    I lived in Athens at the beginning of the 2000s and it’s sad to see what is happening in this city.


    • I wasn’t aware of that analysis, specifically which part are you referring to? It’s certainly a complicated issue, but there can be no excuse for the police tolerating vigilantism of any kind (let alone reports of police collusion with extremists eg., or for systematically allowing common crime to fester for whatever reasons. Athens has certainly changed markedly in recent years, esp. since 2004, but the dramatic deterioration of living & social standards cannot be attributed to immigrants alone.

  • […] This post was originally published by Global Voices Online […]

  • uk2011

    The photo of that man who had been attacked with blood running down his face from his forehead is disgusting. How can someone do that to another person? Especially someone innocent?

    I don’t have a heart of stone but I am rarely moved by pictures. But this picture is just sickening. How are immigrants to blame? That people would fall for the scare tactics of the media is beyond pathetic.

    Shame on these idiots for encouraging violence like this.

    • I was very conflicted about including this photo, but as a photojournalist myself, I believe in the power of the image to speak volumes; and that photo conveys an important part of what’s happening in Athens as we speak (the other parts being the violence itself, and the fear felt by residents and shop owners). Escalated attacks on immigrants are going unreported and an atmosphere of fear pervades the downtown, gripping residents and immigrants alike.

  • reinalda

    Aren’t we jumping a bit fast on the “pogrom” wagon here?
    So someone got beat up?! It happens everywhere, all the time! That guy prob got beat up in his country quite a bit- did it make big “pogrom”, “racial war” headlines? Doubt it!

    Hardly a big whoopty-doo, lighten up!

    • Arbeiten

      That is one of the more cretinous things I have read in a while. ‘That guy probably got beat up in his country quite a bit’ – well, thats just a naked assertion out of nowhere isn’t it? In any case there is a qualitative difference between getting a slap in your home town (though, I doubt he was in regular fights as your post seems to suggest) and being a migrant worker in Europe and having a group of Europeans try cave your head in because they perceive you as the cause of rising crime and faltering job markets (your aware of Greece’s economic state right?). This is quite clearly a racist attack, that doesn’t mean ‘race war’ (whatever that means, apart from being a populist byword for avoiding issues of racism), it means a guy got beaten up for being black and all the associations that colour still seems to have in Europe, especially when it’s not looking good socio-economically (which btw, is not my form of apologism, someone should never be beaten because of their ‘race’ just because there is wider social unrest).

  • […] blogger Cosmix breaks with his usual subjects to dissect the causes of recent rampant violence against immigrants in Athens, urging for swift justice for the victims of extremism. “Anything else risks inciting a cycle […]

  • […] the police and restore public trust, in light of recent police violence and failure to deal with a wave of anti-immigrant attacks in Athens. “As long as we tolerate this incompetence, we will suffer from an under-performing police […]

  • Kyle

    It’s funny that when nationals in a place like Greece really stand up for themselves against foreigners going to their country and causing crime, the way many minorities do in the U.S., the media is so quick to call them for their racism…but, these people won’t dare do articles about the whites that get killed in South Africa…or the racial violence against actual Europeans from non-European groups.

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