2017 was a year of opposing trends that shaped the fields of xenophobia, racism and racist violence. It is becoming increasingly clear that the way the refugee and immigration issue was handled largely determined the way the current situation eventually unfolded. On one hand, the number of municipalities actively involved in asylum seeker and refugee accommodation programmes is steadily increasing. This not only fosters the idea of welcoming diversity but also promotes the spirit of solidarity that has prevailed in the relationships between local communities and refugee/immigrant populations over the last two years. On the other hand, the living conditions of refugees and immigrants on the islands were decisive in the rise of xenophobic rhetoric in the local communities, with extreme manifestations in certain situations. However, the local outbreaks of xenophobia and violence, albeit substantial, were not welcomed by the local communities as a whole. Although local communities on the islands seem to be more prone to xenophobic speech, as local press reports and recorded incidents clearly indicate, they don’t seem to have lost all resistance against those who trigger tensions and incite acts of violence.
Apart from the particular circumstances that prevailed in the local communities – which required constant vigilance on the part of the competent bodies and authorities – in 2017 various groups embracing xenophobic ideologies and engaging in organised violence reinforced their presence in many parts of Attica. Older and newly-formed organised criminal groups asserted their involvement in common affairs more aggressively, assuming responsibility for racist attacks and threatening phone calls against refugee, immigrant and LGBTQI+ organisations and against their defenders.
The targeting of human rights defenders, that became visible in the last few years, has now become a basic form of expression of racism, homophobia and transphobia, both in the real world and on the Internet and social media. The dissemination and manipulation of false information, a phenomenon now witnessed also in Greece, has been used by xenophobic groups as a means to trigger hate or increase anxiety among local communities, in order to reach larger audiences.
At the same time, however, this alarming situation was matched by a clearly faster response on the part of the competent authorities. The prosecutions of hate speech and/or racist crimes has sent out a clear message in favour of legality and against impunity, potentially preventing from indulging in mobbing practices. A typical example is the intervention of the prosecution authorities when local residents in Oreokastro opposed the integration of refugee children into the local schools, and tried to cause violent incidents as members of local “patriotic organisations”, as well as another situation where certain individuals were convicted in Chios for acts of violence against foreigners and for the dissemination of false information relating to damages allegedly caused by refugees and immigrants to their vehicles and property.
In any case, the authorities need to show zero tolerance towards racist violence, even where this type of violence results from special circumstances or incidents which inevitably expose particular groups to such risk. Once such case is the Port of Patras, where local physicians addressed the RVRN to express their concern about the everincreasing number of violent incidents against foreigners.
Hence, the authorities must be supported by all available means in their efforts to implement anti-racist laws and practices and must ensure a timely response to the new challenges arising from the outbreak of racism worldwide. Among these challenges is how diversity is handled by public authorities and in public discourse. The targeting of a young Afghan student, picked by lot to carry the Greek flag during the annual school parade to commemorate the 28th October anniversary and the violent assault that followed the public debate on ethnic symbols and the matter of school parades, should activate the preventive reaction of all stakeholders. Accordingly, the debate that took place in Parliament prior to the enactment of the law on legal recognition of gender identity was marked by the transphobic discourse by MPs of various parties, and the reproduction of negative stereotypes, prejudices and extremely offensive words. This particular public discourse is an example of abuse of freedom of expression which reinforces stereotypes and transphobia.
Thus, one clearly distinguishes two different trends in the public sphere: on the one hand, there is a broader recognition, acceptance and institutional protection of diversity. In this context, for instance, the Network presented its 2016 report to the Special Standing Parliamentary Committee for Equality, Youth and Human Rights, following a notice by Mrs. Afroditi Stabouli, Chairperson of the Committee. This was an important initiative that set the ground for a fertile, meaningful debate with members of political parties that are represented in Parliament. During the debate, however, the representative and member of the Board of Directors of the Greek Forum of Migrants was verbally attacked by a member of the political party “Independent Greeks“ (“Anexartiti Ellines”). Racist speech, coming from public figures, exonerates racist behaviours and targets particular individuals and groups merely on account of their differences. Therefore, it must be expressly condemned by Parliament and all political parties.
Further to these introductory observations, the following findings, as same are drawn from the RVRN recordings, briefly describe the quantitative and qualitative data available for 2017: