The magical land of Lilipoupoli [ ? ] : The “Indignant” voices of the far-right [Part 1]
The magical land of Lilipoupoli [ ? ]
The “Indignant” voices of the far-right [Part 1]
If we presume that the chapter involving Golden Dawn has closed, there is still much ink to be spilled in the book on the far-right; particularly regarding the groups and networks that appear at convenient times and at different points on the map, featuring similar characteristics in each region of Greece. In Lesvos, although Golden Dawn has never been able to garner a strong presence, various far-right voices from groups of “indignant citizens” often tolerated by the elected, star in a series of violent and racist incidents: including, attacks on refugees, volunteers and NGOs, journalists and hoteliers, the instrumentalization of religious symbols, and even pogroms.
Disclaimer: The quotes in this text have been indicatively translated to English by Disinfaux Collective and do not represent a direct quotation by the individual referenced. All Greek direct quotes can be found in the original version, available here.
In recent years, the geographical position of Lesvos as a central entry point for the “eastern Mediterranean passage” of refugees entering Europe, has turned the island into a battlefield of various ideological conflicts. And then, Moria was created. In 2015, images of refugees reaching the shores of the island travelled around the world, activating social reflexes, and propelling Lesvos onto the international stage regarding the proclaimed refugee crisis. These images, whilst no longer standing at the forefront of such debates, remain deeply ingrained in the collective memory of a diverse range of people. However, in the chain of socio-political events, the closing of the borders and the feeling of congestion on the island created fertile ground for locals to seize the opportunity and promote xenophobic tendencies and far-right rhetoric (the same rhetoric has long been adopted by local and government-friendly media). At this point, it became apparent that “the refugee” would become the best tool for the island’s far-right voices – voices that would soon unite and become the protagonists of the coming years’ series of events. After the infamous EU-Turkey Statement of 2016, Lesvos officially became a “prison-island” with detention centres inflicting perpetual conditions of confinement on refugees and migrants. This resonated with the image of a Fortress Europe. Thus the scenes witnessed in 2015 have gone on to interlace with local social-political conflicts for many years to come, contributing to the escalation of political extremism.
Since then, the history of the island has had several turning points that mark the methodical construction of the “apartment-building”-like stronghold of the far-right. The far-right in Lesvos has worn various guises in order to acquire a central role in the political sphere of the island. In this context, the discussion, later on, will show the close relations between government officials and self-proclaimed movements of “indignant citizens” and municipal factions in the public debate; both at the community level and at the level of MPs and local government. These are close relations that arise from the veil of “locality” and the “closed society” of the island. In parallel, by paying attention to this web of relations, far-right networks engaged in shady activities emerge; activities often involving people who are accused of attacks on refugees, NGO workers, and journalists.
We attempt to disentangle the course of this complex network, by referring to some of the key events that have taken place on the island. From the mass arrival of refugees in 2015 to the recent destruction of the Moria RIC, some of these milestones include the pogrom of April 22, 2018, in Sappho Square, the attacks on solidarians and NGO workers, the Greek Riot Police (MAT) raid on the island in February and March 2020, as well as the placement and restoration of the Cross of Apellis.
The fact that these incidents occurred on a border island marked by sharp nationalist reflexes, further solidifies that patriotism and national solidarity were used as a panacea and were perpetuated by emerging movements and groupings. “Lesvos Patroa Gi” or the “Patriotic Movement”, for instance, not only were a consequence of the far-right tendency but contributed to its escalation, as its members led many racist attacks, some of which are, still to this day, issues in the hands of the courts.
The so-called “Indignants” and the race for legitimacy
The “Patriotic Movement” of Mytilene was founded in the summer of 2015. Its founding member is Alexandros Koutsantonis (also the founder of the faction “Lesvos Patroa Gi”), a many times elected official holding several positions in the local administrative councils of ND, and later a candidate in the “Force of Unity” faction of the now Mayor of Mytilene, S. Kytelis. Koutsantonis has repeatedly appealed online to the “indignant citizens” of the island for a “movement against the Islamization policy of Lesvos”. Many locals responded enthusiastically to his calls, some of whom openly support Golden Dawn, while others come from the underbelly of the Greek police.
