Saturday, October 3, 2009

Greece & Immigration part I: Agios Panteleimonas

I recently finished reading Yorgos Liolios's "Skies tis Polis (Shadows In The City)" (Eurasia, 2008), in which the author attempts to map out the chronicle of the decimation of Veroia's (a small town near Thessaloniki & Liolios's birthplace) jewish population during WWII. Liolios is a rare (non-jewish) greek voice when it comes to the greek jewish element & its near-extinction - yet, the voice I wish to borrow for the beginning of this post belongs not to him but, rather, to a survivor he interviewed. In the following excerpt, the reader gets to read about a specific incident in the life of a group of jews who fled the town before being rounded up & ended up spending the next couple of years hiding out in the nearby Vermio mountain. As usual, the translation is mine.

'[...] In that ambush in Sykia, on 3 March 1944 (according to [S.] Dordanas['s book 'Blood Of The Innocents'], on 2 March), for the discovery & punishment of locals collaborating with the guerilla groups & arming the village, a resident of the village betrays the illegal presence of the jews to the germans. With the betrayer leading them, the germans arrest the male jewish population that they discover hidden, along with their families, at the position Anilio (to this day, the area is called 'jewish well' by the locals) & they drive them to the church at the village center, where they subject them to violent humiliation. The only villager who had the courage to object was, once again, the priest Nestoras Karamitsos, who - witnessing the scene from his house's frontyard - raised his voice towards the germans & demanded that they stop the humiliation. The priest's strong opposition was countered by a sole greek collaborator of the germans who retorted "Stop it, father, for I will come over there & pluck out your beard hair by hair."

The results of the germans' ambush at the village were devastating for the local population. As retort for the cover the [villagers] offered the jewish families, the germans burned down, that same day, a total of eleven domiciles belonging to those who assisted the protection of the jews & the actions of the guerilla groups. Those houses belonged to Christos Vitos of Theodoros, Ilias Karamitsos of Nestoras, Christos Karamitsos of Dimitrios, Apostolos Kourtesis, Georgios Lanaras of Athanasios, Dimitrios Lanaras of Athanasios, Ioannis Damtsios, Christos Strympinos, Argyrios Tetos of Nestoras, Christos Meliopoulos &, naturally, father Nestoras's house. Additionally, the germans did not spare the village school & four mills at the position Krasopouli.'

Reading this, I could not help drawing the parallels to a much more recent event relating, this time around, not to greek jews but to non-greek muslims. A certain father Prokopios, of the church of Agios Panteleimonas (in the athenian neighborhood bearing the same name), came into media focus for a short while this past spring because of his offering food & clothing to families of homeless afghan immigrants who sought shelter on the church's front steps. He came into severe critique by locals (according to other accounts, locals mixed with neonazis - after all, what with the newly formed parliamentary leg of neonazi group Golden Dawn scoring 23,000 votes in the recent european elections, one certainly does not exclude the other). According to this interview of his here (in greek), the opposers feared that his assistance will prolong the immigrants' stay at the square. He finally stopped assisting the immigrants (the church still hands out meals to 'both greeks & immigrants') but not before a case of arson against the church basement on May 26; the immigrants were chased out by locals ('They were terrified. Terrible events unfolded here.'); & a rather massive anarchist/antifa protest march was organized for July 07 & ended up right into the neighborhood.

Indymedia reports (in english) on that particular march & what came to pass during it can be found here & here). In short, the cops were proven to offer explicit coverage to the neonazis (by far not for the first time); this hospitable, if not outright charitable, gesture extended to the point of letting them operate from among their ranks with (ta-dah!) molotov cocktails. One of these molotov cocktails managed to vindicate the agent provocateur/common idiot that hurled it: things got out of hand & the cops replied with the usual violence (teargas, chemicals, flashbang grenades, all shot directly at protesters). The protection offered the neonazis continued all the way to the end of the march; pictures of the molotov incident found their way into greek media & led parliament member (& living legend) Periklis Korovesis to ask the corresponding vice minister Ch. Markogiannakis what he intends to do about it, if anything at all. (That is, indeed, the same vice minister/common scum that unleashed the riot cops on cretan farmers in late January - here, from 2:50 & on. Or that met the "infuriated citizens" of Agios Panteleimonas, a gesture widely perceived as a validation ticket that was cashed in that same night, when a local squat was attacked in plain sight of cops.) I did not check back whether the vice minister replied or not - you'll have to excuse me there.

