A large anti-fascist demonstration took place in Athens on Saturday 19 January 2013. Several thousands of Greeks from the entire country and immigrants residing in Greece marched from Omonia square to Syntagma where a concert was organized. The day’s motto, “Athens, anti-fascist city”, was supported by other European cities where anti-fascist marches were organized in solidarity. The radiobubble community reported demonstrations in Ireland, Italy, Spain, France and Belgium.
The Pakistani community of Greece was massively present at the march, carrying a large banner demanding justice for Shehzad Luqman Serdar Yaqoub, a 27-year-old man who was killed in a racist murder in the Athens neighbourhood of Petralona last week. His suspected murderers have been arrested and will remain in prison until their trial on charges of aggravated assault and intentional manslaughter. It must be noted however that the prosecutor did not include racist motivation in the charges. Shehzad Luqman’s neighbours are collecting money to send his body for burial to Pakistan.
The Council of Europe parliamentary assembly ratified the credentials of Eleni Zaroulia, a Golden Dawn MP and the wife of Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos, despite her denunciation of immigrants as “subhuman” and as the party is being blamed for rising incidents of assaults on immigrants. It also gave accreditation to Tamas Gaudi from Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party. The parliamentary assembly of the council had considered a ban on the two if they were found to be affiliated with parties that are “neo-Nazi, racist and anti-Semitic.” The challenge was introduced on procedural grounds by Italian MP Fiamma Nirenstein, who said that the values of these parties were in conflict with the Council of Europe’s ideals and principles. Both challenges were supported by at least 10 members of the assembly present in the chamber, belonging to at least five different national delegations. The Council however set aside the protests. Jean-Claude Mignon of France’s conservative European People’s Party (EPP) one of the most dominant in the European Parliament, said that the pair had been elected following what has been considered democratic elections. He said: “It is not the job of the Assembly to tell the Hungarians or the Greeks ‘You voted correctly,’ or ‘You didn’t vote correctly.”
The long-awaited service to report racist crimes was finally launched by the Greek police this week. A Department to Address Racist Violence is henceforth operating in the National Security Directorates of Athens and Thessaloniki as well as 68 offices in local police stations and a telephone hotline. The services are staffed by more than 200 policemen, mostly from the ranks of National Security.
Concerns remain however as to the efficiency and reliability of these services as the staff have not received adequate training yet according to statements by the head of the Hellenic Police and the police spokesman. Furthermore, it was clearly stated in the police press conference that the practice of arresting and deporting undocumented migrants would not be suspended in cases where they report cases of racist violence, casting serious doubts over the idea that they would have recourse to police services. It must finally be noted that election results in polling stations where staff of national security voted in Athens in June 2012 showed high support for Golden Dawn.
On Monday 21 January, an Athens court ruled that the strike of the employees of the Athens metro was illegal and abusive. The strike of metro and tram workers had begun on Thursday 17 January to protest the abolishment of collective labour agreements and ensuing pay cuts planned under the bailout memorandum. The workers reacted to the ruling by announcing new strikes on 22 and 23 January, which were then extended to 24 January after an assembly on Wednesday, after which employees of other means of public transportation also announced work stoppages in solidarity.
The lawsuit against the strike had been filed by the Athens metro management, which threatened with civil mobilization of the workers after the ruling. At the same time, the Minister of Transportation engaged in insults and accusations against the workers and announced changes to the legal framework regarding strikes. Furthermore, the government spokesman signaled that the government might proceed to sackings of striking employees and financial sanctions, arguing that labour unionists were guilty of contempt of judicial rulings. This caused reactions from large labour unions. A meeting attended by the General Confederation of Greek Workers, the Athens Labour Centre, the Railway Federation and all urban transportation unions decided that such action by the government would lead to industrial action in all means of public transportation.
A solidarity gathering took place on Wednesday at the central depot of the Athens metro and was supported by tens of unions. There were intense rumours that the police was planning to intervene in the night of 23 January but these were not confirmed.