On 28 July 2017, members of the “Patriotic Movement”, among others, evacuated Sappho Square where refugees were protesting against the detention conditions in the hotspot. In the future, they would attack the local journalist Thrasos Abraham and, among other things, participate in the pogrom of Sappho Square almost a year later, on 22 April 2018.
In 2018, during the regular Sunday flag-lowering ceremony2 in Sappho Square, hundreds of people attacked asylum seekers who had occupied the square as part of a sit-in-protest. The goal of the attack was to forcibly remove them from the square. A few days before, a poster circulated on social media urging the citizens of Mytilene to come to the square for the flag-lowering ceremony, sending messages like, be “Ready for everything.” Incitements and calls for violence with racist motives were circulating (with increasing intensity) a few days before the incident, through messages on pages of local groups’ Facebook pages and on the personal profiles of members of the “Patriotic Movement”.
After the circulation of the poster, about 150 of these individuals, some of whom masking their facial features and others wearing football team insignia, approached the asylum seekers in a threatening manner. They incited and participated in the incidents that followed: setting fire to rubbish bins; violently attacking asylum seekers; throwing a variety of stones, flares, firecrackers, and sticks. In the early hours of the next morning, the square was evacuated. 120 protesting asylum seekers present and 2 solidarity activists who remained at the spot were arrested, while ERT journalist Myrsini Tzinelli was also ostracized by far-right elements.
Almost a year later, the case file was formed (both during the police preliminary investigation and in the context of a preliminary examination following relevant orders of the Mytilene Prosecutor’s Office). It included misdemeanours and criminal offences including resistance, revolt, disturbing the peace, committed and attempted dangerous bodily harm, attempts to cause grievous bodily harm, criminal damage, arson, illegal possession and use of weapons, firecrackers and sparklers. The 26 people involved in the case, who were not arrested on the spot, are identified in the case file as either natural or moral perpetrators, as some of them had also instigated violence on social media before the pogrom happened.
A descendant of the “Patriotic Movement”, is the “Free Citizens”, a faction in the Municipal Council of Mytilene, which was announced in December 2018 for the local elections. Of the candidates (previous members of the “Patriotic Movement”), three are accused of cases such as pogroms and assaulting the employees of the NGO One Happy Family (OHF), as well as cyber-attacks and threats.
The “Free Citizens” have repeatedly expressed their support for the North Aegean Regional Governor, Kostas Moutzouris, with their relations repeatedly functioning as communicating vessels when it comes to the escalation of far-right violence on the island. Moutzouris’ appeal to the “Free Citizens” members, and their following support, is also evident in the attack on the OHF employees. On February 27, 2020, during the general strike that took place in the islands of the North Aegean, there was a rally at the District building, with K. Moutzouris being the keynote speaker. After the rally, about 30 of those present, under the cloak of the “indignant citizens”, attacked a car while NGO workers were inside. The seven people who were referred to the Prosecutor’s Office of Mytilene face, up to this day, the charges of disturbing peace, insults and causing bodily harm. The attacks had been announced on the internet and, in fact, were promoted by individuals involved in other cases. They themselves state that they are in full consultation with the North Aegean Regional Governor and the Mayor of West Lesvos.
The “independent voice” of the far-right
The Regional Governor of the North Aegean, K. Moutzouris, was elected in the 2019 elections despite the internal party rift caused by ND’s support of Christiana Kalogirou as the party candidate. He self-identifies as “an independent technocratic candidate.” During the announcement of his candidacy, top ND party officials were present, with the ND MP, Charalambos Athanasiou, also signalling his support. It is worth noting that Athanasiou publicly justified the self-redress related to the pogrom in Sappho Square: “The continuing inaction not only raises the need for the citizens to ‘take matters into their own hands’, but also creates a fertile ground for extreme voices to be heard” while characterizing the “Patriotic Movement” as “a movement aiming at defending the island from uncontrolled migratory flows.”