But much of the above lies way into the future. Let's rewind, instead, to the point where Agios Panteleimonas came into focus - much sharper focus than father Prokopios ever did, in fact - as the embodiment of the newly crafted greek face towards immigration. Media attention started when a cop tore an immigrant's qur'an apart - & then stomped on it - during a raid (May 21); the immigrants paraded on the streets, demanding that their religion be respected (as the greek constitution explicitly states - but these are mere details for a police force that operates side by side with neonazis). Apparently, the protesters got a qur'an & a bible from aforementioned father Prokopios to deliver symbolically to the local police station; (surprise-surprise) the protest was met with teargas. A repetition of the protest occurred the next day, albeit in the center of Athens; it ended up in flying stones forging paths through teargas. "Minor" altercations followed - an immigrant molotov'ed the local PD (May 22); unidentified persons molotov'ed a basement acting as mosque (May 23 - & again on August 28); writer (& albanian citizen) Gazmend Kapllani honored an invitation extended by residents to present his book in the neighborhood (also May 23) to end up hunted down (in front of stationary cops) amidst cries of 'we fucked you in the civil war, we'll fuck you again now,' 'communists = betrayers' & 'death to the immigrants' (ah... yes... interesting detail in a comment to this post: Mr. Kapllani testified about this incident to the city council, only to hear from the mayor's mouth that he had 'forgotten to mention that the City of Athens had sponsored the event' - surreal...). These "minor" altercations, though, shy away from the pogrom of May 27, at which date locals & neonazis bashed immigrants while others were excelling in racist sloganeering.

& yet, the region's notability could have come much earlier, as the neonazis had been operating in it for at least a year. In an ironic twist of fate, the emergent symbol of the ensuing fight was not the aforementioned regional church but, rather, a playground. Of the ones with slides & swings, yes: locals & neonazis have been literally keeping it under lock & key (& guarding it) since May 16, you see. If on a summer's night the proverbial traveller arrived at said playground, he would be exposed not only to the same arguments one hears from xenophobes the world over ("immigrants gather here" & "immigrants raise criminality" & maybe "our neighborhood's noble maids are being terrorized") but to more outspoken ones: "the handkerchief'ed come here with their kids - & they bring sickness"; "immigrant kids soil the playground" (father Prokopios again: 'I, personally, asked the municipality to install 4 chemical toilets to avoid problems with dirt. Some claim that the [immigrants'] little kids soil the playground. If they were greek kids & had no toilets, where [else] would they go? They promised me they'll bring them, but we've seen nothing yet...'). & another one: "if we keep the playground closed, the afghans might stay away from our neighborhood" (father Prokopios: '[The problems started] this past year, with the presence of the afghans. Immigrants lived here before that, but they had been integrated &, in fact, people were renting & selling them houses. If you rent & sell your house, you're the one bringing the immigrants to your region. How can you then complain that your region is full of immigrants?'). The net result of this improbable barricading has been, so far:

* Ch. Tassoulas, a local activist & parent, getting beaten up in said playground on June 09, after escorting his kid there: this occurred at a moment when the playground had been opened up by antiauthoritarians & was empty, apart from the cops who were stationed there. Soon, he says (in greek), a crowd of about 50 neonazis & their local supporters gathered there, swore disgustingly (the kid was present), demanded that he leaves the playground (the cops were also present), & beat him up (t-h-e c-o-p-s w-e-r-e a-l-s-o p-r-e-s-e-n-t). After the assaulters & the police chief failed to convince him to leave, the latter wheeled off the activist parent to the local PD leaving the assaulting group [i]behind[/i] (& thus also "indirectly" granting them their wish). Mr. Tassoulas was kept there until a lawyer arrived four hours later. To add insult to injury, a journalist of the slimiest countenance (that's my personal, subjective assessment of said journalist, yes) apparently stated, on TV, that the victim had 'rented the kid for twenty euro'. (No, really - I kid you not.)

* A 'group of lawyers for the rights of immigrants & refugees' issuing a statement (September 10) criticizing the local PD, after they got there to offer legal help to an afghan who had gotten stabbed on Attikis square. The afghan was not transferred to a hospital, the sole eyewitness was also arrested & kept at the PD, no statement was taken from the victim, & - here it comes - "infuriated citizens" not affiliated with the police in whichever official way kept roaming the PD at will, examining the official paperwork, & watching the lawyers' moves while at it. (No, really - I'm not making this up.) Earlier, on June 09, parents & citizens were transferred by the police from the playground (which they tried to use) to the PD, after they got swore at & roughed up. Certain say this was done to protect them from the neonazis (why the latter group was not the one to get transferred to the PD is anyone's call). They ended up remaining in that same PD for hours on end, since neonazis had meanwhile gathered outside & were trying to get their hands on anyone who was leaving the PD.