Following a lengthy meeting with the Prime Minister on Thursday, Development Minister Kostis Hatzidakis announced that the government would proceed with civil mobilization of metro staff and that it would take legal action against striking workers. This caused angry reactions from left-wing opposition party SYRIZA, while junior government coalition partner Democratic Left stated its opposition to these measures; PASOK on the other hand supported them. Labour unions of other means of public transportation, as well as the Public Power Corporation union GENOP immediately announced strikes and work stoppages.
Civil mobilization means forcing workers to work despite the strike by issuing them with individual orders. Workers who refuse to comply face prison sentences of 5 to 15 years.
The civil mobilization order came into force on Friday at 5am and was immediately published in the Gazette. The police distributed the individual orders to workers throughout the night and intervened at the depot at sunrise, detaining three striking workers. Early on Friday morning, the company sought to re-launch the metro service but safety technicians stated that this would be dangerous. A gathering, a protest and an assembly took place during the day. Many other unions joined the striking workers and proceeded with strikes and work stoppages. These include the postal services, teachers and other means of public transportation, among others. The relevant authorities went to court on Friday, asking that the strike of bus and trolleybus workers be deemed illegal, but their case was rejected by the court who deemed the strike legal. The communist affiliated union PAME called for a solidarity protest on Saturday.
Employees of the SKAI media group also went on strike on Wednesday 23 January to protest further pay cuts that their employer is seeking to enforce. The workers denounce the atmosphere of blackmail in their workplace with regards to individual work contracts and remind that their media group was the first to abolish collective labour agreements. The specific strike was motivated by the fact that the management sought to force individual contracts with pay cuts to 19 employees in exchange for guaranteeing that they would not be sacked in the next 12 months. It is assumed that other employees who have not received such an offer will be sacked. A further 24-hour strike was announced on Thursday 24 January.
Workers at the Elefsina shipyards also started rolling 24-hour strikes on Wednesday 23 January to protest the fact that they haven’t been paid in a year. They held a march to the Ministry of Labour on Wednesday, and one of them has gone on hunger strike. They also held a march on Friday.
A bomb attack took place at the Athens Mall a little before 11am on Sunday. The 200 shops of the Mall are closed on Sundays but the food court and cinemas operate. 2 security guards were wounded and transferred to hospital and were discharged a few hours later. This was the latest development in a spate of such attacks in Athens in recent weeks, which has caused controversy as to the motives of the attackers, with government officials claiming that they are the work of anarchist and far-left groups while opposition parties accuse the government of provocation. As stated by the New York Times: “So far, no one has been seriously hurt in any of the attacks, which seemed intended more for effect than harm. But they raised questions, Greek antiterrorism officials said, about whether new groups of radical left militants are reviving in the wake of the Villa Amalia eviction, perpetuating a turbulent history of violent episodes that have plagued Greece since the collapse of the military junta in 1974. To its opponents, the timing of the raids raised questions about the government’s motives. They say that Mr. Samaras’s coalition partners are trying to disentangle themselves from the so-called Lagarde list scandal, involving accusations that they failed to pursue rampant tax evasion by the wealthy and well connected.” Some of these attacks have been claimed by previously-unknown groups named the “Lovers of lawlessness” and the “Partnership of Anarchist Organizations,” although it remains unclear if these claims are genuine.
Following the bomb attack against the Mall, the government launched a coordinated verbal attack against left-wing opposition party SYRIZA. Government officials made use of a tampered video to accuse SYRIZA of masterminding the attack. In the video, which was manipulated, the SYRIZA MP from Kastoria, Vangelis Diamantopoulos is shown, according to government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou, “targeting the Mall in a speech four days before the attack and calling openly on his comrades to take up arms. Following that, we are expecting immediate judicial intervention (…) Diamantopoulos should make clear his affiliation with lawlessness and terrorism.”
