Greece. The city at a time of crisis: Mapping racist attacks in Athens



Since the onset of the financial crisis and subsequent economic policies introduced by the EU, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Greece, racism and incidents of racist violence in the country have risen sharply. During 2012, the Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN) recorded 154 incidents of racist violence. In 91 cases, victims said they believed that the perpetrators belonged to an extremist group. In “at least 8 cases, the victims or witnesses to the attacks reported that they recognised persons associated to Golden Dawn among the perpetrators.” The RVRN also reported that “there is a distinct category of 25 incidents where police and racist violence are interlinked,” with some attacks taking place in detention centres and police stations, while in others “the involvement of law enforcement officials in racist attacks was also reported.” [1]

 Increased racism and the growth of neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn have led to numerous different responses from social, political and community organisations. These include fairly typical activities such as marches and demonstrations as well as more novel responses such as anti-fascist motorcycle patrols in neighbourhoods “where thugs are known to beat up immigrants and cause damage to their shops.” [2] Recently the team behind the research project The City at a Time of Crisis, which aims to “trace and research the effects of the ongoing financial crisis on urban public spaces in Athens,” launched a map to document racist attacks in the city. Statewatch spoke to Jaya Klara Brekke from the group to find out more.

When did you start the mapping project? Has its use grown as time has gone by?
It started fairly recently. We launched it publicly in May. So far it has grown in terms of the attention it has received, which has been quite a lot, but our main focus really is to make it active as a tool, and to form a network of people around it. This obviously takes time: for people to know about it, to feel comfortable in using it, and for people to see a sense in using it. The last point especially is also dependent on the map being integrated into other initiatives. In other words, that it is linked more to other initiatives, support groups, legal help, resources etc. so that it has an immediate practical relevance as well. In any case, these are all things we are working on and we are expecting that it will take some time.

Has the map proved to be a useful tool for anti-racist activity and organisation in Athens? How has it been used, and do you think there are things that could be done with the information which aren’t being done at the minute?
So far it serves a limited purpose in being an immediate visual reference point to what is happening. As time passes and as more information is added it will also become a useful open record and reference for past incidents. Ideally, it would be nice to see more follow-up information on each case, but as there are so many incidents this is not always easy and takes a good network of users which hasn’t been established yet. The other issue is language. English seemed to be the most accessible language internationally, but ideally the map would be in Greek and French as well.

The government has recently announced the creation of a police unit focused on racist attacks, and an anti-racism law is the subject of debate amongst politicians. How do you assess the government’s response to the increase in racist and anti-immigrant activity in Athens and in Greece? Could they do more to help address the problem?
As a starting point I think it is important to keep in mind that this government is the same that ordered the Xenios Zeus operation, so to expect them to do much to stop racist violence that they are in a sense inciting through their own acts would seem naive, even contradictory. In any case, the recent “anti-racist initiatives” from the government and police have come after international pressure from the Racist Violence Recording Network, UNHCR reports and Amnesty. Most of these initiatives are clearly more for show than anything. As far as I have heard, the new police unit receives next to no training and its creation does not change the fact that some 50% of police vote for Golden Dawn. The “emergency phone line” for racist violence is a farce – we recently published a translated conversation from the phone line between a police officer and a migrant who was badly beaten. [Note: the original transcript in Greek by Dimitris Angelidis can be found here]

The anti-racism law has not been implemented and is the subject of debate and is resisted by the ruling party, Nea Demokratia (New Democracy). So all-in-all these initiatives are pretty farcical. In terms of whether they could do more to address the problem, well, yes, I think racist violence has a lot to do with the terms on which public discourse takes place, also around issues like the crisis, and the European border system. Also, the problem is not only an isolated issue to do with Greek mentality and policy. Obviously the history of the Greek police and the right/fascism in Greece is pretty specific, but the situation is obviously also connected with European immigration policy, international economic policy and wars. The EU needs to be included, given the responsibility of EU policy with regard to the rise of fascism in Greece.

When it comes to what “we” can do, a lot of work needs to be done on fundamentally changing the terms on which this debate takes place, which is always a nationalist one, and change the way material experiences are interpreted and discussed.

How has Operation Xenios Zeus affected the social and political situation in Athens?
As Harry Ladis, a lawyer that we interviewed as part of the Landscapes of Emergency mini-documentary has said about the HIV scandal – where a national emergency was created around the issue of foreign prostitutes bringing HIV to Greece (a claim with hardly any evidence and which resulted in arrests, forced HIV tests, and the publicising of these women’s identities) – in this political and economic climate of total powerlessness and bankruptcy it becomes important to create problems that the state and police can then go in and “solve”. Xenios Zeus is one such operation, where people, many of whom had legal rights to stay in the country, were rounded up as a show of force and a show of initiative and capacity on the side of the state. The result of this is increasingly hysterical anti-migrant pogroms, abuse, exploitation and murder.

Are you aware of mapping projects elsewhere in Greece or Europe? Do you think the use of maps could be useful for social and political organising on other issues outside of anti-racism?
Maps are very useful, but obviously they are only useful if they actually contain real and updated information and this takes a lot of time and work. There are a lot of good examples out there. One map that I saw recently and that is using the same tool as we are (Ushahidi) is the Harass Map that people in Egypt have been working on, mapping sexual harassment. It has been going since 2010 so has had some years to develop and grow as a tool. So yes, maps can be a very good tool for organising – as a way to gather information and make it available in a way that can be understood, grasped and acted on very quickly.

The map can be found here. For more information on the group’s project, see the website of The City at a Time of Crisis.


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