* A slew of neonazi calls to gather on the square & shout 'Immigrants Get Out! Greece Belongs To The Greeks!'. (As somebody cleverly remarked, neonazis are not against illegal immigration: they are against immigration/mobility, period, as evident from their slogans & - why hide it - history.) Hundreds of people responded to these, counting the bystanders (nevertheless, this particular estimate is a tough one to make for someone like me who has not been there). What is more interesting than the psychopaths carrying shields (no, really: s-h-i-e-l-d-s) with the white power symbol painted on them is that certain of the speakers in these gatherings are recent defectors from the Nea Dimokratia (ND) camp (ND's still on power, at least up to the imminent elections).

* Immigrants getting beaten up under indescribable circumstances. Adverbs won't do: brutally, indiscriminately, casually, repeatedly. Prepositions won't do: with bats or crowbars, by five or ten people at a time, amidst racist slogans from a bullhorn or Wagner from a speaker, on top of all their misery, despite the cloak of invisibility they're as good as wearing for that elusive beast known as average citizen. Nothing will do, except for this: immigrants face our newly crafted, war-painted, Medusa mask. Countless are hunted like animals, families are forcibly removed from squares (July 15; in front of five riot cop platoons), immigrant-operated stores are trashed, & finally an immigrant gets stabbed (August 29, once again in front of cops; here in more detail, albeit in greek).

(Have I already mentioned that the same people cordoning off the playground suggested, in late June, that it be demolished & replaced by a fountain? Less surrealism, gentlemen, please - I'm prone to start thinking you had Marcel Duchamp's fountain in mind.)

We all know that the human mind operates in synthetic terms & has a knack for abstraction: the notion of 'pattern' gets introduced to describe similar events; that of 'causality' to link successive events; the other one of '(physical) law' to enable prediction of future events. Politics & political thought are unimaginable without either of these abilities, & the emergent question is, accordingly: what is our proverbial traveller to make of this mess?

If he lifts himself slightly off the ground, he might note what activist residents of Agios Panteleimonas have been claiming time & time again: little by little, assault by assault, the neonazis of Golden Dawn are trying to establish the region as an immigrant-free zone. According to some, the neighborhood has a long history of accommodating immigrants; according to others, it has a lot of problems; in either case, it's been slated for transformation into an ethnically segregated zone by the shitheads. Obvious question: are the shitheads paying close attention to people's reaction to assess the success of this experiment? The answer to this is somewhat of a moot point, as far as I am concerned: without their being backed by cops & effectively absolved by greek TV (every time they are grouped together with locals under the moniker "infuriated citizens"/"concerned locals"), the shitheads are the same nothing they have always been in this country (they remain just as dangerous, mind you). Hence, I'm inclined to believe, they need not worry about the people: they need to worry about maintaining the umbrella others are holding over their heads. (Certainly, somebody in the higher echelons must be watching, but I leave this to smarter people to establish.)

The police force, meanwhile, does not merely stay out of it - we're not talking about 'unrest in the ghetto' here. The police force assists the shitheads - either by turning a blind eye when they stab people, or by assimilating them in their ranks, or by arresting residents that do not silently condone the newly imposed status quo. The obvious question here is who has OKayed this collaboration? &, abstractions aside, it's a tough one to answer: the police force is a state body, & one with a mission of maintaining the state itself, while at that. As such, it is unthinkable that any administration - even the current, improbably incompetent one - will ever relinquish control over the police force. But that's where things start to get fuzzy: when the administration controls the police, does the latter not exert a certain force on the former, too? Isn't the aforementioned vice minister a covert totalitarian who he started his DA career in '72, under the colonels' junta's aegis? & isn't it the case that he was called in to clean up (with an iron sweep) what was left of the events of December '08? &, if this is all true, isn't it then the case that Markoyannakis is much closer - & explicitly so - to the most conservative elements in the greek police force (substituting outright repression for negotiation two weeks into his vice-ministerial duties, in the case of the farmers)? Who controls who? Riot squads are merely state's padding, & no padding can eliminate the shock of an impact entirely. The vibrations are felt, the padding is infuriated for being allowed (or ordered) to "lose face", & Pavlopoulos is replaced by ultra-conservative favorite Markoyannakis. & in this way the police force exerts, indeed, a force onto the administration; go figure who OKays what & in what order. If we are to believe a certain somebody who remarked that, following the junta's demise, the state apparatus was too busy cleaning up the army from junta sympathizers to worry about the police; & if we are to believe that what was not cleaned up among the cops is what evolved into neonazi tendencies (rumored to be commonplace among greek cops); if we are to believe these things, we do not need to worry about who OKays what. We only need to worry about cleaning up what should have been cleaned up long ago.

