Four males, aged between 17 and 36, punching and kicking a 75-year-old man, who is a top city official and of fragile health (Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris recently had heart surgery). It was a despicable spectacle that played out on TV and computer screens around the world. The nationalist thugs who carried out the attack should be ashamed of themselves.
A mob of pumped-up men – one of them holding a baby in his arms – beat up a defenseless individual, the mayor of their city. At the same time as that was going on, an ex-official who for years exercised political power at the city’s expense and who has now returned with fresh political ambitions, was leveling reckless recriminations and slurs at Boutaris from a short distance away. The attackers managed to push their victim to the ground, but they did not finish him off.
Who could have possibly poisoned the minds of these people about a man who, regardless whether you agree with his views or not, is not afraid to express them in public, deeming that this right is protected by the cornerstone of liberal democracy, the freedom of expression?
“I went berserk when I saw [Boutaris] because of what he has said about Skopje and Pontic Greeks,” one of the suspects, aged 20, said.
I wonder what this 20-year-old man, or the other attackers who turned on the mayor like dogs, really knows about the “Macedonia” name issue or the Pontic genocide. Most probably nothing more than that “Boutaris is a Turkophile,” “a man of the Jews and the Skopjans,” a mayor who taints the image of the city by allowing gay people to hold an annual parade.
The hate speech, the conspiracy theories about national issues, the fake news flooding the internet give rise to lone wolves who occasionally operate in packs, assaulting anyone who dares voice an opinion that is different to theirs.
On Monday evening, citizens of Thessaloniki gathered at City Hall to express solidarity with their mayor. It was not a rally in defense of Boutaris, but in defense of the right to free expression.
Some people kept silent or only half-heartedly condemned the attack on the mayor. And others rubbed their hands with glee. Their reaction is not hard to explain, given that local and parliamentary elections are around the corner and the vote of agencies or associations who can rally or influence people are super-precious to them.