Damian Mac Con Uladh

Archive for November, 2014|Monthly archive page

Remembering the Greek refugees in Aleppo by helping the Syrian refugees in Athens

In Greece on 25 November 2014 at 10:28 am
Greek refugees at Aleppo (Photo: Library of Congress)

Greek refugees at Aleppo (Photo: Library of Congress)

My article in yesterday’s Irish Times on the protest of Syrian refugees on Syntagma Square in Athens generated a mixed response on Facebook, where, among other places, I posted it on the page of the sadly defunct Athens News.

The Syrians, among them dozens of children, including a baby, have completed their sixth night sleeping outdoors. Yesterday, a number of them commenced a hunger strike. They want Greece to allow them continue their journey to other EU countries where many have family or know they will receive protection.

From the comfort of their keyboards, a number of commenters on the Athens News page expressed their view on why Syrians deserve no help from Greece, with common arguments being that Syrians are somehow incompatible with Greece or Europe for religious reasons (an opinion shared by a number of expatriate Greeks) or that Syrians should seek refugee with neighbouring “Arab/Muslim” countries. It seems they are unaware of the facts: the statistics show that the vast majority of Syrian refugees have sought refuge in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.

One commenter, possibly from Syria, reminded them, however, that there was time when Greeks sought refugee in Syria by posting a photograph from the Library of Congress photo archive. The undated photo, entitled “Greek refugees at Aleppo”, shows a group of raggedly dressed people, young boys to the fore, lined up, waiting to be fed. In the foreground, a woman, with a can of some sorts at her feet, stands next to a cart on which something is being cooked. Underneath the scanned photo, what’s left of a caption states “12,000 Greeks were fed by the Americans”.

A close-up of the photo (Library of Congress)

Whose ancestors are they? A close-up of the photo (Library of Congress)

According to one account of the forced exchange of population between Greece and Turkey (full book here), as agreed under the 1923 Lausanne treaty, there were 17,000 Greek refugees from Asia Minor in various Syrian cities. So grave was the situation, that in August 1923, the head of the Greek refugees in Aleppo cabled the foreign ministry in Athens, requesting that it prohibit any more Greeks from reaching the city, where “it has become impossible to admit further refugees”.

The situation in general for Greek refugees in the summer of 1923 was described as “tragic and precarious”, which is also the case for the Syrians on Syntagma, as these photos show:

No doubt, just as the Syrian refugees protesting in Syntagma don’t want to be in Greece, the Greek refugees in 1923 did not want to be in Syria. They wanted to reach Greece, a country most of them had never seen but hoped would at least put them out of danger.

Reaching Greece did offer them protection, even though many of the refugees would admit that they were subjected to discrimination by the indigenous population for years after their arrival. People like Katina, one former refugee from Asia Minor, who days before her death at the age of 92 in 2010 recalled how her destitute family was treated when they reached Greece: “They [the neighbours] wouldn’t give us any coal. Yes, there was a lot of racism.”

In 2014, it’s obscene that refugees fleeing a brutal war should be sleeping on the streets of a European capital city. This is Europe’s shame and the Syrians deserve better.

Syrian sleep-in on Syntagma completes sixth night

In Greece on 24 November 2014 at 8:55 am
Syrians on Syntagma (Photo: Damian Mac Con Uladh)

Syrians on Syntagma (Photo: Damian Mac Con Uladh)

I spent just under two hours listening to the Syrian refugees on Syntagma Square on Sunday, where they’ve been sleeping out since last Wednesday to highlight the conditions they have faced since arriving in Greece.

Most seemed anxious to tell their story, to have it recorded somewhere that their wife was killed in a bomb blast or to say that they have no idea where their families are. Or to explain how their sister has been in a Greek jail for six months on false charges of trafficking. And how her two children, who came to Greece subsequently, are now in a Greek orphanage and how their uncle had to battle to get to see them (he’s now allowed visit for an hour every ten days).

Some of their stories I managed to include in an article entitled “Syrian refugees seek fresh start from Greek destitution”, published in today’s Irish Times, which you might like to read.

More testimony from the Syrians is available on the Greek Crisis Review blog.

For the latest updates from the Syrian protest, follow #SyrianRefugeesGR on Twitter.

Video details police violence in Exarchia

In Greece on 19 November 2014 at 10:37 am
(Screengrab: YouTube)

(Screengrab: YouTube)

Damning video footage has emerged showing the heavy-handed tactics of police in the central Athens district of Exarchia on Monday night after the protest marches commemorating the 1973 Polytechnic uprising.

According to the video, recorded by photographer Chloe Kritharas, a young man claiming to work at a kiosk on Exarchia Square was beaten when he asked a riot policeman, who he said had taken a bottle of water, to pay for it. A policeman can be seen pulling the man by his collar while others strike him on the back with truncheons, verbally abusing him and others.

