Saturday, June 30, 2012

I Will Not Be Silent

Some might think I’m taking the easy way out this week by posting a story written by Pantelis Houlakis and Yiannis Souliotis that recently appeared in eKathimerini, Greece’s equivalent of The New York Times.  Trust me, I’m not.  Their story focuses on the marked increase of organized, vigilante violence against immigrants to Greece.  Yes, my new book, Target: Tinos, has a twist on that issue at the core of its plot but that is a work of fiction, and what these journalists describe is as real as it gets…something no tourist sensitive country wants to see publicized.  But every day journalists across Greece are reporting more of the same. Their courage is to be applauded by all civilized people, the conduct they report abhorred.

Some say this violence against immigrants is no different from what is happening elsewhere in Europe, it is not unique to Greece.  Others say the flood of immigrants into Greece is directly responsible for the increased level of robberies and other violent crime in their communities and they must protect themselves because their government and police cannot or will not. 

Both may be true—likely are—but neither justifies what is happening in the cradle of democracy as described in this story: 

Violence against Migrants in Greece intensifies.

Brutal attacks against migrants in Greece are becoming almost a daily occurrence, with violent mobs acting almost unhindered as police have failed to make any significant arrests.

As well as Attica
[the region of Greece that includes Athens], where numerous such assaults have been recorded in the past month or so, there have also been reports of similar attacks on the island of Crete, where two extremely violent incidents were carried out in as many days this week.

In the early hours of Monday, a group of unidentified assailants jumped a 25-year-old homeless Egyptian man who had found temporary shelter at Talo Square in Hania’s Nea Hora district. They beat him with metal bars, causing extensive injuries all over his body. The victim was taken to Hania Hospital, where he had to have lifesaving surgery which included the removal of a kidney.

In the early hours of the previous day, a group of four men attacked two Algerian migrants in their mid-20s who were sleeping near the Nea Hora beach. The assailants used iron bars, wooden bats and knives in the assault, and robbed the pair of their mobile phones and money. Hania Hospital treated them for extensive head injuries and stab wounds.

Back in Attica, late on Sunday night, a gang of young men assaulted a Pakistani migrant at the Attiki metro station, in an incident that was recorded by a bystander on a mobile phone camera. Police arrested 25 people in connection with the attack and confirmed that several were members of the neo-Nazi Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) party, which was elected into Parliament on Sunday with 6.9 percent of the vote on an anti-migrant platform. When the victim of the Attiki station assault failed to positively identify his attackers, all 25 suspects were released from custody.

Golden Dawn political party's flag and logo
These attacks did not come out of the blue, as such incidents have been steadily increasing recently in frequency, causing rising concern among the majority of Greeks.

The first of this recent spate came on the night of May 28, when a Greek man, who remains at large, stabbed a Pakistani national at the Aghios Nikolaos electric railway (ISAP) station.

A day later, a gang brutally beat a Bangladeshi man, also at Aghios Nikolaos station. Witnesses of both attacks said they believed the attackers to be supporters of Golden Dawn, though police investigations could not confirm this.

On the evening of June 1, several Golden Dawn supporters were arrested after attacking a number of migrants they spotted while on a motorcycle rally through the capital -- in central Athens, as well as on Iera Odos and Pireos streets, south of the center. Among those taken into custody was the daughter of Golden Dawn’s leader, Nikos Michaloliakos.

Again, no one was arrested.

On June 12, an Egyptian man, who was working legally as a fisherman, was viciously beaten during a mob attack on the home he shared with another three compatriots in Perama, outside Piraeus, in the middle of the night. He told police that at least one of the assailants was wearing a T-shirt with the Golden Dawn logo on it. Five men and one woman were arrested after the victim identified them as being among his attackers. They testified before a Piraeus prosecutor last week and were conditionally released.

In Hania, however, local groups are trying to get a handle on the situation and responded to the latest assaults with the creation of the Anti-Fascist Initiative, holding an open meeting at the town’s soup kitchen in order to discuss the problem and ways of dealing with it.

Representatives of local groups condemned the attacks and called for immediate police action so that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

According to Yiannis Tsoukatos, a member of the Steki Metanaston migrant support center and rights group, the attacks are most likely racially motivated.

“They were carried out by a gang that most probably has a racial motivation,” Tsoukatos said. “These immigrants live within our society and they have never harmed anyone. Unfortunately, they had no work and were forced to sleep outdoors,” he added of the three recent victims, who were known by the local community as quiet people who could often be seen lining up for food at the soup kitchen.

Late on Tuesday, the Hania branch of the Steki Metanaston released a statement saying: “Society as a whole needs to stand united and strong against such phenomena of extreme racism. We need to create a protective net around all people against these fascist gangs. This is not just about the migrants or those who help and support them, but about society as a whole because migrants are the fascists’ first target because they are the weakest target. Then it will be everyone else.”

Meanwhile, two anti-racism rallies have been organized in Nea Hora next week, at 7 p.m. on Monday and Thursday, to condemn the attacks.

According to regional councilor Serafeim Rizos, “the murderous attacks of the past few days against economic migrants must be condemned by the whole of society, because it is the business of everyone to stop the spread of such phenomena.”

