The magical land of Lilipoupoli [ ? ] : Lesvos’ Golden Dawn and the deafening silence of the Hellenic Police [Part 5]
The magical land of Lilipoupoli [?]
Lesvos’ Golden Dawn and the deafening silence of the Hellenic Police
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.
On September 19, 2016, in a locals’ mobilization in Moria against refugees, some of the protesters attacked and beat up four female students who happened to be at the spot. One of them, a volunteer on the island, ended up in the hospital. The perpetrators are well-known members of the Golden Dawn criminal organization who engaged, among other things, in a xenophobic rant outside the city hall, shouting racist slogans and provoking the Mayor of Lesvos, Spyros Galinos. “Well-known members of the Golden Dawn and some who use them, challenge society and provoke. Some want blood spilled,” answered the then-mayor, Galinos.
One of them amongst the crowd, Vasilis Kehajas, the man in the blue shirt who, as seen in a public post on his Facebook profile, appears to have a photo of a tattoo of Auschwitz. In other photos, he appears to be wearing a black shirt bearing the Golden Dawn mark, as a member of Lesvos’ “assault battalion”.
As seen below, a photo in GD’s offices shows him next to the former PM, now a convicted member of the criminal organization, Artemis Mathiopoulos. Next to him are George Tsamakos, Makis Triantafyllou, the squad leader, and Stratis Kukubasis, an MP candidate for Golden Dawn in the elections of September 2015.
In August 2017, George Tsamakos, a GD member and supporter of K. Moutzouris, commented on the Facebook page of the “Patriotic Movement” that he attacked a refugee in the port of Mytilene. The event was highlighted by Racist Crimes Watch and he was then summoned for questioning.
During the early 2010s, Golden Dawn tried to intrude into the local community of Lesvos, following the same pattern as in the rest of Greece, by opening offices in Mytilene. Although this is the time when Golden Dawn is on the rise of elections, it fails to establish itself significantly within the political infrastructure of Lesvos, despite the emerging refugee issue providing many opportunities for GD’s political standpoint to take hold. The people who try to appear as Golden Dawn’s political representatives fail to garner strong political backing and a large part of society refused to join the Golden Dawn on the island. Consequently, its offices were formally closed down in March 2017. To clarify, in the 2012 elections, the year that Golden Dawn formally enters Parliament, they received 5,27% of the vote in the electoral district of North Aegean islands and after receiving electoral support they engage a series of racist attacks and interventions both by parliamentary representatives (the then MP Panagiotis Iliopoulos, in October 2012 sent a series of emails to the University of the Aegean asking for information about foreign students hosted in the student dormitories), as well as their supporters.
Amongst the incidents directed towards foreigners is the beating of a 23-year-old in the summer of 2012. The 23-year-old Pakistani was in the Cypriot Patriots Square, in Mytilene, talking on a payphone with his parents in Pakistan. At that moment, eight to ten short-haired men riding four or five motorbikes stopped in front of him, got off the motorbikes, and started beating him on his arms and legs, resulting in his admission to the hospital. The perpetrators of the attack were never found.
During the 2019 elections, it was leaked that a “Hellenic Dawn*” ballot will be cast in the North Aegean administrative region with MP Gregos from Chios as a candidate for Regional Governor. In the end, however, the ballot paper was never submitted. Of course, supporters of the Golden Dawn, members and other actors outwardly expressing far-right beliefs can be located as candidates on right-wing ballots in the Administrative Region, the Municipality of Mytilene, and the Municipal Community of Mytilene. G. Bournous, Head of the Office of Strategic Planning of the then Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, and member of the Central Committee of SYRIZA, states: “The leaders of these ballots, coming from ND and not only, must be publicly accountable for this blatant laundering of the far-right”, turning a blind eye to the current Regional Governor of the North Aegean.