Finally - anarchists & leftists, who excel at synthesis & abstraction, seem to be somewhat of at a loss. Not for words - these come aplenty, although it's a dismal omen that they are dressed the shroud of decades past (was it Étienne Balibar who argued that communism's downfall may have been its not understanding of nazism/fascism? Probably not - I forget). They're at a loss for actions - demo: check; playground liberation: check; & also for some - fight cops & helpers: check; anything else? Yes, there's something else: for example, the following letter which appeared in Avgi (the official newspaper of the radical parliamentary left) - how's that for the fans of synthetic & abstract thinking?

'I live in Fylis street, by the brothels, & I have never signed to have them removed, although the sight is revolting. The girls at the[se] "houses" do not annoy & the "clients" come & go. There has never been violence centered around the brothels. Nobody asks publicly, any more, to have them removed, although everyone would like to not have them in our neighborhood.

The war, though, between anarhists [armed] with planks & "Golden Dawnists" [armed] with crowbars, indeed with police coverage for the latter, conceals the real & serious problem of crimilnality in the region. It's indeed unsavory for the "playground" to be kept under lock & key, but the fact that the war between the[se] two mechanisms focused, in the end, on the "playground" evokes a too real semiology, don't you think?

The neighborhood attests to a war between mechanisms, it watches it mostly on TV, & it knows that all these [events] play themselves out in her absence. Does anyone think that the Agios Panteleimon square is what we call the neighborhood square? You're wrong. Some aged greeks are the only ones frequenting it for their cup of coffee.

Do you think that the far-right locals got organized to throw the immigrants out of the neighborhood's squares? You're wrong again. Why has Victorias square been established as the place where african & pakistani street merchants sell their goods? Did anyone ever throw them out? The only ones that did, to your surprise I expect, was about a hundred muslims, recently, after their first protest march in Omonoias [square] for the torn "Qur'an".

They're the only ones, then, that viciously drove away the people from the nearby coffeeshops & trampled underfoot the poor immigrant street merchants from Victorias square! I was there. This piece of information cannot be denied.

Did you ever hear a "far-right" resident of my neighborhood get annoyed by the 15 poor pakistanis living peacefully across me, in the small apartment on the first floor, which they maintain cleaner, more cheerful, & tidier even from my own one, even though they live one on top of each other in there? One on top of each other, but civilized, with dignity, & social.

Did you ever hear a "far-right" resident of my neighborhood have an issue with the 2 syrians who live next to me & [with whom] we exchange good morning's daily & with a sincere smile? Or maybe an issue with the pleasant polish, bulgarians, africans, russians, & albanians of my apartment building?

Any issue with the astonishingly beautiful polish woman - owner of the grocery store in my neighborhood? Did you ever hear anything about the multitask carpenter, my albanian neighbor, with his beautiful & full of dignity family? For the most kind & doll-like albanian baker, who has turned my bread-buying into one of my most pleasant daily activities?

I am thinking that, were I living in an apartment building next to which two immigrants have been murdered by other immigrants in the last ten years, I could possibly be feeling somewhat insecure at night. I summon the sight of vicious, & I mean vicious, fights between immigrants, which I have witnessed four (4) times from my balcony... They were not neighboring immigrants, they were "bar" goers, drunk...

The end of the fight found one immigrant lying unconscious on the street for more than 15 minutes, until the police came... I momentarily lost it. I thought he was dead. I summon the hailing gunshots which are heard periodically, once a month, maybe twice, at my neighborhood's horizon... I never learn what happened, probably for lack of dead.