The recording also shows officers from the Delta rapid-response motorcycle unit waving batons in the air as they drove in columns through the streets.

The police on Tuesday said it had ordered the launch of an internal inquiry and preliminary investigation into the incident at the kiosk by its internal affairs department.

In another message on Facebook, Kritharas claims on the same evening she was chased by a riot policeman who shouted “Give me your fucking ID, bitch” before kicking her.

German exchange student assaulted by Greek police

In Greece on 18 November 2014 at 11:42 am
(Photo: Ni Ls/Facebook)

(Photo: Ni Ls/Facebook)

This is a German exchange student Ni Ls (obviously a shortened version of his real name). Yesterday he claims he was assaulted by a number police in Athens and beaten with batons as he stood by himself on a street corner near a demonstration taking place in the centre of Athens, where thousands of people were marching on the 41st anniversary of the 1973 Polytechnic uprising against the junta.

On his Facebook page, he wrote: “Got beaten up by GREEK POLICE. Stood in a street close to a demonstration. Had no weapons, my face was uncovered, I was just standing alone in a corner raising my hands to show I am unarmed. They just beat me down with sticks. I did not do anything, I said nothing. When I was lying on the ground screaming even more policemen came to beat me. Hiding at the place of some very nice greek people now. What kind of country is this where you have to be scared of the police???”

Let’s see what the police and the interior minister have to say about another incident of disgraceful behaviour by the police in the capital.

(Photo: Ni Ls/Facebook)

(Photo: Ni Ls/Facebook)

Pain of the Polytechnic still very much felt in Norway

In Greece on 17 November 2014 at 10:18 am
At the gates of the Polytechnic: Liv Kari Engeland during her visit to Athens this summer, her third such trip (Photo: Liv Kari Engeland)

At the gates of the Polytechnic: Liv Kari Engeland during her visit to Athens this summer, her third such trip (Photo: Liv Kari Engeland)

Around this day every year, the names of the 24 people who died in the 1973 Polytechnic uprising are read aloud in schools or published in the press. One of those names is that of Norwegian Toril Margrethe Engeland.

Apart from her family and sister in Norway, who still grieve for her four decades after her death, few still remember how she died.

For years, the short biographical paragraph of what was known about Toril, accompanied by a black and white photograph of a dark- and long-haired 22-year-old with a Mona Lisa smile, has remained unchanged. According to this information, she was a tourist who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, shot by a stray bullet while returning from the cinema.

Toril Margrethe Engeland (Photo: Liv Kari Engeland)

Toril Margrethe Engeland (Photo: Liv Kari Engeland)

The scant information available was enough for some to argue that she – like the other Polytechnic victims – never existed, except as phantoms in some leftwing conspiracy.

“It’s understandable that people from the junta would say that back then, but that people say it today is very strange,” says Toril’s sister, speaking from her home in Molde, 500km northwest of Oslo.

Liv Kari Engeland was 18 when her parents received the dreadful news that Toril was shot dead on the evening of 16 November 1973 near the Polytechnic.

The Engeland children: Liv on the left and Toril, with her brother Per on her knee, on the right (Photo: Liv Kari Engeland)

The Engeland children: Liv on the left and Toril, with her brother Per on her knee, on the right (Photo: Liv Kari Engeland)

Born on 4 March 1951, Toril was the eldest of three children of Per Reidar Engeland, a telephone company engineer, and his wife Helga Margrethe. A son, Per Helge, was the third child, born a decade after Toril. The pecking order ensured the sisters were closer, a connection that developed as they got older.

Liv recalls that she was in awe of her older sister: “She had a strong sense of justice, both in the family and also in the world. She very much people liked meeting people from other countries. She admired Martin Luther King and black people very much, and that’s something I’ve taken from her.”

But her sister emphasises that Toril wasn’t outspoken or involved in student activism. She was rather shy and reserved. She didn’t have many friends during her time at Oslo University, where she was studying art history. She recalls that she was into jazz and the music of Bob Dylan, Bob Seger, Joan Baez and Mikis Theodorakis.

Liv last saw her around New Year’s 1973, in Oslo.

One of Toril's paintings (Photo: Liv Kari Engeland)

One of Toril’s paintings (Photo: Liv Kari Engeland)

To Greece

Toril had arrived in Greece in May 1973, after visiting Italy. She was due to sit her final university exams in Olso that term. But she was restless.

“The idea was just to go to the north of Italy and see a lot of art by visiting museums. Then I think she met some Americans and went with them to Corfu, where she may have spent Easter, and from there to Athens. But that wasn’t her original plan,” her sister recalls.