Moutzouris, a former parliamentary candidate with ND, and general secretary of Ports for the Ministry of Shipping and Island Policy in the Samaras’ government maintains a dual profile to the government and to the interior politics of the island, in an effort to keep the balance. On the one hand, he is described as a “rebel” opposing the government’s plans to lease land on the islands to create closed camps for migration reception, thus taking support from the island’s far-right networks. On the other hand, he embraces the Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarakis. Thus, he acts as a mediator to the government regarding either the governmental plans for the islands or, in reverse, the local population’s opposition. Many press reports place Moutzouris in the “Samaras-driven” side of ND, while he himself has not hidden that “if he gets elected, he will add the blue colour to the region”, adding that “of course our ballot is independent” and in fact quoting – already before his election – that it would be rather a dissent for the government line. The above attitude became clearer following the statements of K. Moutzouris about the Golden Dawn (GD). Specifically, the self-proclaimed centre-right was asked in the run-up to the election whether he was supported by the GD, replying that “if there is, there has been, there is support from Golden Dawn, I mean, we welcome it, but we condemn extreme methods”.
The above statements, in combination with the fact that on his ballot persons active in the far-right appear; like Nikos Tallas, a founding member of the “Free Citizens” (and a member of the then “Patriotic Movement”), completing the mosaic of Moutzouris’ intentions and political positioning, but also his relations with the far-right “wing”. The fact remains that he addressed an audience of which some were, according to Mr Athanasiou, “extreme voices”, and who, a little later, attacked the OHF car. Photos showing him embracing a well-known Golden Dawn member from Chios is also a sample of his political leanings.
Moutzouris’ relationship with the “Free Citizens” is two-sided. This can be deduced from the support the “Free Citizens” have expressed for the Governor due to his stance upon the incidents between the police and local residents about the closed detention centres in February 2020.
At that time, the far-right factions, always under the guise of indignation, carried out attacks, making solidarians, NGO workers, photojournalists, journalists and refugees, subject to an abundance of violence. All the while, the Riot Police (MAT) beat locals and non-locals relentlessly. A few months later, came the preliminary examination carried out against citizens for participation in the mobilizations and incidents. At that time, the North Aegean regional authority expressed its support, but considered that “during this period there were extreme actions by all those involved who could be justified only in the context of the “emergency “situation within the meaning of the law.” Moutzouris “believes that these actions should be forgotten by all at the initiative of the state.” But it was too late.
The defender of the far-right civilian militias
One of the most controversial characters who expressed a far-right stance on the island is Aris Hatzikomninos, who comes from the Moutzouris’ political faction in the previous elections in the Region. The coexistence of the North Aegean Region with the far-right and the rhetoric of hatred towards refugees is summed up in the fact that the elected former vice-governor Aris Hatzikomninos has not only been distinguished for his extreme hate speech – insisting on the term “illegal immigrant” as a lawyer – but also because he has taken on cases of far-right defendants. Although he has made statements “condemning” the murder of musician Pavlos Fyssas by Golden Dawn members, he did not sign the local Municipal Council’s resolution against neo-Nazi attacks. He was instead asking to condemn all forms of violence and not only this incident, with references to Marfin3 victims and attacks on police officers in Skouries.
Hatzikomninos was twice an MP candidate with ND (in 1996 and 2000), was the former Μayor of Mytilene (2002-2005), commander of the General Hospital of Mytilene “Vostaneio” (2008-2010), while from 2007 to 2014 he was a municipal councillor, head of ND in the Municipality of Mytilene and then in the Municipality of Lesvos and the local government party “Next Day”. Despite the announcements that he was not with ND since 2013, he has received support from the right-wing faction of the party when he was re-running as Mayor of Mytilene (although he later retired) and has previously served as President of NODE.
