The growing threat from extremist youth groups

He’s afraid to go into the Pedion tou Areos park. This isn’t a phobia one carries around for a lifetime but a real fear which came to him at the age of 30 for the color he has been all his life. Has something changed on the streets of Athens, or was the weekend before last just an ugly exception? A Moroccan ended up in hospital and a few more people were savagely beaten by neo-Nazis and Chryssi Avgi extreme rightists. Who are these people who beat others who have done them no harm? There are around 250, plus an equal number of hangers-on. Some are capable of killing. Panayiotis Roumeliotis, aka Porky, is in prison after attempting to knife two students in Monastiraki, because one of them was wearing a button featuring a swastika in a trash can. Neo-Nazis have also been active recently in Thessaloniki, Iraklion and Kalamata. There are signs that these groups have become tougher in Greece lately. They are not more numerous, but they are younger than ever, and more violent, say police officers in Kypseli, formerly Chryssi Avgi’s prime arena. Not so many years ago they clashed fiercely with leftist and anti-fascist groups, but things calmed down there when Chryssi Avgi moved their office. Its proximity to Exarchia and their rivals still makes Kypseli popular with the neo-Nazis. The street plan of small blocks is convenient for getaways. Now there’s another attraction: The area is home to many migrants from Africa. The neo-Nazis have never admitted that they receive guidance from official Chryssi Avgi quarters. Recently Yiannis Andraskelas, a police officer by profession, on trial for violent incidents in Kypseli and Omonia, denied any connection with the organization, even though eyewitnesses say he was involved in two attacks by members of Chryssi Avgi. With leading members of the organization out of action everyone expected Chryssi Avgi, which suspended activities a few years before many of its members were absorbed by the far-right Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), would either fade away or get an image makeover through LAOS. But their new offices on Socratous St (after some time near the Eleftheros Kosmos newspaper) have not remained empty. On the contrary, new members have joined, mostly fans of Oi! music groups, which in Greece have become neo-Nazi breeding grounds. Though neo-Nazi groups are typically active outside their own patch, there has been a worrying development lately. «In the Rendi attack two weeks ago on Pakistanis living in the area, we are sure that locals took part. It’s the first time this has happened,» said Yiannis Albanis from the Refugee and Migrant Support Network. Two years ago, 50 to 60 neo-Nazis conducted a pogrom against Pakistanis in Nikaia, in revenge for an incident in which a Pakistani was allegedly involved in a hit-and-run accident with a child. Something else became apparent then, namely the involvement of soccer fans. This is reality, says an academic who is researching the Blue Army, which brings together fans of all Greek teams and whose members have led attacks against Albanians. Christos Haritos, formerly of the Patriotic Front and a LAOS candidate in Piraeus in the last elections, is closely connected with Olympiakos soccer team fan clubs. Observers of Chryssi Avgi and the Oi! groups believe they will become more violent. «The recent attacks were to be expected,» said Albanis. «They always strike on the eve of national days. We expect they’ll do something before the anniversary of the Polytechnic uprising. Chryssi Avgi in particular will become more active, because they are feeling pressure from LAOS. They will become more violent in order to rally followers. At the same time, many young neo-Nazis feel protected by the parliamentary presence of LAOS.» However, LAOS has never publicly identified itself with them, despite a large intake of members from Chryssi Avgi and the extreme-right United Nationalist Movement. Despite the growing power of «former» neo-Nazis in LAOS, party leader Giorgos Karatzaferis has tried to obscure his party’s relations with extreme rightists and neo-Nazi groups.