Hania bar representative Nikos Tzaras said on Wednesday that the attacks are a breach of the civil code and have no ideological content. They are committed, he said, “by people who have no regard for human life and who have no connection to society. The police must investigate these crimes and society must consider the magnitude of the problem.”

There are people of good will clamoring for their government to act—to protect citizens and immigrants alike.  If their leaders do not listen things will only get worse.  And quickly.



  1. Keep shouting. You are heard. Thank you. Have passed on your comments and the article. Will gladly join any action to take these thugs off the streets.

  2. This behavior by anti immigrant vigilante groups is unacceptable, yet not surprising. Because the other side of the coin shows us that the violent crimes perpetuated by some are causing the others to be deemed "guilty by ethnic origin". The violent break-ins on Mykonos in the past days, where a crowbar or other such instrument is used to rip a door off it's hinges to gain entry, often while the residents are in their rooms, are most shocking. The brazen level of these actions cause people to be alert to anyone fitting the description of the thieves, leading to distrust of certain ethnicities. Racial profiling, perhaps, but many will accept that accusation in order to protect themselves from yet another burglary/pickpocket/purse-snatching.

  3. With high unemployment in South Africa (>30%) and a huge influx of well-educated foreigners, there is also a rise in xenophobia here. It must be very difficult to be a South African who was denied education when growing up, now to be denied a job by better educated immigrants, legal and illegal. Sigh.

  4. Thank you. I know I am preaching to the choir, but here is an excerpt from a speech delivered by a character in a novel I wrote that will never be published for it was overrun by other world events. What is described in this speech is now nipping at all our heels:

    “There is one absolute truth the world must accept—there always will be refuges fleeing fear and despair toward the hope of finding a better life elsewhere, but the brutal day-to-day existence of those poor souls will never change as long as the world looks the other way and allows practitioners of horror and their minions to rage about its darkest edges with impunity.

    “If you want your world to remain as it is, die now. For it shall never be the same. And if you fail to find the moral and political courage to root out those who prey mercilessly and unchecked on the helpless, all your preaching of tolerance and care for immigrants and refugees will not spare you from the wrath of the masses growing within your borders.

    “They live each day enduring the betrayal of your empty promises, turning the anger they cannot express at their exploiters upon the system that allows those terrorists to thrive. Yes, terrorists, for they do more to harm to your institutions than all who toss slogans—and even bombs—by each day engendering hate in new minds at the demonstrated hypocrisy of your societies’ promises in practice. Beware, for the destiny of Europe is in play.”

  5. Jeffrey, your post and your scary but wonderful paragraphs above brought to mind Anthony Burgess's brilliant apocalyptic novel "A Clockwork Orange." All that understandable, but terrifying anger and no place for it to go except to attack the weak and be fodder for monsters who want to use it for their own ends. And no cure in sight. We all write to try to understand the dark side of our species, but this is enough to bring one to tears.

  6. Anthony Burgess! My heart be still. To be mentioned in the same breath with him is honor enough, but in the same sentence...

    To be honest, Annamaria, the events that made me agree to kill that other book may have done me a favor. I have--as you can tell--some very strong feelings on how the world addresses immigrant and attendant trafficking issues, and on reflection, perhaps those thoughts did not properly belong in a murder mystery.

    "Target: Tinos" does have the dilemmas of immigration as a central plot theme but they are not expressed with nearly the same intensity as in the earlier book.

    Anthony Burgess, huh. Wow, and thanks.

  7. The passages that you quoted are frightening in that I believe that these attacks increase as people experience their own impotence regarding public events-the economy being uppermost. The truth is that Annamaria is correct. The dark side exists, and anger is the emotion of the moment. I got chills reading your paragraphs. And you are a treasure.

  8. Anti-immigrant activity is on the rise world-wise. America's past and present is full of shameful violent break-outs. It's usually tied to difficult economic times, but never seem to really subside.

  9. Whatever I am, Lil, I owe to my parents, children of immigrants.

    Charlotte, as you know every country has its own sort of immigrant issues. Ethnic stereotypes are a convenient, irresistible scapegoat for political failings, especially in hard times, and no one wants to be the first to point a serious finger at another country’s shortcomings in dealing with its immigrants.

  10. I had no idea. How awful. Keep speaking, and keep writing, Jeff. Your voice is a powerful one, in novels and in this alert.

  11. Jenny, for the sake of all concerned, let us pray that the voices of the many of goodwill in Greece alarmed by these events are heard by their government. Thank you.

  12. Hard to believe all this is going on in beautiful Greece. With so much hate polluting life here in the U.S., your words hit home.

    "There is one absolute truth the world must accept—there always will be refuges fleeing fear and despair toward the hope of finding a better life elsewhere, but the brutal day-to-day existence of those poor souls will never change as long as the world looks the other way and allows practitioners of horror and their minions to rage about its darkest edges with impunity.

    “If you want your world to remain as it is, die now."

    Now I want to read your books, jumping ahead to TARGET:TINOS.

    Pat Browning

  13. Thank you, Pat. If my words hit home I think that's because immigration looms as the single greatest issue confronting the developed world. As long as people suffer outrageously in one part of the globe, the irrational behavior is to stay, not flee.