On September 8, 2012 a group of black-clad men led by Golden Dawn MP Costas Barbarousis strode into the open-air market at Mesolongi, western Greece, and began smashing stalls manned by foreigners. Of the hundreds of people who witnessed the assault, just one woman reacted, a retired schoolteacher. The raid by the ultranationalist deputy and his henchmen was captured on camera by a local newspaper, showing the events in 61 frames of footage.
The teacher, Machi Papazisi, found herself alone again in November when she appeared at the Mesolongi Misdemeanor’s Court for the trial against Barbarousis and another nine defendants. These included a police officer who had been assigned to the security detail of the Golden Dawn MP, who was also a mayoral candidate in May’s local elections. A tenth defendant, a Golden Dawn nominee in the general elections of May 2012, has since died in a traffic accident.
The trial was originally scheduled to start in October last year but was postponed several times on the basis that not all the defendants had legal representation. The final hearing was in November this year. It was not attended by representatives of the political party and local authority officials as it had been back at the 2013 hearing, when Barbarousis arrived at the courthouse accompanied by 20 supporters while Papazisi had just five friends and former colleagues present to give her moral support.
“I believe that the substitution of the state by any self-proclaimed ‘protector’ is a blight on our social institutions and an affront to democracy,” Papazisi said in a letter addressed to the Supreme Court prosecutor in charge of the case in 2012.
She reiterated this belief at the trial, sticking to her initial statement about the events that had taken place. None of the foreigners who abandoned their stalls when they saw the Golden Dawn group approaching was found to testify as a victim of assault in the trial. Without civil action, the case was essentially doomed from the get-go.
The video footage showing Barbarousis and his group smashing stalls and yelling at migrant vendors, meanwhile, was broadcast by TV stations across Greece and on the Internet, but it never made it into the courtroom. Judicial experts told Kathimerini that as the video had been shot by a licensed media outlet and was not obtained illegally, it could have been entered as evidence in the trial. However, that didn’t happen. Instead, the bench asked four police officers at the scene to identify whether the people seen in the video were there in the courtroom. None of them identified a single person as being directly responsible for a single action. When asked if any of the defendants had come to their attention before, all four policemen responded in the negative. A few days earlier, however, the same court had sentenced one of the defendants to eight months in prison for attacking a Roma camp in Aitoliko, just a few kilometres north of Mesolongi, in October 2012. Another had received an eight-month sentence four days before the Golden Dawn raid on the market for usurping authority during a similar raid. In contrast to Barbarousis, he was arrested and charged on the spot during the Mesolongi attack and sentenced the next day on the basis of his prior conviction. Two of them, therefore, had prior records in the same jurisdiction.
According to the testimony of one of the witnesses for the prosecution, the second defendant mentioned above, along with another man, had approached her at another market on September 11, 2012, three days after the raid led by Barbarousis, and asked whether she had a license to operate her stall.
“They told me they were supervisors and had received a phone call ordering them to conduct an inspection,” the witness said. “I told them that I was a Greek tax-paying citizen and that inspections are carried out by people assigned by the state.”
The deputy prosecutor was terse when delivering her decision after about two hours of testimony in the Barbarousis trial. Her recommendation that all the defendants be acquitted was accepted by the bench. Legal experts who know the details of the case said that without more witnesses and with no victims present, the case simply fell apart.
However, judicial sources told Kathimerini that the charge of unprovoked and malicious damage of foreign property also includes the charge of anti-social behavior of the assailant. In this case, the victim does not need to take civil action and the value of the property that has been destroyed is not taken into account. The avenue was never explored.
According to the case file seen by Kathimerini, shortly before 9 a.m. on September 8, 2012, two municipal police officers arrived at the entrance of the Mesolongi open-air market in order to ascertain whether the sellers’ licenses were in order. Before they were joined by a special guard from the Greek Police to assist in the inspection, a group of 15 Golden Dawn men, along with Barbarousis, arrived at the scene.
“The sudden arrival of such a large group of people frightened me and I think the civilians felt the same,” one of the municipal officers, whose name has been withheld for legal reasons, said in her initial testimony.
According to her and a colleague’s deposition, Barbarousis’s personal guard, a police sergeant, told the municipal officers that the group wanted to join the official inspections. Members of the Golden Dawn group shouted out, “Let’s see if you’re doing your jobs,” and, “If you won’t come with us, we’ll go alone.”
When the municipal officers responded that they would be working alone, the sergeant said, according to police files, “That’s fine, I’m a policeman too.”
The Golden Dawn group entered the market. A dozen or so of the market’s non-Greek vendors fled at the sight of the black-clad men – this was not the first raid of its kind. Barbarousis and his men stopped at the stall of the president of the union representing street sellers, Antonis Barbetakis, and invited him to go on the inspection with them.
“I told them that an inspection cannot be carried out without a policeman being present,” he allegedly said in his initial statement. At the trial, however, he denied seeing any of the Golden Dawn supporters attacking sellers, saying that they just kicked around some boxes used by unlicensed vendors to build makeshift stands.
Their activities were caught on camera by local newspaper Aichmi, which handed the material over to the police. The footage is under three minutes long, but the men are seen kicking stalls and boxes, emptying bags of merchandise onto the ground and asking vendors where they were from and whether their foreign colleagues were legal or not.
One of the charges brought against the defendants was that of usurping authority. The court, however, could not even examine the issue as Law 4198 from 2013 writes off all misdemeanors carrying a sentence of up to one year in prison and committed before August 31, 2013. According to a Supreme Court circular, the aim of this amendment was to help decongest prisons by writing off charges considered of little importance on the basis of the sentence they carry. What it achieved, however, was to write off the raid as well.
As for the police officer who was accompanying Barbarousis, he was also acquitted by the court but was placed under investigation by the Greek Police for his role in the incident. Kathimerini has learned that this investigation found the officer guilty of misrepresentation and use of excessive force. The deputy police chief who conducted the initial investigation referred the sergeant to a disciplinary council, which was to rule whether there were grounds for his dismissal. The council ruled that the officer had acted in a way that was “undignified, inappropriate and inexcusable.” To this day he remains under suspension as a separate investigation is being conducted after his service gear was found at the Golden Dawn office in Agrinio during a police raid on the premises.
Papazisi was the only civilian at the Mesolongi street market who openly questioned the actions of Barbarousis and his group. “This is the stuff of the dictatorship,” she is seen shouting in the video. As a student of history and archaeology at the University of Athens she had participated in the uprising that brought down the junta in 1973. She does not think she was being heroic that September morning at the market but believes that her reaction was “only natural.”
A few days after all the defendants were acquitted, Papazisi spoke to Kathimerini of her experience. She was not able to tell the court which of the suspects did what exactly, saying that they swept through the market in a blur.
“I hope that they regret their actions and start respecting their fellow humans,” she said of the people who accompanied the Golden Dawn MP at the time.
“My only hope from this process is that something positive comes out for society as a whole. I hope that people learn to react on the spot to any such incident, to raise their voices and impose the boundaries that lead to harmonious coexistence,” she said.