Monitoring group says racist hate crimes have gone up 14 percent, with members of the far-right Golden Dawn movement often responsible.
After a long day searching for a new job, Gulbaz Mohammed made his way home on foot, following the same path he walked each day in the Athens suburb of Peristeri.
The sun had already gone down on May 13, 2018, and the Pakistani migrant worker turned down the dimly-lit street leading to his home, spotting a group of six black-clad youth.
Four of the men surrounded him, while two others kept a lookout at the nearby intersection. “Go back to Pakistan,” they shouted as the first fist smashed into his face.
He initially kept his balance, but the men continued kicking and punching him, eventually toppling him on to the sidewalk.
Captured on tape by a nearby security camera, the attackers continued to strike him as he fell to the ground, struggling to regain his balance.
After the assault, Mohammed began changing up his route home each evening, hoping to avoid any additional attacks.
“If I see groups of young men, I walk the other way,” he told TRT World.
The incident came amid a swell of far-right violence last year, much of it targeting migrants and refugees in Greece.
On Thursday, the Athens-based Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN) released its annual report, which documented a 14-percent increase in racist violence in 2018 when compared to the previous year.
Between 2017 and 2018, the total number of hate crimes grew from 102 to 117, while the number of attacks targeting refugees and migrants more than doubled.
Of last year’s total, at least 74 incidents included attacks on refugees and migrants, 27 targeted members of the LGBT community, 10 were motivated by religion, and six included Greek citizens who were attacked owing to their skin colour, ethnicity, or national origin.
‘Extreme xenophobic ideologies’
“The support base for violent acts against refugees and migrants is expanding,” states the report, adding that many of the incidents the RVRN documented appeared to be “organised attacks” or carried out by “organised groups” that “proudly state they are infused with extreme xenophobic ideologies”.
“The increase in racist violence and hate speech is also attributed to the resurge[nce] of nationalist populism, which played a decisive role in the diffusion and normalisation of extreme messages of intolerance,” the report adds.
Although a Greek police spokesperson did not reply to TRT’s request for a comment, the police have released their own hate crimes statistics for 2018.
Altogether, the tally included 226 incidents, among them 152 targeting refugees and migrants; nearly one-in-four incidents targeted Pakistani nationals living in Greece.
Far-right and anti-migrant violence reached a fever pitch in 2013, when supporters and members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party and other far-rightists carried out a wave of violence across the country.
In 2012, Golden Dawn surged in a pair of legislative elections, subsequently entering parliament for the first time. The group rode a wave of anger stemming from austerity and economic crisis, blaming migrants for much of the country’s woes.
In January 2013, two Golden Dawn supporters stabbed to death 27-year-old Pakistani labourer Shahzad Luqman. Nine months later, a Golden Dawn member fatally stabbed 34-year-old anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas.
After the September 2013 killing of Fyssas, the Greek government cracked down on Golden Dawn, charging the party with operating a criminal organisation.
In April 2015, 69 members of Golden Dawn, including most of its leadership, were put on trial.
The legal proceedings have since dragged on, partially owing to bureaucratic delays and a large number of testimonies.
The Greek reality of racist violence: from extremist racist groups to “everyday” racism. Join the @RVRN_Greece press event this Thursday 18 April at ESHEA, Athens, to know more about the 2018 findings of the Racist Violence Recording Network in #Greece. https://t.co/KuD6iAKVmF— UNHCR Greece (@UNHCRGreece) April 15, 2019
‘Afraid of people seeing’
As far-right violence fanned throughout Greece amid an uptick in nationalist rallies last year, far-rightists attacked refugees, migrants, reporters and politicians, among others.
In January 2018, protesters defaced a Holocaust monument in Thessaloniki during a demonstration against negotiations between Athens and Skopje over the name Macedonia.
Others set a nearby squatted building on fire.
In March, Greek police arrested several members of Combat 18 Hellas, a neo-Nazi group that had carried out a spate of attacks against left-wing hangouts, squats, and Jewish cemeteries.
Later that month, another far-right group, Crypteia, set an Afghan community centre in Athens on fire.
On May 20, a right-wing mob attacked and beat Thessaloniki mayor Yiannis Boutaris, a longtime critic of nationalist groups and protesters. Although Greek politicians from the left and the center-right condemned the assault, some on the far right celebrated it, with Golden Dawn stating in a statement that it was “popular rage”.
Speaking to Greece’s 24/7 radio station in June, then Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said he had received more than 800 death threats during the first half of 2018 over the Macedonia dispute.
On June 17, Greek and Macedonian diplomats met on Lake Prespes and signed an agreement stipulating that the Republic of Macedonia would change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia.
As protesters gathered in front of the Greek parliament that same day, a group of masked men attacked Greek-Portuguese photojournalist Nikolas Kokovlis.
Eight to ten men screamed “half breed” as they surrounded Kokovlis, beating him with sticks and flagpoles. After concluding the assault, the men stole his camera and escaped.
“They saw that my skin is darker and that I had a camera,” he told TRT World, “and they asked if I was taking pictures of faces [because] they’re afraid of people seeing what happens during these rallies.”