Police violence is increasing in Greece, but government is unconcerned

Director Dimitris Indares wearing a neck collar after his violent arrest by Athens police. Widely circulated photo online.

Since Greece elected a new government, led by the New Democracy party, in June 2019, instances of police violence have come to dominate public debate. One of the latest incidents involves a December 18 police raid on squats in Athens, during which a renowned film director was beaten, injured and arrested for refusing to comply with police orders.

In November, Minister of Citizen Protection Michalis Chrysochoidis, who is in charge of law enforcement forces, issued an ultimatum: squats occupying public and private buildings should be evacuated within two weeks. Squatting, a phenomenon mainly affecting Greece's largest cities, is presented by the current government as a manifestation of the anarchist ideology that supposedly supports terrorists and migrants.

Following the minister's announcement, several police operations took place, mostly in the capital, to evacuate buildings. On December 18 at 7 a.m., the target was three occupied buildings in Koukaki, a prestigious district in central Athens, where police arrested nine people. A resident of a nearby house said she'd been subjected to violence and threats as police officers broke into her home, beating and arresting her husband and son:

Ήρθαν τα ΜΑΤ και ζήτησαν να περάσουν από το σπίτι για να μπουν στο διπλανό. Ζητήσαμε χαρτί Εισαγγελέα για να περάσουν. Κάποια στιγμή ακούσαμε βήματα στη δική μας ταράτσα και πήγαν ο άντρας μου και τα παιδιά μου να δουν τι γίνεται. Ζήτησαν χαρτί Εισαγγελέα και σε απάντηση τους έβαλαν κάτω, τους έδεσαν τα χέρια και τους πλάκωσαν στο ξύλο. Πήγα να δω τι γίνεται και με απείλησαν και μου είπαν: Φύγε γιατί θα σε πετάξουμε από τη σκάλα.

[…] Είδα άνθρωπο των ΜΑΤ να έχει πατήσει το κεφάλι του γιου μου στο πάτωμα της ταράτσας. Ζητήσαμε Εισαγγελέα. Τους ξυλοκόπησαν και τους πήγαν στην ΓΑΔΑ. […]

The police came and asked to enter the house to get to the adjacent one. We asked for a prosecutor's warrant. At some point, we heard footsteps on our own rooftop, and my husband and my children went to see what was going on. They asked for a warrant and in response [the police] put them down, tied their hands and beat them severely. I went to see what was going on and they threatened me by saying: Go away, because otherwise we will throw you off the ladder.

[…] I saw a MAT man [a member of Greece's riot police unit] slamming my son's head on the rooftop floor. We asked for a prosecutor's warrant. They were beaten and taken to the police HQ. […]

As it turned out, the resident's husband is famous film director Dimitris Indares, best known for his 1995 film “Like A Prairie Cock in Wyoming” (1995).

Police and government ministers deny any wrongdoing

According to the authorities’ version of events — the credibility of which has been challenged several times — Indares and his son were “reacting to the police operation”. In a statement, Minister Chrysochoidis defended police actions, asserting that during the standoff, officers “did not commit any violence other than necessary”, “suffered disproportionate violence”, and “were in danger”.

Yet, a photo, initially shared on Twitter by photographer Nikos Christophakis, depicts someone (likely a woman) sitting on the terrace of the raided squat, hog-tied and barefoot, head covered with a black hood. The photo went viral on social media platforms, even though the original tweet has been taken down.

Photo depicting a person thrown on the floor, tied and hooded. Image widely circulated online, and used by the daily newspaper Avgi].

Meanwhile, the private television channel, Open TV, broadcast an audio clip from Indares’ arrest, as recorded by neighbours. In an attempt to discredit both the family's testimony and the audiovisual footage, police revised their initial story, saying that the family's two sons were members of the squat and tried to jump onto a neighbouring rooftop. The police spokesperson also accused Indares of trying to seize an officer's gun:

Οι εικόνες που κυκλοφορούν στο διαδίκτυο είναι παραπλανητικές. Δεν υπάρχουν κουκούλες, ούτε γυναικεία παρουσία, ούτε αναιτιολόγητη βία. Οι τρεις άνδρες έχουν συλληφθεί και προσήχθησαν στην Ασφάλεια Αττικής.

The photos circulating online are misleading. There are no hoods, no female presence, no unreasonable violence. The three men have been arrested and taken to Internal Security.

In a television interview, Minister of Development Adonis Georgiades wondered why the family refused to cooperate during the squat evacuation: “The persons arrested were somehow aiding the squatters, that's why they didn't allow the police to enter their house”.

According to Article 9 of the Greek Constitution, “every person’s home is a sanctuary” and “violators shall be punished for violating the home’s asylum and for abuse of power”.

The opposition and the arts community support Indares

Pushing back against the state's narrative, members of the political opposition and the arts community have defended Indares and his sons. Citing medical reports from public hospitals, Giannis Ragkousis, head of the Division of Citizen Protection of the SYRIZA opposition party, complained that police officers shot at least one woman at close range with a plastic bullet.

