THESSALONIKI – Thessaloniki Mayor Yannis Boutaris said a group of people who viciously attacked him ate an event marking the massacre of Pontian Greeks by Turks during World War I were “organized fascists” known to him.
Boutaris, 75, was briefly hospitalized after being thrown to the ground, kicked and punched by about 12 people, an incident condemned by political parties, including the major rival New Democracy, although one of its members, a Mayor, saluted the attackers and other nationalists in Greece rejoiced at his beating,.
“The people who attacked me had nothing to do with the Pontian Greek Genocide Remembrance Day. I know who they are. It was organized fascists who attacked me as a person and as a mayor,” he told a packed municipal council meeting, the first after the attack, said Kathimerini.
“Thessaloniki must become the most democratic city in the world. Whoever doesn’t agree with us can vote us out in October 2019. In elections though. Neither by use of force, nor with bravado,” he continued.
“There can be no other way. Because tomorrow it will be someone else in my place. Somebody who will be beaten up for his ideas, his religion, his different sexual orientation, for the color of his skin.”
Boutaris called on all Greek political parties to condemn violence and marginalize “thugs of all kinds.”
“There is no other way,” he said. “Because tomorrow someone else will be in my place, and will be beaten — for his ideas, for his religion, for his sexual orientation, for the color of his skin, for being different.”
“For as long as I am mayor I will not allow Thessaloniki to return to an era of darkness,” he added, citing the killing of the leftist politician Grigoris Lambrakis by right-wing thugs in 1963 during the protracted social tension that followed Greece’s civil war.
Police at the event were said to have looked the other way. The police force has a reputation of many of its members secretly supporting the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn ultra-nationalists, all of whose 16 Members of Parliament are in the third year of an occasional trial on charges of running a criminal gang, with one charged with murdering an anti-fascist hip-hop artist. The suspect is free, released after his pre-trial detention period ended.
Boutaris is known as an ultra-anti-nationalist who supports Turkey and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) quest to be called Macedonia, the name of an abutting ancient Greek province.
Boutaris also is an admirer of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state, and who was coming to power when the slaughter of Greeks in Anatolia was going on, which Boutaris indicated wasn’t important to him, raising fury from critics.
Boutaris is also known for his liberalism, Socialism and criticism of far-right violence and racism and a lightning rod to his opponents.
Video footage showed him being heckled by a crowd of people, including a man carrying a toddler in one arm and swinging the other at him while hurling apparent insults. Some were masked and dressed in black.
He was thrown to the ground, punched and kicked before being escorted to a car that was vandalized by protesters, and he was briefly hospitalized with head, back and leg injuries.
Prosecutors ordered an investigation and four men who were arrested in connection with it — a 36-year-old, two 20-year-olds and a 17-year-old who were not identified, common in Greece unless alleged crimes involved politicians, public figures or celebrities.
It was unclear whether the men were acting on their own or aligned with a far-right group, but members of nationalist, anti-immigrant organizations were gleeful over the the assault, the New York Times reported.
Prime Minister and ruling Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras condemned the “barbaric” attack and lashed out at “a dark and extreme section of the main opposition” that, he said, “lays out the carpet for the far right.”
New Democracy, whose leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis didn’t condemn the mayor who backed the attack, used the incident to go after Tsipras, saying he was guilty of the “political and moral legitimization of violence” through “polarizing and toxic rhetoric.”
GOLDEN DAWN KUDOS
Ourania Michaloliakou, the daughter of Nikos Michaloliakos, the leader of Golden Dawn, tweeted her joy that Boutaris was beaten. The party is known for swarm attacks against migrants, refugees, and leftists before running away.
“Bravo to each and every one who carried out his duty in Thessaloniki today. Respect,” she wrote on Twitter. In another tweet, she said, “My God, why can’t I be in Thessaloniki today,” adding, “Well done, dudes.”
Christos Paschalidis, an official with a nationalist group, Anasa, in the northern city of Kavala, wrote on Facebook that. Boutaris “got what he deserves. Well done to the boys.”
“Now it’s the turn of the traitor” lawmakers, he added, the term nationalists use for politicians – such as radical Leftist Tsipras – for surrendering to international creditors and imposing harsh austerity measures on workers, pensioners and the poor while letting the rich, oligarchs, tax cheats and politicians escape the crisis.
In Turkey, the newspaper Hurriyet headline about the incident said it was An Attack on Friendship, referring to Boutaris wanting Greece to have closer relations with Turkey as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stepped up provocations in the Aegean and wants the return of Greek islands and has coveted even a border area in Greece with a large Muslim population he visited.
Boutaris has hailed Thessaloniki as the birthplace of Ataturk and is pushing plans for the creation of a Holocaust museum in the city, which lost some 50,000 Jews to the Nazis.
In March, statistics from the Greek police showed that hate crimes more than doubled last year, with 184 attacks recorded, compared with 84 in 2016. Some observers have said that most assaults go unreported and that the actual figures are much higher.