By Kostas Vaxevanis
People tortured by police wearing hoods, adolescents raped with clubs, immigrants with toddlers in their arms drown in the sea, while the Port Authorities stand by and enjoy the spectacle, floodlit by the spotlights from their boats. It is in these terms that modern Security is defined and it is not the result of isolated decisions made by those serving in the Security Forces. The orders come directly from the political leadership in Greece of 2013. A file that HOT DOC has at its disposal reveals that tortures denounced by immigrants and denied by the Minister of Public Order Nikos Dendias are not only a fact but have been ordered by the Head of ELAS himself, Nikos Papagiannopoulos. While Lieutenant General Papagiannopoulos is issuing the order ‘make their life unlivable’, the political leadership, along with the Prime Minister of the country, claim that the torture chambers and the numerous Auschwitz they have set up are merely centres for the repatriation of illegal immigrants.
In the last year 130 immigrants have drowned in the Aegean. Suddenly the Greeks seas have filled with corpses, even though for years immigrants have taken the same route to Greece. Why is that more and more people trying to leave their country arrive dead in Greece? Why is it that the 5 or 6 immigrant deaths in previous years has now become 130? In many cases HOT DOC have received denunciations that the Port Authorities just stood by and watched them drown, having received orders not to intervene in order to create an image of Greece’s harsh stance on illegal immigration to act as a deterrent for others who might attempt to enter the country illegally. Among the dead there are always children. The light from the Port Authority’s craft turns on and the crew watch them drown. Those who survive and make it to dry land are then tortured by hooded Police, who plunder whatever they find. Gold, money, mobile phones are the booty for those police officers who carry out ‘repatriation operations’.
There are hundreds of such incidents, but the response of the Ministry of Shipping and the Ministry of Public Order is ‘Such things don’t happen. They are simply the accusations of those who want to give Greece a bad name.’ In the incidents we have kept track of, the facts are irrefutable and are confirmed by police officers who believe that the Police Force is no longer adhering to democratic forms and legal procedures and encourages torturers and racists who are held up as carrying out ‘a national errand to save Greece from immigrants.’
The spine-chilling file
That torture rooms for immigrants do exist is confirmed by a conversation between the Head of the Security Forces and some of the top men of ELAS. The meeting between Lieutenant General Papagiannopoulos and his men took place so that he could be informed about the problems that have arisen in ELAS particularly with immigrants. Some of his men point out the inhumane and illegal treatment of immigrants, and demand that action be taken. The Head of the Police rejects what they say about civil rights and urges the police to make their lives hell. He says the following: ‘We must make their lives unlivable, in other words, so that whoever comes to this country knows that he will stay inside. He will not get out, so that when inside he will give us details of where he’s from, his identity, so that we can send him back, and not after three months outside, because otherwise we don’t do anything. We become the perfect destination for illegal immigrants.’
What is of particular interest is that the Head of ELAS appears to consider immigrants en masse as thieves and robbers, a theory adopted by Golden Dawn, of which he claims to reject them. In his speech it is clear that detaining immigrants in concentration camps is not something that is absolutely necessary, but a political decision with the aim of mistreating those held so that they won’t come back. The Lieutenant General says in a way that would be the envy of Nikos Michaloliakos (Leader of the Fascist Golden Dawn party): ‘and me too, if they told me that in the country I went I’d stay three months there because I’ve got nowhere else in the world to go, and you’ll stay three months inside and then you’ll be free to steal, rob and do whatever you like, fine. That’s what we were after, further detention, because they can’t be kept for more than three months. It used to be nine months and then they made it eighteen months, for what reason? We must make their life unlivable.’
‘Sir, we are the criminals’
The Head of ELAS’s expose of his position to the Police cadres is done with total calm and without hesitation, even when some of the officers object. During the meeting an Officer says, ‘Sir, we are not only racists, we are also criminals. Sir, let me ask you, what have these people done to have to spend a year inside? Have they killed anyone? Have they committed a crime? These people are to be repatriated and they spend one year in detention centres without having killed anyone or committed a crime. If the worst criminal spent more than one month inside, he’d have eaten us alive.’
The Head of the Police is not put off by the protests and at some point simply repeats: ‘so what it boils down to is that with so many of them we have to build more detention centres. It’s simple logic.’
The discussion is not only revealing, but the fact that the Head of ELAS should show his position in such a way in favour of making life unlivable for those who are protected by international agreements signed by Greece, even though he is not talking to a close circle of officers but to a wider group. He talks and moves with ease about racist and illegal tactics evidently because he has political backing and is carrying out political decisions. Nor is it coincidental that the Port Authorities use the same methods of torture against immigrants even though they are not under the administration of Nikos Papagiannopoulos. Clearly there is a common political centre from which orders are issued and deny and cover up any incidents of torture that come to light. The Minister of Public Order Nikos Dendias actually threatened to sue the Guardian when it revealed incidents of torture in police stations.
The fish smells from the head (A Greek saying)
The recent report by Amnesty International totally confirms HOT DOC’s revelations. The government has proved that it intends to establish another ‘legal system’ in place of International and Greek law. This ‘legal system’ is introducing Greeks to racist views, perceptions of ‘bad’ immigrants and is flirting with the idea of ‘Greek superiority and racial purity’. The Prime Minister himself said in a recent speech before the passing of the Budget in Parliament: ‘And I remind you that until recently, no one in European circles dared say the word illegal immigrant! Now along with other countries in the southern Mediterranean, we have made it a priority. And also by using deterrent tactics, which until today was also forbidden.’
Antonis Samaras is proud of the fact that he is implementing tactics that ‘until today were forbidden’, while he and his party systematically speak about illegal immigrants and not just immigrants, creating the impression that they are enemy invaders and not immigrants who have left their homelands to escape danger to their lives. And he does it in a country that has sent immigrants all over the world and continues to do so.
Before the 2012 elections, Antonis Samaras was elected on the main slogan ‘let us go forward and take back our cities from illegal immigrants.’
In October 2013, after his meeting with the Prime Minister of Malta, the Greek Prime Minister said, ‘In Greece there are as many unemployed as there are illegal immigrants and that cannot continue.’ He said openly what Lepen, Nikos Michaloliakos and many other far right leaders in Europe had said on ocasion, that unemployment is a result of immigration.
The fact that he is an accessory before the fact and of Nikos Dendias does not exonerate the Head of the Police from moral and penal responsibilities with regard to the torture of immigrants and encouraging his subordinates to commit illegal acts. It also goes without saying that a Police force that functions outside the law and humanitarian prescripts, using violence as a tool, a Police force using habitual violence will not restrict its violence to the bodies of immigrants, even if they torture in the name of so-called righteousness. Sooner or later, they will find other villains or internal enemies.