A number of cases have been brought to court and many lawsuits have been filed against the individuals mentioned so far, all of which relate to the numerous far-right attacks they initiated. Yet, delays are noticed regarding the court proceedings. Consequently, their continuous, organized activities seem to enjoy immunity from jurisdiction, the majority of local media (for more info, see Lilipoupoli part 4), a section of the police, and the political agents of the island. For example, the arrest of the journalist Thrasos Abraham, following the suggestion of members of the far-right, was not an isolated act, but rather highlighted an attempt to silence and threaten the freedom of the press. This event is part of a string of incidents in which it appears that the local police and the far-right elements of the island are inextricably linked. As highlighted by reports, the police remained idle during the attacks against grassroots solidarity actors, NGOs and refugees during February and March 2020.
Even in the 2018 pogrom, during a period of about 8 hours in which far-right groups dash bottles, flares, marbles, and stones against the refugees causing damage to garbage bins, sidewalks and surrounding shops, police were not making any arrests. Instead, they arrested 120 refugees and 2 solidarians, with allegations of contumacy to police, civil disobedience, and occupation of public space. A typical example of their shameless attitude can be considered by the famous “I am the police” broadcasted by CNN about the events of Mare Liberum, through Michalis Andrianis.
In August 2018, the journalist and correspondent of APE-MPE in Lesvos, Stratis Balaskas, filed a complaint regarding a cyber-attack against him. An impeachment is being filed for 18 people, including three police officers and one active military officer, as well as members of the criminal organization Golden Dawn, such as Stratis Kalatzis. Among them is also the police officer Panagiotis Fikias, the man who, according to the complaint, prompted the launch of online threats against the journalist and has also been previously involved in a case regarding the beating of Albanian immigrants. It is reported that, during this incident, Panagiotis Fikas enters the scene by car amongst a group. They are caught in the act and end up in jail, as the procedure for flagrant crimes requires. Amongst them is Nikos Papagiannidis, a Golden Dawn member and leader of the then-existing “Patriotic Movement” who later got the majority of votes as a representative of the “Free Citizens” political faction in Mytilene.
Supporters of the “Free Citizens” are also individuals who are or have been within the army: Theodoros Kitsos, Nikolaos Tallas (brigadiers) and Thomas Fanaras (officer). The latter two were candidates with the League of National Unity (L.N.U.), a nationalist party founded in 2011 by retired military personnel and affiliated with the Patriotic Radical Union (P.R.U.) (of Eleftherios Synadinos – former Golden Dawn MEP), one of the many formations created when the Golden Dawn began to wilt and split into larger or smaller parties. Nikolaos Tallas was an active member of the “Patriotic Movement”, a candidate for Councilor of the North Aegean administrative region, and the husband of Angela Pellekou Tallas, also a candidate for the 2019 elections of Mytilene Community Councilor with the “Free Citizens”.
He has been accused of being a member of the far-right, especially following a photo he posted on social media with himself in front of swastikas from the Tsartidis Folklore Museum. The photo was also published in an article in the Efimerida ton Sintakton entitled “Far-right..Smudges“. In response, he wrote a letter to the newspaper, speaking of “slander”.
In a 2017 report by newsbomb.gr regarding refugees, Nikos Tallas, as an “indignant citizen” of Lesvos reproducing the well-known narrative of Islamisation, told journalist Maria Yahnakis, among others: “No one tells me that “you know what, they are not Turks who come from there, are recruited and at some point they will act according to some plan” (…) they want to manoeuvre the islands and Greece in general (…) with Islamists.”
The next day on the island
Following the fire in the RIC of Moria, the interplay between the general landscape and the involvement of the far-right remains significantly cloudy. The indifference of the authorities, in combination with a number of court cases that have not yet been finalized (or even proceeded) by the jurisdiction, create an atmosphere of consensus and a pause for what is to come.
At the institutional level, there seems to be a consensus regarding the government’s plans to set up a closed detention centre; which basically results from “compensatory benefits”. Such benefits are the requests of the municipal authority for a budget of 45 million euros, in combination with the redemption of the government checks for the closure of the other refugee centres of the island, such as PIKPA and Kara Tepe – without any clear basis or excuse.
As for the local obstacles regarding a new camp, especially emerging from the far-right circles of the island, they continue to follow the same tactics as in the previous periods. The complete destruction of Moria’s RIC revived the far-right patrols and blockades outside the village of Moria. The night the RIC burned down, people gathered at the entrance to the village of Moria and were checking cars. There was also the well-known banner of the inhabitants, that read “I Moria ealo” ( Moria has fallen). A similar gathering took place in the village of Panagiouda, where locals, together with the police, did not allow refugees to pass through the centre of Mytilene.
The next day, the Mayor of Mytilene, Stratis Kytelis, with the assistance of residents of Moria and other villages, closed the road (with the machinery of the Municipality), in order to prevent the passage of military machinery for the “reconstruction of Moria’s RIC”. Αs stated in a post by the Municipality of Mytilene:
“The Mayor of Mytilene, embracing the indignation of the citizens for the current situation and strictly adhering to the decisions of the City Council, will continue to try with all his might for the final closure of Moria’s RIC insisting on the decision of “no camps in Lesvos”. The Mayor invites whoever wants and can be by his side so that they can also assist in this critical moment, which may signal the final closure of the Moria’s RIC.”
Almost simultaneously, work begins on the new “temporary camp” in Kara Tepe, with the area being leased by the ministry until 2025 for a total of 2.9 million euros. This is an area that has occupied the attention of domestic and international media due to the sites’ unsuitability, something that became particularly apparent after the first rains on the island, where the camp became a field of mud. Until recently, this geographical location was used as a shooting range, so it is quite possible the ground is accumulated with large amounts of metals, which make it potentially toxic to residents.
Of course, it should be noted that the apparent unity between institutional actors regarding local issues on Lesvos, including the refugee issue, is not immune to conflicts – for example, the proposal for the construction of the new camp must be submitted jointly by the municipalities. In this context, the Municipality of Mytilene came into conflict with the Municipality of West Lesvos (for more information, see Lilipoupoli part 4) regarding the final decision of a location for the creation of a new camp.
The side of Kytelis leans towards the government’s proposal of an area in which a new closed camp will be built. The Mayor of West Lesvos, on the other hand, sets the large-scale decongestion of the island as a prerequisite for the initiation of discussions regarding the long-term management of the refugee issue at an institutional level. The North Aegean Regional Governor has argued that there should be no new camps on the island of Lesvos, as well as on the islands of Samos and Chios, with the aforementioned request for the government to proceed with the complete decongestion of the islands mentioned (video).
The majority of the facts mentioned in the previous articles, cases, complaints or summons for interrogation have been formed by the competent judicial and police institutions, without, however, there being any clarifications or information on the course of the proceedings.
- For the pogrom in Sappho Square in 2018, it seems that two and a half years later the 26 people accused – to a degree of felony – for the attacks against refugees and immigrants in Sappho Square have not even been summoned for questioning, with the case referred to an investigator at the District Court of Mytilene.
- On November 6, 2020, we witnessed the postponement of the court case of a refugee, who on December 8, 2018, outside of a supermarket, pointed out to a 29-year-old customer that he had parked his car in a place for the disabled. After the above remark, the 29-year-old attacked him with insults and then proceeded to try and hit him on the head with an iron bar. As a result, the 45-year-old Uddin was severely injured in the hand and had to undergo various surgeries and treatments. The 29-year-old faces charges of attempting to cause serious intentional physical harm, possession of weapons and use of weapons.
- Regarding the case of March 1, 2020, of the Mytilene to Thermi (DEI) residents’ checkpoint, information suggests that summons for interrogation have been made by judicial authorities as part of a criminal case by the traffic police of Mytilene, to occupy a road. In this case, the investigator’s calls appear to be about the obstruction of service vehicles by the port authority “who were transporting migrants to the RIC of Moria”. As in those days, the blockades with private vehicles and official vehicles of the municipality were a daily occurrence, a case file involving 55 people has been formed.
