The magical land of Lilipoupoli [ ? ] : The men of the pogrom [Part 3]
The magical land of Lilipoupoli [ ? ]
The men of the pogrom [Part 3]
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, 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.
Lesvos, 17 October 2020: Just a few days after the criminal conviction of Golden Dawn, a female bypasser in the Cypriot Patriot square of Lesvos recorded with her mobile phone a man covering graffiti that read ”SMASH THE NAZIS” with slogans and crosses. As soon as the man saw her, he started to swear at her. He pulled her by the hair, threw her down to the ground, and began to kick her. Turns out, the man is an optician and well-known member of the far-right on the island named Christofas Poulellis; elected to the Community Council of Mytilene with the support of the “Free Citizens” faction and a member of the ND party, he has been accused of a series of attacks and slanders against citizens. He is also a defendant against felony charges related to his participation in the pogrom of Sappho Square in 2018. This was the latest incident of far-right bullying, to be added to the list of fascist attacks that occurred on the island the past few years.
In his speech in October 2019 at the Regional Council, Poulellis, whilst referring to the pogrom of Sappho Square, had said: “We, as ‘Free Citizens’, saw the refugee-immigration issue expand since 2018. We created the ‘Free Citizens’, a group of citizens which led the way and, in April 2018, we made the first organized reaction against the squatting of Sappho Square, which led to many people from Mytilene being accused”. Moments later, he emphasized that the “Free Citizens” faction has submitted proposals for the refugee issue to the competent authorities (specifically, the Municipality of Mytilene and the North Aegean Administrative Region). Their proposals entailed stricter movement restrictions for refugees or even deportations.
Ever since this “first organized reaction”, such far-right groups have been the focus of many incidents in the recent far-right history of the island, culminating in the events of February and March 2020, during which violence against refugees, activists and journalists soared. Some are candidates or have been elected to the Community Council of Mytilene with the support of the “Free Citizens” faction (promoting their views in the mainstream political discourse) and others act in a wider network of individuals and small groups operating around their central core.
During a period that both the local community and locally-elected officials remained straddled, they organized -mainly online- and carried out attacks against (locals and foreigners) including solidarians, NGO workers, journalists, refugees, preventing ships and boats from docking in ports and setting up blockades. Specific incidents include:
The blockades of Moria
Attack on “One Happy Family” volunteers
Incident in Thermi
Blockade at DEI
Blockade of Panagiouda
The blockades of Moria began on February 3rd, 2020, after a demonstration by refugees at Moria’s RIC, when the police led the demonstrators through the village of Moria back to Moria camp. Meanwhile, due to the villagers’ vocal opposition to this move, the village bells rang incessantly at the behest of the community president who called the residents to the community centre for an assembly. After a while, the regional governor and the mayor of Mytilene arrived at the village and blockades started forming across Moria.
At the same time, the municipal group “Free Citizens” called for a rally beginning in Sappho Square followed by a procession to the village of Moria. Some of them attended the residents’ assembly, although the general atmosphere did not seem to have been on their side. Quickly, attacks began in protest to the preceding events, with some setting fire to an abandoned house inhabited by migrants, and then attacking a van, as well as the home of an NGO worker. Many residents set up roadblocks inhibiting entry to the hotspot and in various other places such as the DEI area and the port of Thermi. At the roadblocks, they started checking every passing vehicle, attacking NGO workers’ cars, as well as locals’ vehicles who refused to be checked. With a barrage of hate messages and threats on social media, they published the personal addresses of volunteers (supporting refugees) as an intimidation tactic. The attacks continued for several days. The police arrested some of these individuals, including seven people in the village of Moria who carried out checks on houses in the village wearing helmets to cover their faces and carrying shafts. They were taken to the prosecutor on charges of forming a criminal group and violating the Greek law on possession of weapons.
