They were all out to protest the murder of antifa activist Pavlos Fyssas by a Golden Dawn member.
Yesterday evening, more than 5,000 people took to the streets of Keratsini, a working class neighbourhood in western Athens. They were there to protest against the first political homicide in Greece since the early 1990s: the murder of Pavlos Fyssas – a 34-year-old antifa activist and rapper, known locally as Killah P – who was stabbed twice on Tuesday evening, reportedly by a 45-year-old suspected Golden Dawn member.
According to police and news reports, a group of at least 20 far-right thugs in military uniforms and Golden Dawn T-shirts ambushed Fyssas and six of his friends as they exited a local coffee shop, where they had all gathered to watch Olympiakos FC play Paris Saint Germain FC in a Champions League group stage game.
According to his wife, the perpetrator was at home while the game was on and only headed out after receiving a phone call. It also appears that, after allegedly plunging the knife into Fyssas – twice into his stomach and once into his chest – he called his wife and instructed her to get rid of all the Golden Dawn paraphernalia he had lying around at home.
A group of neo-Nazis murdering an innocent man in cold blood is clearly an abhorrent act worthy of a public response. But what's really aggravated the people of Athens – those who marched through Keratsini last night – is that, according to eye-witnesses and CCTV footage from a shop in the area, there were police present at the time of the murder who didn't even try to intervene.
"Pavlos was alive for 20 minutes and managed to point out his murderer to the policemen, who arrived once the thugs had fled. An ambulance arrived 50 minutes later, when it was already too late," said a witness.
Following the murder, the police started searching Golden Dawn offices throughout Athens. At the same time, Minister of Public Order Nikos Dendias cancelled his trip to Rome and stated that a reform of the penal code and a new definition of what entails a criminal organisation would shortly come to parliament, aiming to delegitimise Golden Dawn's activity.
In the largest social mobilisation in the country this year, students, lefties, anarchists and antifascists – as well as a load of people who just don't think that stabbing people on the streets is an acceptable thing to do – from 18 cities all over Greece took to the streets to protest, with many of those marches resulting in clashes with police.
Photographer Vassilis Mathioudakis and I arrived at the Athens demonstration at around 7PM, while people were still gathering. Unsurprisingly, the police were showing scant regard for protest etiquette; right after the protest started, they too started beating the shit out of the assembled mass of demonstrators, with riot cops laying into people all around us. Before long, a policeman fired a tear gas canister straight into the crowd, hitting one unfortunate young man in the face. The guy ended up losing his eye.
A little later, residents of the neighbouring working-class district of Perama – where nine members of the Communist Party (KKE) were attacked a few days ago – appeared en masse, some of them under the KKE's banners. This was the first time that the KKE had demonstrated with other leftist marchers since the 2011 national strike protests, which saw clashes between members of PAME (the Communist Party's trade unionists) and anarchists, resulting in one death.
A large part of the crowd was made up of teenagers, and I approached one of them to ask why he'd felt he should come out to protest. "This is our neighbourhood and we're not gonna accept fascist mother-fuckers running it," he told me. He and his friends are graffiti artists involved in the local hip hop scene, and told me they had been fans of Killah P.
Despite all the violence from the cops, the marchers eventually managed to gather and head off. The feeling among protestors was ambiguous; on the one hand, people seemed to realise that a bunch of lefties having a ruck with the cops would be exactly what the Golden Dawn wanted. On the other, some were already pissed off, and felt that a clash with the cops might be just the right thing for the occasion. Inevitably, some people succumbed to their rage and started chucking stones when the demo marched past a police station.
In the middle of the march, riot police showed up from the surrounding streets and began firing tear gas at the crowd, splitting it into two parts and pushing the largest group back to its starting point. I saw cops on motorbikes charging into the crowd, batons flailing, smacking people as they went.
Elderly local men were beaten up while trying to help the protesters, and 40 people were arrested in the terrace of a block of flats as hundreds fleed the scene in whatever direction seemed the least populated by men in uniform. As the cops and protesters brawled, people in plain clothes were throwing stones at the lefties from behind the police line, unhindered by the police. It might not come as a shock that everyone present suspected that the guys in plain clothes were Golden Dawn supporters, though this hasn't yet been confirmed.
According to the police, 130 people were detained after the clashes in Athens, with 34 arrests made and 31 people ending up in a nearby hospital.
Chrysanthos Lazaridis, an advisor to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, appeared live on television yesterday to state that political violence comes from many directions, including the rhetoric of the main left-wing opposition party, SYRIZA. Protesters I spoke to weren't too happy with this analysis, given that they were out demonstrating against a politicised murder when the blood of a left-wing activist had barely dried.
This morning, thousands attended Pavlos Fyssas' funeral in the Schistos cemetery. While the young man was being buried, people chanted, "Death to Fascism," and, "One in the coffin, thousands still in the fight" – slogans commonly used during anti-fascist protests.
Golden Dawn, which denies any responsibility for the crime, was planning to stage a rally tonight at the location of the murder, but decided to cancel this morning. Which is probably for the best.
After a period of relative calm in Europe's most riotous country, it looks like Greece is hurtling towards another bout of instability and tension. And with public sector strikes organised for next week, we probably won't have to wait too long to see it.
Follow Matthaios on Twitter: @tsimitakis
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