- A preliminary examination is underway regarding the erection of the Cross of Apellis with authorities calling citizens for testimony “of illegal intervention at an archaeological site, by continuously digging a pit in the “Apellis” position in Mytilene on 13/10/2018″. But for the new crest of the Cross, 36 people were arrested for whom a regular trial was called.
- For the attack on OHF’s car on February 27, 2020, a preliminary examination is being conducted, following an order by the First Instance Prosecutor’s Office of Mytilene to establish a criminal offence. In particular, the acts concern “racist crime”, “attempted incitement to commit crimes, battery or discord”, “disruption of common peace”, “physical harm” and “dangerous physical harm”, as well as “attempted physical damage, threat, insulting, the law on weapons and damage to foreign property”.
- Since mid-2018, there has been undergoing court proceedings following the filing (photo below) of journalist Thrassos Abraham against the residents of Lesvos, Michalis Andrianis and Christos Psaradellis for his harassment on May 3, 2018, when he covered the demonstration of the island’s residents regarding the VAT equalization and the refugee issue.
Two years later, Michalis Adrianis and Dimitris Vasilakakis filed a lawsuit for defamation and violation of the personal data law against Thrasos Abraham regarding an already published video by ThePressProject -republished to “StoNisi”- depicting the “protagonists” of the attack on OHF volunteers.
The video in question, which provoked the intervention of the Supreme Court (Areios Pagos), provided evidence for the identification of seven people (who according to information include both plaintiffs) as perpetrators of the attack. It is noted that both the Panhellenic Federation of Journalists’ Unions and the Association of Editors of Athens Daily Newspapers took a stand against the lawsuit received by the journalist, expressing their support for Abraham.
- In addition, authorities are investigating the attack οn the German journalist Michael Trammer in the port of Thermi, on March 1, 2020, by a crowd of members of the far-right, who pummeled and kicked the German, whilst a case has been formed on the blockade in Panagiouda (55 people), two days after the events in Thermi.
- Back in 2015, two minors were arrested in Mytilene for throwing molotov cocktails on Syrian refugee families. A criminal case was filed against them, for violations of the law on weapons, on explosives, and racism, as well as for the – where appropriate – offenses of causing dangerous bodily harm, arson and explosion.
- At the beginning of February 2020, a case was filed as six people were arrested with batons while patrolling the entrance to the village of Moria, checking passers-by to and from the village. The specific incident seems to be related to the general blockades of residents in Moria and Panagiouda at that time, while a relevant video published by “Ethnos” is very informative about the situation at that time.
At exactly the same time (February 4) a group of fascists with bats and covered faces were circulating in the village of Moria (video) looking for volunteers and NGO workers, while an anti-fascist march had preceded from the beach of Epano Skala to the camp of Kara Tepe, in which case the police did not allow the protesters to continue.
Regarding the 6 people accused, the charges against them are a violation of the law on weapons, the establishment of a criminal group, as well as the accusation that they targeted migrants, with the trial set for January 2021 and eventually being deferred due to measures against coronavirus.
The above incident is related to the complaint received by the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Mytilene, at the beginning of March, which involves the beating and theft of a refugee by six people in the village of Moria. According to the document, six people with full features and balaclavas (“full face’’), one of whom was holding a log and wearing camouflage pants, threw the refugee under his bicycle, started beating him and stealing and breaking his personal belongings, including money. In fact, the document alleges regular “pogrom-type” attacks in the village of Moria by groups of masked men armed with batons, knives, and clubs, despite the arrest of people (with similar characteristics) in early February. According to information, the complaint filed by the victim of the attack has not progressed as the police never called him to testify.
On Friday, October 16, a girl saw the well-known Chr. Poulellis spray-painting nationalist slogans on metal panels and painting crosses erasing an anti-fascist slogan that said: “Smash the Nazis.” She asked him “what are you doing there?”. He started cursing her and later on, he attacked her, while eyewitnesses claim that he pulled her by the hair, threw her down and started kicking her in the ribs. Shortly after, the police -who had been called by the girl- arrived at the spot and, with the assistance of the people who were in front of the beating, they found him a little further down the street and brought him to the police station. There, the girl filed a lawsuit for the beating, while he “responded” with a lawsuit for insult, having as a lawyer the Deputy Mayor of Culture in Mytilene, Panagiotis Tsakiris.