Earlier in the week, Minister of Public Order Nikos Dendias has stated in a TV talk show that « terrorism comes from the left and from anarchy » but had expressed satisfaction with the fact that « SYRIZA seems to be returning to the fold of lawfulness. » These statements caused angry reactions from the SYRIZA representative on the panel, Nikos Voutsis, who left the studio after answering the Minister’s claims.
The revelation that the Diamantopoulos video had been tampered with caused an angry reaction from Diamantopoulos and his party. SYRIZA condemned New Democracy for deliberately releasing a video with selected bits from Diamantopoulos’s speech with an aim to distort the broader sense of his statement. The party’s spokesman Panos Skourletis sent a letter to the National Radio & TV Council asking for an investigation against some mainstream media outlets who broadcast the edited video, although they had access to the raw footage.
Diamantopoulos released a statement regarding the whole affair, saying: “I am sad that the government is engaging in petty politics to equate violence with the left. Violence has nothing to do with the left. Who talked about violence? Did I talk about violence? Why are they getting into this for petty political benefits? We did not refer to violence. And those who wish to force us to sign “declarations of repentance” will fail. Violence is all these (austerity) measures, violence is these three bailout agreements, violence is being unable to provide your kid with food, violence is not having electricity, violence is lack of medicine. Lawlessness is Mr Latsis’ arbitrary construction of The Mall. Lawlessness is when the people of Athens cannot access the beach because it’s blocked with (illegal construction of) nightclubs. All these things are violence. All these prompt those affected to react, to have a reaction which is not considered legitimate. You know why? Because at this point they tell people: “amidst insanity you either take your own life or take a gun”. What we say is to join us and turn rage into a creative social movement. That’s it. That’s clear on the side of Syriza.”
The government manipulation of the video was also condemned by junior coalition partner Democratic Left, which issued a statement saying: “Democratic Left condemns the selective presentation of parts of the statement of the SYRIZA MP from Kastoria by the communications team of New Democracy. Such practices are not acceptable.”
The charges of felony against Petros Kapetanopoulos were dropped. He had been charged with complicity in mugging after he sought to intervene to prevent policemen from beating up a detained immigrant last July. An important factor which contributed to the charge being dropped was the solidarity of thousands of citizens who signed a petition opposing the fabricated charge. Kapetanopoulos will however be tried for other charges such as resisting authority, but no evidence could be presented for complicity in mugging, leading to the charge to be dropped.
The committee to investigate possible wrongdoing by former Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou in the case of the Lagarde list was established this week and started operating. The Lagarde list is a list of more than 2000 names of Greek bank accounts holders in the HSBC branch in Geneva, of which some are suspected to be tax-dodgers. The list was forwarded in 2010 by Christine Lagarde, who was then Finance Minister of France, to Papaconstantinou, who failed to take appropriate action to investigate it, as did his successor at the Finance Ministry, Evangelos Venizelos. The latter was not referred for investigation by parliament.
In a related case, two former ministers, Yiannos Papantoniou and Petros Doukas, are set to face charges in civil court over incomplete financial statement filings. Papantoniou, a former socialist Defense Minister, failed to enter on his derivation of wealth form 1.3 million euros in savings that his wife had deposited in Switzerland. Former conservative deputy Economy and Finance Minister Petros Doukas had had failed to declare 1 million euros in his 2010 declaration of assets.
Greece has brought criminal charges against the official responsible for measuring the country’s debt, thereby calling into question the validity of its €172bn second bailout by the EU and International Monetary Fund.
Andreas Georgiou, head of the independent statistical agency Elstat, and two senior officials are accused of undermining the country’s “national interests” by inflating the 2009 budget deficit figure used as the benchmark for successive austerity packages.
The three statistical experts face criminal charges of making false statements and corrupt practices, a judicial official said, adding that if found guilty they could serve prison terms of five to 10 years. They have denied any wrongdoing.
Mr Georgiou denied Greek media reports that he had resigned from Elstat, but he declined to comment on the charges.