I think about how everyone reacts when I tell them that I live in Agios Panteleimonas in Acharnes. Always the same reaction, the same discussion. There's no need to explain. You understand [me] perfectly well. But perform an experiment: suggest to your friend that you go out to the Agios Panteleimonas square for a Saturday afternoon coffee or a Saturday night drink. You're laughing, right?

I will dwell neither on a political nor on a social analysis. It makes no sense. What does make sense is that the rational ones among those interested realize that the tactic of mechanisms fighting each other, the planks, the flying fists, the characterization of neighborhood residents as far-right supporters, the irresponsibility of anarchists & of fellow travelers it the best recipe for war in Agios Panteleimonas in Acharnes.

The best recipe for war on the neighborhood's back, the best recipe for putting serious criminality under an umbrella, for the victimization of the entire body of the neighborhood's immigrants, for the "Golden Dawn" to establish itself firmly & with demands to be met in Agios Panteleimonas, for me to finally leave my neighborhood where I have been living since I've been 15 years old.

Do the armies of anarchists & "Golden Dawn" need to suffer seriously injured or even worse before those rational ones who have been engaged by inertia in the perilous fest of the playground take a step back from irrationality & violence? Does the social principle of self-fulfilled prophecy have to get into action, & the region's regular residents to be convinced that they are far-right supporters & that only the far right extends a sympathetic ear, whence they owe to vote for & support the far right?

& a super quiz

I will have you squeeze your brain & I'm certain that, even so, you won't find the answer! Nevertheless, this may urge you to think deeply. &, foremost, carefully. Who is the german politician who uttered, in a workers' public gathering: 'We will not let the men & women of this country lose their jobs to the badly payed foreign workers'?

It's Oscar Lafontaine's statement, during a speech of his in front of a working class-derived audience in the city of Chemnitz , East Germany, in 2005, who has been in charge of the new left wing party 'Die Linkspartei - PDS'. (Taken from Vasiliki Georgiadou's book 'The Far Right & the Consequences of Acquiescence', Kastaniotis 2008, p.41.)'

Let's leave our proverbial traveller with his feet dangling a few hundred feet off the ground & postpone taking a look at the 'broader picture' for the next post - sometime after Sunday's parliamentary elections. Let's close, instead, with the following excerpt from Yannis Makridakis's historical novel "Anamisis Ntenekes" (Estia, 2008) which fell serendipitously in my lap a few days after reading father Prokopios's interview - it makes for some excellent reading.

'[...] Every once in a while, until recently, a priest would enter the coffeeshop, only to regret his decision the very same moment he'd set foot in there. The good samaritans were calling to him to preach the word of merciful god to the sinners, they were yelling at him to put reason in them, to get them back on the righteous path, to tell them that the refugees [arriving in Chios from Turkey circa '14] are [also] people &, in fact, dispossessed people since they lost the[ir] country, the[ir] home, the[ir] belongings, the[ir] kin.

The rest were taking him up to the task for society's paralysis, they were telling him to begin with the blessings, the litanies, the summons to virgin Mary, to exorcize the bad, so that the village can regain its calmness.

The priest would [thus] get into an untenable position. What should he do? To preach christianity from scratch, to swim against the current once again, as Christ once did & got crucified [for], to risk losing half or more of his congregation to defend the refugees & to align himself with the voices of a few who could not secure his sustenance? Or should he align himself with the majority, to hand out aphorisms & preaching, to compromise himself in the eyes of the few, the educated, the rich captains who had refugees working for them & were always fast to tell of their kindness & nobility?

Using half-uttered words, he would try to keep a foot in each vessel; as a good christian & a good villager, until he could succeed, with effort, agony, & sweat to unhook himself from the coffeeshop & never set foot in it again.'


Anonymous said...

hi, do you know where exactly is the village sykia mentioned in the book located??

tapes gone loose said...

Actually I do - you can see for yourself here: . It's rather close to Vergina & in between Palatitsia & Ryakia (both of which are mentioned in the same book). If you check back, do let me know why the interest :).

panole8riambos said...

Poly douleia...
Elpizo na eisai kala.

Anonymous said...

hi, thanks for the location mom comes from a place called sykia and i was wondering if it was the same village mentioned in your post..i guess there are many sykia villages in greece :-)

WayNe said...

link trade?

tapes gone loose said...

Hi WayNe, sorry for the belated reply. I don't do link trades, for better or for worse. I'd gladly add you to another - more relevant & way more high-profile - blog I sometimes contribute to, but I see you got added there already, so there you go :). Best of luck w/ the blog.