He himself had taken up a case concerning an article by journalist Stratis Balaskas in “E” on November 27, 2013. The article refers to the headmaster of the 6th High School of Mytilene, Vasilis Makripoulias, describing him as a neo-Nazi. Even the plaintiff himself – a defender of nationalism on his personal website and elsewhere – admitted that he was a fan of National Socialist ideology, once again declaring himself a “Greek patriot-nationalist.” Despite this, the court considered that the characterization “neo-Nazi” is offensive, resulting in the conviction of the journalist. As we will see later, the journalist was finally acquitted in this case following an appeal to the European Court. In fact, in an effort to support his client’s positions, Hatzikomninos stated: “I also voted for Golden Dawn. What does this mean? It is a legal party that is represented in the Parliament”, and immediately afterwards he began to contradict himself regarding the above statements.
In 2018, Hatzikomninos was the defence lawyer in the trial of a 55-year-old farmer who shot at three refugees in order to intimidate them. At that time, Hatzikominos said, among other things, that “these people have reached a situation where they feel completely unprotected. Justice stood by this man, correctly evaluated his whole behaviour, when a man feels that his life and that of his family are threatened, shooting two threatening shots in the air is something that is obvious and cannot be attributed as an unjust act“.
Hatzikomninos’ problematic statements are endless. In an interview with a major news bulletin, he spoke of the fear of Islamization, among other things, even coming to the point of talking about a “world war”: “It is not just my voice, it is the cry of anguish of a world that sees itself occupied. I also want to send a message to the rest of Greece: let them not be indifferent. It is a fact that some people want to fill Greece with smugglers, they want to Islamize Greece. At the moment we have illegal immigrants from 80 different races in Mytilene. One wonders those who call them migrants and refugees, are we in the midst of a world war and we did not hear about it?“, he wondered. Although an ardent advocate of ND’s political line on new camps on the island, the cracks did not take long to appear as he tried to push for the right-wing policy of creating “prisons” in the East Aegean islands. The result of this push became evident some weeks ago when he found himself outside of the regional government after the Moutzouris’ “reorganization.”
The first mobilization of a strike in 2020 on the island occurred in January, after the government’s announcement demanding requisitions for the creation of new camps. From this response, it was clear what would follow: “The North Aegean was blue [with ND] but no longer believes in them (…) This situation is no longer convincing anyone that it is random. It is indeed a plan and at the moment there is a national danger for our country (…) We are at the mercy of criminal acts“, he said, while at the same time launching a racist crescendo against refugees.
The case of the Cross of Apellis
The relations that the region and the municipality have with the far-right of the island are reflected in the case of the construction of the Cross at Apellis. This is a case that has repeatedly been at the centre of public attention and has often been a cause for conflict in the local community. It was set up by “indignant citizens”, led by a candidate for municipal councillor with the current Mayor of Mytilene, Stratis Kytelis (then Deputy Regional Governor of the North Aegean) and a well-known member of Golden Dawn from Chios. The Cross, which acts as a symbol of deterrence against migrants – because they often swam at the beach nearest to it (?) – is the locals’ answer to the “Islamization” of the island.
After all, it is an “answer” weighed down by irony. In the area where the cross is now located, there was once the famous cafe of Apellis, a cafe built by a family of refugees, after their expulsion from the coasts of Asia Minor in 1914.
The Cross has been set up many times. A few days after the last time it was erected, a holy communion took place. The current Mayor of Mytilene, Stratis Kytelis (then Deputy Regional Governor of the North Aegean) was present. Kytelis was among persons involved in racist crimes, including the 2018 pogrom.
In a TV interview, Moutzouris spoke in favour of the construction of the Cross, while also mentioning, indirectly but clearly, that the police were forced to carry it out.