The move by Greece’s top financial prosecutors follows a 15-month investigation of allegations by Zoe Georganta, a Greek statistics professor, that Mr Georgiou’s team used inaccurate methods to increase the size of the 2009 deficit from 12 per cent to 15.8 per cent of national output, a record for a eurozone member state. Prof Georganta made the allegations against Mr Georgiou after she was sacked from the board of Elstat by Evangelos Venizelos, then finance minister.
Italy is summarily returning unaccompanied migrant children and adult asylum seekers to Greece, where they face a dysfunctional asylum system and abusive detention conditions, Human Rights Watch said in a report published this week. Stowaways on ferries from Greece, including children as young as 13, are sent back by Italian authorities within hours without adequate consideration of their particular needs as children or their desire to apply for asylum.
The 45-page report, “Turned Away: Summary Returns of Unaccompanied Migrant Children and Adult Asylum Seekers from Italy to Greece,” documents the failure of Italian border police at the Adriatic ports of Ancona, Bari, Brindisi, and Venice to screen adequately for people in need of protection, in violation of Italy’s legal obligations. Human Rights Watch interviewed 29 children and adults who were summarily returned to Greece from Italian ports, 20 of them in 2012.
Placed in the custody of the captains of commercial ferries, adults and children alike are confined on board ships during the return journey to Greece in places such as makeshift holding cells or engine rooms and sometimes denied adequate food.
Back in Greece, unaccompanied children and asylum seekers, like all migrants, are vulnerable to law enforcement abuse, degrading conditions of detention, and a hostile environment marked by xenophobic violence, Human Rights Watch said. Italian and international law prohibit the removal of unaccompanied children without a determination that it is in their best interest. Yet, Human Rights Watch met with 13 children ages 13 to 17 who had been summarily returned to Greece. None of them were given access to a guardian or social services, as required by Italian and international law.
Sending adult migrants back to Greece without giving them the opportunity to lodge asylum claims also violates national and international obligations. While Italy has the right to enforce its immigration laws, asylum seekers must be allowed to exercise the right to lodge asylum claims, and no one returned should be exposed to risks of torture or ill-treatment.
Overwhelming evidence of chronic problems with Greece’s asylum system and detention conditions has led to landmark European court rulings barring returns to that country under the Dublin II Regulation, which generally requires the first EU country of entry to process an asylum claim. Numerous EU countries have suspended transfers of asylum seekers to Greece as a result.
Italy has not suspended Dublin transfers to Greece but claims to assess the risk of rights violations when considering whether to do so. But its summary returns from the ports contradict this policy.
Most people interviewed said they had not had a chance to express their desire to apply for asylum, while five said their pleas to do so were ignored by port police officers. According to Bari border police, only 12 out of almost 900 migrants detected at the port between January 2011 and June 2012 were allowed to remain in Italy.
Nongovernmental organizations with contracts to provide services and information to migrants detected at the ports do not have systematic access to them, leaving decisions about who is allowed to remain in Italy in the hands of border police. None of those interviewed had been given access to nongovernmental groups or information about their rights and about applying for asylum. Only seven had been assisted by an interpreter.
The European Court of Human Rights is expected to issue a judgment soon in the case of Sharife and Others v. Italy and Greece involving the 2009 summary return of 25 adults and 10 children who contend that the return violated their right to life and to protection against torture or ill-treatment, and to an effective remedy. The Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, Nils Muižnieks, and the UN special rapporteur on the rights of migrants, François Crépeau, have both urged Italy to refrain from summary returns to Greece.
The popular assembly of the Patissia neighbourhood of Athens will start operating a solidarity pharmacy on Monday 28 January. The pharmacy will provide free medication to people unable to access the public health system such as the unemployed or the indigent and will refer those lacking a medical prescription to volunteer doctors. The pharmacy also needs volunteers and support, and can be contacted by phone at 210-2012013 (country code 30) and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. It also has a blog koinonikofarmakeio.blogspot.com.