Police responded to this accusation by resorting to semantics, claiming they had used not plastic bullets but rubber launchers the size of ping-pong balls.

On social media, Greek artists expressed anger at Indares’ arrest and the police version of events. The Greek Film Academy reaffirmed its unequivocal support for Indares and his family, while another well-known director, Pantelis Voulgaris, said during a radio broadcast that he found Indares’ arrest “inconceivable”.

Mixing outrage with irony, netizens chimed in with their support:

Μπουκάρουν τα ΜΑΤ στο σπίτι σου, όχι γιατί συμβαίνει κάτι στο σπίτι σου, αλλά γιατί θέλουν να μπουν στο διπλανό κτήριο. Ζητάς εισαγγελέα (όπως προβλέπει ο νόμος). Η απάντηση είναι ξύλο, δέσιμο χειροπόδαρα και απειλές.
Μπράβο στον υπουργό Μιχάλη. Από overdose κανονικότητας θα πάμε σ’ αυτή τη χώρα.

The MAT storm your home, not because something is happening inside, but because they want to get to the building next door. You are demanding the presence of a Prosecutor (as required by law). The answer is beating, tying hands and feet, and threats.
Well done, Minister Michalis. We will die from an overdose of ‘normality’ in this country.

Fellow Facebook user Anna Zabel commented on the counterarguments offered to justify violence/killings by the police over the years:

2008: Τι δουλειά είχε στα Εξάρχεια;
2013: Τι δουλειά είχε να τσακώνεται για τη μπάλα;
2018: Τι δουλειά είχε μέσα στο μαγαζί του άλλου;
2019: Τι δουλειά έχετε μέσα στα σπίτια σας;

2008: How come he was in Exarchia? [Young student Alexis Grigoropoulos killed by the police in Exarchia]
2013: How come he was arguing about football? [Antifascist musician Pavlos Fyssas killed by neonazi Golden Dawn, initially reported as a football argument]
2018: How come he was inside another person's shop? [LGBTQI activist Zak Kostopoulos lynched outside a jewellery shop, initially reported as an attempted burglary]
2019: How come you are inside your homes?

Anti-squatter sentiment voiced on social media

Not everyone supports Indares or his act of solidarity with squatters, however. Some citizens back the police actions and paint the director as an anarchist, with some tweets adopting a racist tone:

How come Mr. Indares’ family (and is that a Greek name?) was inside their house, all of them, so early?
Don't they have a job to go [to]?
Some guys like them miss the allowances Kyriakos [Mitsotakis, the Greek PM] cut them and now they cry

Παράσιτα της κοινωνίας … ανάξιοι λόγου … βδελυρά υποκείμενα που κειμενονται μεταξύ μαρξισμού και ωφελιμισμού.
– Ioannis Chassiotis, Facebook

Parasites of society…unworthy of mentioning…hideous specimens lying between Marxism and utilitarianism.

Some of the attacks against Indares have been leveled by members of the ruling party, such as New Democracy Minister of Parliament Giannis Loverdos:

Αφού δεν μπόρεσε να διακριθεί ως πετυχημένος σκηνοθέτης στην μυθοπλασία του κινηματογράφου, ελπίζει σε νέα καριέρα μετατρέποντας την πραγματικότητα σε μύθο, προς τέρψιν των ιδεοληπτικών συντρόφων του της αριστεράς!

After failing to succeed as a successful director in film fiction, he aspires a new career turning reality into fiction, to the delight of his leftist comrades!

Facebook user Chris Toutouzas noted that such claims are ironic, given that Indares is known for his rightist views:

[…] απλά να αναφέρουμε πως είναι γνωστό τοις πάσι, πως ο συγκεκριμένος σκηνοθέτης είναι ένας πολύ ήρεμος και πράος άνθρωπος, δεξιών πεποιθήσεων, που κάνει πολύ καλά τη δουλειά του. […] Στον Δημήτρη Ινδαρέ, έχει συμπαρασταθεί μέχρι τώρα, ΟΛΟΣ ο αναρχικός και αριστερός κόσμος της χώρας, όχι γιατί περιμένει κάτι […]

ΟΛΟΙ οι άνθρωποι της […] “Δικής του τάξης” ΔΥΟ μέρες τώρα τον αποκαλούν κάθαρμα, άπλυτο, καθίκι, καταληψία και ρωτάνε τι έκανε 6 το πρωί αυτός και η οικογένειά του, ΜΕΣΑ ΣΤΟ ΣΠΙΤΙ ΤΟΥΣ! […]

[…] just to mention that it is well known that this director is a very calm and serene right wing person, who does his job very well. […] ALL the anarchists and leftists of the country have up until now expressed their support to him, not because they expect something in return […]

ALL the people of […] ‘his own class’ TWO days now have been calling him a scum, a dirty bastard son-of-a-bitch, a squatter. And asking how come he and his family were INSIDE THEIR OWN HOME at 6 in the morning! […]

Despite the heated national debate, it seems the government does not feel it should concern itself with police violence. Following the December 18 incident, Al Jazeera published an extensive report indicating that the trend continues to grow.

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