To this day, the landscape remains unclear about the judicial progress of the attacks that have been carried out – in many cases – by the same individuals, while for many of them, the legal proceedings have usually been initiated by the very people who have been attacked. The events of the blockades of Panagiouda (on the same wavelength as those of Moria but shorter range), as well as cases of attacks against the boat Mare Liberum, and against the journalist Anthi Pazianou from a blockade near the village of Panagiouda are “open wounds” of the past that remain in the shadows. It was at this time that the residents’ blockade began, when Der Spiegel journalist, Giorgos Christides, was attacked by far-right actors.
I was injured, thrown woods at, harassed and car chased. In #Lesvos, Greece In 2020 By right-wing extremists who first prevented a migrant boat full of children from reaching ashore And then built road blocks across the main road to harass NGOs and reporters This landed in my car pic.twitter.com/UlYOQpZBni— Giorgos Christides (@g_christides) March 1, 2020
The normalization of hatred and the high cost of tolerance to violence
Without any intention to generalize, on the island of Lesvos in the last five years, there has been an intensifying far-right radicalization of a portion of the citizenry. In the vast majority of cases, both regarding the activities and the perpetrators, these should not be treated as “isolated incidents”. Their relations with various institutional actors of the island, their intrusion into the depths of the Greek police and the links with far-right parliamentary and extra-parliamentary parties and groups of the national and international establishment, prove to be the pieces that complete the puzzle regarding the communication network that has been set up on the island of Lesvos.
It is a network in which the spread of racist hatred is incubated -through social networking platforms (e.g. Facebook), while the “operational capacity” of the island’s far-right is reproduced, sometimes with posts against refugees, solidarians and NGOs and sometimes with calls for far-right rallies resulting in illegal, violent actions. In many cases, the far-right circles of the island publicly express the fascist framework in which they operate; either as individuals and independent bodies or through “third parties”. Their political foundations are often not expressed directly but are filtered through seemingly irrelevant bodies and groupings that, at least in a first reading, have been set up outside the range that is conditioned by the boundaries of mainstream political discourse. It should be pointed out here that there is a dual model of racist discourse: we find cases where supporters of Nazism occupy prominent positions in local institutions of the island, but also cases where organizations do not express such rhetoric but coexist and sit at the same table with the above “supporters”.
As the situation on the island remains tense, something that should not be staved is the role of specific individuals who put themselves at risk and have brought to light a wealth of information about far-right action in Lesvos – with links even from abroad.
Instead of an epilogue
Another factor that has and continues to contribute to the strengthening of the far-right on the island is the character of the close-knit community that governs the relations of the locals (including political agents) in comparison to bigger cities (see Lilipoupoli part 1). The relationships within a closed society seem to explain the disproportionate involvement of, often, the same people in many incidents that took place on the island within a very limited time. Considering all the information so far, the patterns of a closed society seem to enact a catalyst role in the relations emerging between elected representatives, especially if we take into account that the “Free Citizens” is the second most popular municipal faction in the community of Mytilene.
In all this far-right rhetoric that spreads on the island, the voices of people who maintain their humanity are diminishing year by year (in number and intensity), as there is an emerging situation of the “normalization” of racist rhetoric, which sometimes finds “scapegoats” in the face of refugees, while other times it enables – at best – rhetoric against NGOs. In many cases, it even “touches” the anti-mask movement or the (sic) “new order of things” that wants to “alter the European identity and enforce Islam”.
The chronological journey that took place from 2015 until the last months of 2020, is full of wounds. Even the most optimistic historian of the future could not easily overcome the ever-increasing intensity of the extreme far-right sepsis.
“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.