On the first of March, the Mayor of Mytilene Stratis Kytelis, called on the citizens to set up a blockade so that refugees and migrants cannot reach Moria but remain within the administrative boundaries of the Municipality of West Lesvos. ND MP Charalambos Athanasiou was present for the statement, as well, but stayed passive. Some citizens took photographs of cars, even foreign-owned news vehicles, destroyed cars identified as related to NGOs and beat the passengers, while blatantly making online a call to arms for night raids without attempting to uphold anonymity. As a result, they set up a block at the junction of Moria, which prevented the Coast Guard vehicle from transferring refugees to the RIC. From that point, a group of locals headed to the port of Thermi and tried, for many hours, to prevent a refugee boat with a broken engine from anchoring at the port of Thermi. The group attacked the refugees, as well as the head of the UNHCR office in Lesvos. They harassed journalists covering the incident, including independent journalist Raphael Knipping and Spiegel journalist, George Christidis, and physically assaulted journalist Michael Trammer. Michalis Andrianis, a defendant in the case of the 2018 pogrom (see Lilipoupoli part 1), was there as these events unfolded, evidenced by both the available material online and the fact he live-streamed the incident.
On the same day, he called the residents to be at the block of DEI at 6 pm using his personal Facebook profile. Among other things, he wrote: “You must all be there because, otherwise, there is a risk of illegal immigrants occupying many parts of our city”. There, on March 2, Dimitris Kavouras was at the block of DEI, after the time-honoured raising of the flag ceremony at the Waterfront in memory of the Lesvos Liberation. From a public video he posted online, we identify him next to the at the time Deputy Regional Governor Aris Hatzikomninos, and the current Deputy Mayor Tsakiris.
Kavouras, a former member of the executive committee of the Independent Greeks’ youth organization, was a candidate with the “Free Citizens”, and is perhaps known to some as the protagonist of the video that shows him wearing camo face paint, and mocking the drowning of refugees in the Aegean.
In a video published by the news site Sto Nisi, Michalis Andrianis (the man in the red jacket) appears in the crowd, behind the Mayor of Mytilene Stratis Kytelis. The video shows him amongst the people who attacked a passing car carrying two volunteers of the NGO “One Happy Family”, on February 27 in the Cypriot Patriots Square. Dimitris Vasilakakis, Municipal Councilor candidate with support from Stratis Kytelis’ “Power of Unity” party, and Charalambos Petrellis, one of the protagonists of the pogrom, also seem to be co-perpetrators of the attack. People from this group are shown to swear, hit the car, and even attempt to get the occupants out of the car. The above had also attended the preceding rally where Regional Governor K. Moutzouris made a speech.
The next day, in a live stream on the “Union of Greek Patriots” Facebook page, Michalis Andrianis, referring to the recent events that occurred on the island, said: “I consider it a great advantage that we have Mr Moutzouris in front. And when I say in front, I mean that he is ahead of everything, like the Mayor of West Lesvos, Mr Verros. Everything we do is always after consulting them because we do not want to expose them. We want everything to be done with agreement and proper planning. I, like Michalis, believe that the next mobilizations should be even more intense and should also be against the NGOs so that this gangrene is out of our islands and we can finally clean our islands.“
During these days, residents of the island also gathered at the intersection of Moria – Panagiouda, across the cemetery of Panagiouda, to stop buses transferring newly-arrived refugees and migrants to Moria. On the morning of March 2, Anthi Pazianou, a journalist at the StoNisi news site, was attacked in her car by a mob at one of the roadblocks set up by residents.
It is worth noting that, on May 3rd, the Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarakis, arrived on the island and visited Moria together with Charalambos Athanasiou and other executives. A few citizens of the island were holding a protest at the intersection of Moria and Panagiouda. They then attacked the minivans of UNHCR and the NGO “Refugee 4 Refugee”. A citizens’ delegation asked, in vain, to speak to the Minister, which resulted in their arrest by police or receiving a fine for disobeying the Covid-19 movement restrictions. Some citizens, in an attempt to talk to the Minister, proceeded to occupy the old City Hall of Mytilene.
