The attack could have left him permanently brain-damaged. It could even have killed him. That said, the assault on the 52-year-old Athens metro station master at Omonia last Wednesday should not surprise us. Blind violence is no rarity anymore. Remember how many rude awakenings, how many times we struggled to understand acts of great brutality, much less digest them.
The sequence of events points to a sick, brutal act: Two young men get angry after the station manager asks them to put on their masks. They target him with slurs, but the verbal violence is not enough. They are thirsty for more, physical violence. They need it. They follow the victim and as soon as he gets off at Omonia station, they begin to punch and kick him. The metro employee lies curled up on the floor as he tries to protect himself from the blows. What do they see in him? They see a man, prey, or some object on which they can act out their hate. Where does all this sick anger that can potentially turn two young men into killers originate?
It is not the first time that we have learned of such acts of physical or psychological violence. In fact the platforms of the Athens metro and ISAP railway have witnessed similar incidents in the past. In December 2015, a group of 20 men beat up a team of ticket inspectors at Omonia station. Three employees had to be taken to hospital. Another female ticket inspector was targeted by unknown assailants who spray-painted a warning on the walls of her home: “Snitch inspector lives here. Out of the neighborhood,” it said.
News reports have identified the two teenagers in the latest attack as “mask deniers.” However, the pandemic and the emergence of the anti-mask movement alone cannot explain their barbarity. A demand from an official to put on a mask is not enough to generate that amount of hatred. Likewise, “Buy a ticket” should not have been enough to provoke a similar reaction.
I am not saying here that the culture of negationism against measures and rules, of unprovoked verbal and physical violence, and of public humiliation that has spread over the past decade does not offer some explanation to such behaviors. But it is more of a symptom than a cause.
These two young men may be mask deniers or be drawn to some kind of anti-systemic mentality. Most importantly, however, they are deniers of moderation, they are deniers of human life, they are two people ruled by primitive instincts, without inner restraints or moral inhibitions. Such instincts cannot be attributed to any single denial. Their roots run far deeper than that.