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Greece Losing Battle of Thessaloniki to Anarchists, Hooligans

Athens gets the hype and most of the tourists, but Greece’s second-largest city Thessaloniki, a major port in the northern part of the country, is more cosmopolitan and diverse and was home to the oldest Jewish populations in Europe before the Nazis ended that.

Called Greece’s co-capital, it has a charming a waterfront promenade to allow strolling along the Aegean Sea, unlike Athens where developers and private companies and luxury resorts have taken over public beaches and cut off access, although the law allows you to walk right through them if you know it.

Thessaloniki is known for its festivals, events, and vibrant cultural life, much if of it along that promenade. It hosts the annual important Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) where Prime Ministers give their soon-to-be broken promises, and countries jockey to be the chosen guest to show off.

The Thessaloniki International Film Festival draws acclaim and the city hosts the largest bi-annual meeting of the Greek Diaspora, and it has Byzantine architecture, Early Christian and Byzantine monuments, a World Heritage Site, and Roman, Ottoman, and Sephardic Jewish structures.

It’s also the birthplace of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of an alleged modern Turkey, and slaughterer of Greeks and the destruction of Smyrna in 1922.

In 2014 Financial Times FDI magazine (Foreign Direct Investments) declared Thessaloniki the best mid-sized European city of the future for human capital, and lifestyle and street photographers flock there.

It’s also home to Aristotle University, the largest in Greece and the Balkans.

Along with the thug soccer team PAOK – are there are other symbols of a city gone wrong, however, besieged by anarchists, far-leftists, Communists, anti-establishment groups, and hooligans.

Thessaloniki during the COVID-19 pandemic was also a center of defiance against health measures, especially along that promenade where people snubbed police and mostly got away with it.

But that was kid stuff compared to the violence and trouble going on now, with the police and New Democracy government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who promised to end soccer hooliganism and universities being taken over by anarchists, unable to stop it.

Don’t ask who the mayor is because nobody’s seen him during the growing troubles that threaten his city.

For 34 years, self-styled rebels who reject society and its institutions, apart from the banks where they keep their money, had occupied a squat hangout in Aristotle University until police finally raided it and got them out.

How’s that working out? Not so well, because the anarchists want it back and a big group of them went back with sledgehammers to knock down a wall put up there where the school wanted to make a library.

That’s anathema to the rebels without a clue, so they’re trying to stop it, police being needed to guard construction workers, but now the violence has spiraled out of control.

Clashes with riot police are being fueled by the government’s plan  for the coming deployment of unarmed campus cops to try to guard grounds of the major universities, drawing fierce street battles with opponents.

There have been a series of pitched confrontations over the New Democracy government’s plan to put security forces outside – but not inside – four major colleges in Athens and Thessaloniki.

Here’s what’s wrong with that plan: if riot police with an array of weapons, including tear gas and tactical gear, are regularly beaten back, what can the unarmed Keystone Cops do? Use harsh language?

One of the biggest battles saw some 5,000 members of left-wing and anarchist groups march through the center of the city, smashing shop windows and setting rubbish bins on fire. At least eight people were detained.

Unlike hooligans supporting the PAOK soccer team – it’s made up mostly of foreigners and not Greek players – they haven’t killed anyone yet, but they’re trying to take over more of a great city.

The government had also said it would speed prosecutions of troublemakers and those using firebombs but it didn’t, and has backed off Mitsotakis’ vow to end violence at universities and stop hooligans, now allowed back into games.

The government had ended a sanctuary law that was reimposed by the former ruling Looney Left SYRIZA that’s made up of veterans of university takeovers and has a hard core element of terrorist and anarchist sympathizers.

Alexandros Sakellariou, a noted Greek sociologist for Hellenic Open University and Panteion University in Athens, told The National Herald that the gangs are a mix of troublemaker breeds and that there’s a special antipathy in Greece toward police, who can be brutal, especially against leftists. That’s related to the right-wing Colonel dictatorship in power from 1967-74 when “the police had a special division in universities, so any idea of bringing back the police causes aversion to large parts of the society, not only students … the reactions are explained but not always excused.”

He added that, “the government and the media play a tricky game. They exaggerate about the violence in Greek universities … there are many other universities around Greece (26) and the problem is found in two or three.”

But, he also said that, “this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to solve this problem … the presence of the police (armed or not) will cause more conflicts and violence and this is something Greek society doesn’ t need. It will create a vicious circle.”

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