One of the two protestors that attended the meeting was arrested for disobedience. Dimitris Vasilakakis later confirmed his identity as one of the two arrested persons with a public post on his personal Facebook page.
The other was Michalis Andrianis. Ioanna Sinani, a candidate standing for the”Free Citizens” in the elections of May 2019, was also on the block and uploaded videos on her personal Facebook profile. The incident was also confirmed by Nikos Papagiannidis, the member of “Free Citizens” elected with the highest majority. Papagiannidis is an ardent supporter of the Golden Dawn criminal organization and was also accused of the attacks in Sappho Square. Papagiannidis condemned the stance of the police and the local representatives in a public post, while K. Moutzouris avoided taking a political position, commenting that he did not attend the meeting.
On March 2, Efi Latsoudi, one of the founding members of the PIKPA refugee camp*, was also targeted. A fake news post claiming that PIKPA is funded by a Turkish organization led many to promote acts of violence against her, even by voicing opposition to the Camp she operates. Following a lawsuit, Vangelis Kalialis, a bus driver, and Kostas Albanopoulos, a member of the Council of the Municipal Community of Mytilene, elected with the support of “Free Citizens”, were taken to the prosecutor. While testifying in court both said they “condemn acts of violence against refugees”; but later admitted being present at other incidents.
A few days before, on February 26, Kostas Alvanopoulos, one of the founders of the “Patriotic Movement” and its successor, the “Free Citizens”, posted a photo of himself with Mayor Stratis Kytelis on his personal Facebook profile, with the caption “The Mayor of Mytilene told me that he will expel them (the refugees) with our help”.
On March 5, a group of residents prevented the ship “Mare Liberum” from mooring in the port of the city for purveyance. The ship, belonging to “Sea Watch”, the German NGO, with years of experience in rescue operations, was repeatedly prevented from mooring. A few days earlier, it was attacked on Skala Loutron by a group of fascists who poured gasoline on the deck. A CNN video covering the incident clearly shows two members of the group of residents who obstructed its mooring: Michalis Andrianis and Nikos Papagiannidis. In fact, the article makes special reference to the “black-skinned(sic) man in the red jacket” (Andrianis) who, when a 22-year-old NGO worker told him she will call the police, responded by shouting “I AM THE POLICE”.
Recently, the “Free Citizens” boasted on their social media page (on the occasion of the filing of the case against the 33 NGO members, including “Sea Watch”) that they were among the residents who obstructed the refuelling of the ship.
According to his own Facebook post, Michalis Andrianis maintains a friendly relationship with the Deputy Mayor of Culture, Panagiotis Tsakiris. Panagiotis Tsakiris, apart from being Deputy Mayor, is also a lawyer, who has repeatedly defended members of the far-right in court. His clients include Kathiotis (referenced in the first article), Aris Hatzikomninos, and Christofas Poulellis; regarding his recent attack on a young woman. It is one of the many examples of networking between the far-right and elected officials. In the following photo, the regional governor is photographed next to many protagonists of the above events, including the 2018 pogrom:
Dimitris Kammenos, the Cross of Apellis and the “Free Citizens”
Dimitris Kammenos is a former MP of the Independent Greeks Party and on November 17, 2019, he visited Lesvos and specifically the Cross of Apellis, a place that has been used to spark off xenophobic and anti-Islamic rhetoric, due to the Cross’ Christian symbolism. It’s worth noting that in October 2018, Dimitris Kammenos’ newly-formed party, “Power of Hellenism”, submitted a timely question to the Minister of Civil Protection, regarding the destruction of the concrete cross; the perpetrators remain unidentified. The report also criticized an NGO’s letter to the mayor of Lesvos, requesting the lowering of the cross. Among other things, they stated that “we will not remain indifferent in the face of the destruction of the religious symbols of our Orthodoxy”. The connections between Dimitris Kammenos and the far-right are known. Thus, it comes as no surprise that, on numerous occasions, the Regional Governor, Κostas Moutzouris, and members of the “Free Citizens” accompany him. One such occasion was during the “talks with local agencies about the possibility of creating a centre for refugee minors in the facilities of ‘Theomitor’ (Social Welfare Centre in Agiasos)”, according to a report by a local media agency.