The Mayor of Mytilene, Stratis Kytelis, was the choice of ND for the Municipality, following an announcement of support for his candidacy issued by NODE Lesvos. He had become known in Greece after his decision (March 1, 2020) “to close the borders of the Municipality of Mytilene (with the Municipality of West Lesvos), so that migrants who will enter from another Municipality do not enter the Moria RIC, which, of course, can no longer stand them”. Kytelis’ statement overlapped with the appearance of locals acting as “border guards”, while the authorities and local government showed tolerance to such initiatives. In addition, on the occasion of the new arrivals of refugees on the island and the “division”, the Mayor stated: “We are motivated to preserve the regularity of our municipality alongside our citizens, at any cost. It is not possible for the Municipality of Mytilene to withstand all the migrants anymore”. In a response to this statement, the Mayor of the Municipality of West Lesvos, T. Verros, spoke of ”clown-moves of the faceless” while also talking about the“attacks that the island received”. He further added: “Block (!) at Lambou Hammermills by the pseudo-lads. The MAT police are also laughing. Unless it is part of the carnival events”.
Institutional omission of the attacks on hoteliers
In early July, the Mayor of West Lesvos, Verros, through his targeted silence, disregarded the threatening messages and the attacks received by hoteliers. He remained notably silent after the -as he admitted– “rumour” that some accommodation owners were considering their participation in the program “Estia 2” where they would rent their units to refugees.
In his post (among other things mentioned), the Mayor did not make any reference to the threats towards the hoteliers but based his argument on the seemingly irrelevant issue that “there is an intention to carry out ‘random’ inspections by the Municipal Building Service”, thus dropping hints to the hoteliers that there will be checks in the hotels. These “rumours” started at the same time as the possibility that hotels would be used to accommodate refugees.
Specifically, he wrote: “It is obvious that the controls will be strict and if – by chance- there are hotels included in these inspections, it would include a review of biological systems, fire protection, interior layouts, etc. and everything, in general, will be checked, according to their operating mark granted by the Greek National Tourism Organisation (GNTO). Derogations or differences from the building permit – things that are very rare in Greece, of course – entail heavy fines and direct sanctions from GNTO. Because they are not areas that are supervised by the Archeological protections, their settlement is both difficult and time-consuming. But I’m sure that everything I hear is a myth and that everything works perfectly and there is no deviation anywhere. So, no one needs to worry, on both sides”.
He regularly denies that he is related to people who have participated in illegal actions and has threatened to go to court against those who make such associations. However, these correlations seem to come mainly from people in this field. In particular, in live streaming of the Union of Greek Patriots, shortly after the attack on OHF, a specific person informed his like-minded audience that “I consider it a great asset that we have Mr Moutzouris at the forefront. And when I say at the forefront, I mean that it is he who is ahead everywhere and in everything like the Mayor of West Lesvos, Mr Verros. Everything we do is always in consultation with them.”
1. “Edo Lilipoupoli” was a children’s radio series that was broadcasting on the Third Program of the Greek Radio from 1976 to 1980, under the direction of Manos Hadjidakis. It was described as a bold initiative and was highly praised for its musical compositions and vivid lyrical content. Due to its underlying political metaphors and daring commentaries of the current affairs of that period, the then government along with popular media outlets accused Lilipoupoli of communist propaganda.
2. The flag-lowering ceremony takes place every Sunday commemorating the Lesvos Liberation anniversary. On November 8, 1912, Lesvos was liberated from the Ottoman Empire occupation. Due to the tense history of the borderland, many locals believe that the refugees will (methodically or not) establish Islam, thus intensifying the Islamophobic narrative on the islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos. The ceremony fulfils the aim of uplifting the national, patriotic feeling of the locals.
3. The Marfin Bank firebombing is a whataboutism narrative commonly used by supporters of the Horseshoe theory in Greece, trying to equate political violence or incidents of protesters clashing with police forces with far-right extremism.