The Police In Athens Are Beating People Into Comas Again
Things haven't been the same in Greece since December 2008, when a 15-year-old kid was killed by a cop and everyone went bonkers. Since then, the country's suffered a total economic meltdown, and the austerity measures taken to counteract it have lead to endless protests and rioting. As one of the first European nations to stumble into grim recession mode, Greece can be seen as a guinea pig for what happens when the money runs out and the authorities have to fight their own people in the streets in an attempt to cling on to power. If the brutal beating of 31-year-old Giannis Kafkas last week is anything to go by, that guinea pig is incredibly violent and willing to do whatever it takes to preserve its position within the political elite.
In truth, things have been a little quieter in Athens of late. The angry young men seemed to have grown tired of fighting attritional battles against the state, and the older citizens seemed terrified to leave their houses due to escalating crime rates. But things took a turn for the furious again at 5am on Tuesday morning, when three immigrants murdered a 44-year-old man in the city centre while he was fetching the car he planned to take his pregnant wife to hospital in.
On Thursday, the peaceful protest-cum-wake that had been planned to mourn him was hijacked by nationalist groups who chased immigrants at random through the streets of Athens with spray-paint and big sticks. A day earlier, in a completely separate protest, the police beat anti-cuts protester Giannis Kafkas into a coma. We spoke to Greg, one of Giannis' friends.
Sorry to hear about your friend, Greg. What happened on Wednesday? How did the violence start?
Greg: It was an association of people that got hit, the police didn't target any one group. There were a few anarchists throwing Molotovs around, but there's no way you can say everyone was, and that definitely wasn't the case with the group we were in when we got hit on Navarinou Street.
So why did the police start bashing people over the head with their batons?
It was as if they were overcome by a random sort of mania and decided they were going to start hitting everyone on the spot. Giannis was part of the bloc – he was holding an anti-authority placard, but his face wasn't covered and he wasn't holding any weapons. They just threw him on the floor and started beating him repeatedly.
Shit. Did he lose consciousness on the street?
No. A passerby helped him and called his brother. He was then dragged into an ambulance, and that was where he lost his senses.
An example of tactical policing in Athens. This guy isn't Giannis.
How severe were his injuries?
According to the doctors and the coroner that saw him, this was more than a beating, it was attempted murder. The beats were repetitive, his brain's cortex has been broken, and one third of his brain has been destroyed. According to the doctors, the damage is too extensive to have been caused by a cosh. It must have been a piece of iron or some other kind of illegal weaponry the special forces often use.
What are we talking? A pistol-butt, or something less sophisticated, like a big stick with nails wedged in it?
We can't be sure. Another thing they've been using recently is gas – that's why you see all these guys on the news who turn up for the protests in gas masks. It's a very strange sort of gas. It's not the standard tear gas we've gotten used to being bombarded with over the last few years of riots and demonstrations. This stuff actually brings you to your knees. And the moment you're down, the police bring out the coshes.
The police are behaving extremely strangely at the moment. If you are seen holding a camera, for example, you're a dead man.
How's Giannis holding up?
He is now in intensive care. He's in a coma and still in a critical condition. His case wasn't an isolated one – on the same day, a 17 year old girl lost her spleen, for example, and there were many other casualties. There were a few people who managed to scrabble their camera footage away from the police and get it online. We're still looking for one that shows Giannis being beaten.
Surely the powers that be are doing all they can to stop the world seeing that?
The authorities are trying to keep the whole thing under wraps. The District Attorney came to the hospital, along with a couple of police officers, and attacked the director of the hospital because he sent Giannis to surgery immediately without getting it approved by the board. The doctor said that if he hadn't done that, Giannis would have died. The DA and the police's reply was, "You couldn't have known that."
What about the other riots that kicked off the following night? Were you out on the streets for that?
That was total madness. Knives were getting thrown everywhere; in legs, in bottoms, in stomachs. A few people captured a few blacks and spray-painted black crosses on them. The immigrants were totally unarmed and were running everywhere. Havoc!
So what's next for Greece? Where can our country possibly go from here?
It seems like this is going to be the hottest summer ever for Greece, but everyone needs to keep calm if they can and stop going berserk. You don't know who's a cop any more, you don't know who's a fascist. Athens has been polarised into groups that stab and kill each other, but no one's coming forward to talk about the attacks – not the Prime Minister, the Minister of Citizen Protection, no one. The Left, which we are so much in need of at the moment, is non-existent, as is the state's authority. What this whole thing is essentially proof of is that this is now a police state. It's basically a totalitarian regime.
Special request: After the attack on Giannis Kafkas during the demonstration protest that took place in the centre of Athens on the 11th of May 2011, we are looking for photographic and video material, as well as any other kind of information on the case. We ask for the instant dispatch of any material that may have been recorded at the time of the rally from Syntagma Square to Propylaea. It would mean a great deal to us if this material remained unpublished. Please call 003 0 6984276857 if you have any information. Thanks, the Kafkas family.