According to his Facebook post, during his visit to the island, the Moria Residents Association proceeded with an inspection following accusations that NGOs were operating on private land in an olive grove next to the camp. According to the report by Lesvosnews, a resident of the area, named Makis Pavlellis, stated: “An inspection was carried by the Residents Association of Moria and neighbouring communities after receiving information about a new illegal extension in the olive grove. The police officers were called, and at first, declared the allegations unfounded, and didn’t even want to record the incident. We called the North Aegean Regional Governor who had arrived at the site within a few minutes during the incident. The prosecutor decided, over the phone, that there was no illegality and referred us to the relevant services. Kostas Moutzouris is on our side, but it is obvious that this, alone, is not enough.” It is worth mentioning that Makis Pavlellis is not only a “resident of the area” whose statement was used to strengthen the reportage of the site of Giannis Sinanis, but also one of the main producers of fake news informing the anti-refugee propaganda that has fanned the flames of the racist and Islamophobic rhetoric over recent years.
Pointedly, Pavlellis’ photographic material on Facebook has been used repeatedly in the news, specifically images of desecrated chapels or broken tombs. Photos of him have even been featured on the site of the criminal organization Golden Dawn and in international media. His posts, accompanied by audiovisual material, get hundreds of likes, not just from users of the local community, but they often take international dimensions, thus pushing anti-refugee propaganda around the world. His networking with European members of the far-right and neo-Nazis has also been mentioned in Al Jazeera’s article “How the Greek island of Lesbos became a stage for Europe’s Far Right”, regarding the events of February and March, supported by members of the far-right from Austria and Germany who arrived on the island.
Targeting a journalist
Thrasos Abraham is a journalist and at the time president of the Lesvos Media Workers’ Union. In an interview in 2018 at a leftist newspaper, he described the April 22 pogrom as a “movement organized by the self-proclaimed “Patriotic Movement” of Mytilene which is composed of far-right and fascist elements and was created in the summer of 2015.” Regarding the probable outcome of the issue, he said that: ” (…) things will not calm down, if the fascist(s), who tried to kill women and children, are not arrested. It must be clear to the police and the judiciary that the people who carried out the attacks must be arrested, considering that the people have been identified, that is, they know who they are and what they have done.”
In March 2020, Thrasos Abraham republished a video on the website Stonisi.gr, which showed the attack against a car of the organization “One Happy Family”. A few days later, the journalist faced a lawsuit by the attackers for defamation and violation of the law on personal data, which, in fact, was followed by his on-the-spot arrest. One of the two plaintiffs, is on trial for the defamation of Abraham in May 2018, amidst a night of incidents that occurred during the visit of the then Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, in Mytilene. This was none other than Michalis Andrianis:
He was called upon to testify about the case against him before the regular investigator of the Criminal Court of Mytilene, producing an interesting result: On March 13, Kostas Alvanopoulos called the journalist on his mobile phone, requesting to see him immediately. He invited him to the offices of “Stonisi”. There Alvanopoulos tells him that “he must be careful because some people are going to beat him”.
The meeting, according to the announcement issued by “stoNisi ” itself, was intended to bring the journalist out of his house and onto the street, “in order to make his arrest easy”. At the suggestion of Alvanopoulos, and without any explanations to the journalist, members of the “DIAS”, the motorcycle division of the Greek police, who were waiting outside the offices of the online newspaper, proceeded to arrest him, simply stating that it was an on-the-spot arrest.
“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.