With recorded hate crimes on the rise, critics say Greece’s far right feels emboldened.
Athens, Greece – The number of hate crimes motivated by race, national origin or skin colour in Greece nearly tripled in 2017 when compared with the previous year, a police spokesperson told Al Jazeera.
Hate crimes of this type – among them attacks and hate speech – soared to 133 last year, according to the Hellenic Police’s statistics. In 2016, police documented 48 such crimes.
Meanwhile, the total number of hate crimes more than doubled from 2016 to 2017, growing from 84 to 184 incidents.
Greek police divide hate crimes into five motivating categories: race, national origin or skin colour (133); religion (28); sexual preference (29); sexual identity (12); and disability (nine).
Compared with 2016, last year witnessed a rise in hate crimes in all categories.
The largest increase took place in the category of sexual identity (crimes that target trans individuals), which grew from one instance in 2016 to 12 hate crimes last year.
Last year’s numbers trump those recorded in 2013, which was the year with the highest number of hate crimes between 2012 and 2016.
With a spate of vigilante attacks, many of them fatal and carried out by the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party, 2013 saw 114 documented hate crimes.
The rise in the number of documented hate crimes last year was fueled by an ostensible increase in far-right violence targeting migrants, refugees and Muslims.
In a recent report, Al Jazeera detailed a string of violence targeting Pakistani labourers and Afghan refugees in Aspropyrgos, Athens and Piraeus, as well as a series of death threats against civil society organisations.
In Goritsa, an agricultural village in the Aspropyrgos area near the capital, the attacks reached a crescendo in October 2017, when a group of black-masked men attacked two Pakistani labourers working in a field.
The attack left 40-year-old Ashfak Mahmoud hospitalised after he was stabbed, bludgeoned with a stone and beaten with brass knuckles.
In central Athens, Mahdi, a 17-year-old Afghan refugee whose surname was withheld by Al Jazeera, was followed and beaten by a group of men who hurled Islamophobic and anti-migrant slurs at him.
Anna Stamou of the Muslim Association of Greece, a civil society organisation, described the rise in recorded hate crimes as “very worrying”.
“The fascists in the previous years were afraid to expose themselves, but the crimes are now more open,” she told Al Jazeera.
“This doesn’t only impact the victims. The society is also very much deeply affected by this and loses faith in the system.”
Stamou added: “Now, you look at the man in the supermarket next to you, and you wonder if he’s a fascist or not. It has penetrated every layer of society.”
In the past, Golden Dawn, which has 16 seats in the Hellenic Parliament, was one of the main perpetrators of anti-migrant violence in Greece.
After a Golden Dawn member stabbed to death Pavlos Fyssas, an anti-fascist rapper, in September 2013, 69 party members were put on trial for operating a criminal organisation. That trial is ongoing.
Of the total number of hate crimes carried out in 2017, Greek police said at least 84 of the perpetrators were civilians, five were organised groups, 24 were police officers, 12 were both civilians and unknown actors and 59 were unknown actors.
A previously unknown group calling itself Crypteia – ostensibly a reference to a band of ancient Spartans who attacked slaves – took credit for an attack on an 11-year-old Afghan refugee’s home on November 2, 2017.
The attackers threw beer bottles and stones at the home of the boy, who was identified in the local press only as Emir.
In January, the same group left a series of death threats on the voicemails of several civil society organisations, including the Muslim Association of Greece.
Earlier this month, Greek police arrested seven members of Combat 18 Hellas, a neo-Nazi group that has reportedly carried out more than 30 attacks on anarchist squats, left-wing social centres and Jewish memorials.
Petros Constantinou, national director of the anti-fascist group Keerfa, said he suspects that the new groups are linked to Golden Dawn.
“The reality is that we are still facing the Golden Dawn’s neo-Nazis,” he told Al Jazeera.
“There are small groups related to them. Practically speaking, they are using new names, but they are the same assault battalions as before.”
Constantinou added: “For the last two years, they’ve been trying to make a comeback, but they are facing mass resistance from the anti-fascist movement.”
At the time of publication, Golden Dawn’s press office had failed to reply to Al Jazeera’s numerous requests for comment.
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