Travel wasn’t something new. She’d been to the US for ten weeks with her mother after graduating from high school and later spent a semester at the Sorbonne in Paris learning French.

Toril (right) and boyfriend Mohamed Ahmed Salem (second from right) (Photo: Liv Kari Engeland)

Toril (right) and boyfriend Mohamed Ahmed Salem (second from right) (Photo: Liv Kari Engeland)

Once in Athens, she stayed in a youth hostel located on Alexandras Avenue, where she soon started going out with a guy who worked behind the desk, Mohamed Ahmed Salem, who was from Saudi Arabia.

“I think he helped her when she ran out of money,” her sister recalls, particularly after her work as an au-pair with an Athens family – she minded and taught English to a five-year-old girl and her younger brother – ended.

Toril's student ID from her time at the Sorbonne (Photo: Liv Kari Engeland)

Toril’s student ID from her time at the Sorbonne (Photo: Liv Kari Engeland)

Toril kept her family informed of where she was; she generally wrote letters home to her parents and Liv while her mother called whenever she had a contact number. As it would happen, the last time she spoke to her mother – who is hale and hearty at 90 – was on the morning she was killed.

“Toril didn’t know if she was coming home, or if she would stay longer, or if she would travel further. She had a little dream of going to Israel, but we didn’t know what she was planning and neither did she,” says Liv.

The shooting

Two days later, when a church minister came to their door, the Engelands learned that their daughter was dead, shot, as they were told, near the Athens Polytechnic at around 11.30pm as she made her way home from a film with “a foreign friend”.

According to her death certificate, cited by Norway’s diplomatic representative in Athens at the time, she died from “wounds to the chest and throat after being hit [from afar] by a high calibre bullet”.

The official line, as reported widely in the press, was that Toril was a “tourist”, in the wrong place at the wrong time, when she was stuck in the chest by a stray or ricochet bullet. Some accounts say she was shot on Plateia Egyptou, which possibly is the origin of “Toril Teklet”, an Egyptian name that features in early police reports and, subsequently, some lists of victims.

But Leonidas Kallivretakis, an historian at the National Research Centre who has worked extensively on the Polytechnic events, doubts that she could have been killed there as it would have been too far to carry her to the steps of the Acropole hotel, where a dentist found her dead.

The historian, whom Liv met in Athens last summer, also doubts that she was returning from watching a film as most cinemas would have been shut on that evening, given the events at the Polytechnic.

“Kallivretakis said there were so many people there that night that she couldn’t have been there accidentally. Maybe they were curious and wanted to see what happened.”

Almost a year later in August 1974, a month after the fall of the junta, they received a letter from a dentist, former Centre Union MP Yiorgos Lazaridis, who explained what had happened to Toril. That fateful evening, when he heard about events in central Athens, the young medic had filled his car with oxygen and supplies and headed for the Polytechnic.

“At 11.30 pm, it was already over for your outstanding Norwegian daughter. She was lying on the steps of the Acropole Palace hotel surrounded by Greek students, her brothers and sisters. I carried your murdered child, together with a seriously wounded Saudi Arabian, to a first aid station, still hunted by the murderers.”

“Tough methods in Athens unrest: Norwegian girl killed on her way from the cinema.” How the Norwegian press reported Toril’s death in 1973

He went on to praise her as a hero for freedom: “As a Greek, I would like to offer you is my thanks. Mixed with the Greek blood that was sacrificed on that night is the blood of your Norwegian daughter. This was the water for the tree of freedom that we enjoy today.”

In any case, Toril, who her sister recalls had a strong sense of justice, would have been sympathetic to what has underway at the Polytechnic.

In a letter she sent to Liv that July, Toril wrote that she had to work on the following Sunday – usually her day off – because the country was “going to vote for Mr P”, a reference to the junta’s orchestrated “referendum” on July 29 to abolish the monarchy and install Papadopoulos as the country’s president.

“It was the way she wrote it. I read between the lines of that sentence. They had no choice. They had to vote for him. The whole setup of an election with just one candidate was something she couldn’t accept. She was for democracy,” Liv remarks.

One person would have known why she was near the Polytechnic was her boyfriend, Mohamed, who took a bullet in the shoulder. After the shooting, he had he contacted Toril’s mother afterwards to say he wanted to visit the family and to say farewell to Toril.

“One day I will come to Molde and I’ll put flowers on a place, I know it very well. I will cry, and I will tell her – sleep well, my Norwegian peasant, as I always called her,” he wrote in a letter.

But Norway’s diplomat in Athens ensured that didn’t happen by denying him a visa, a reason that Toril’s family only learned about recently.

“In an interview last December, he said that because he was a Muslim, he didn’t know how my family would react,” Liv says. “He wanted to protect the family, but he could have asked us because we didn’t see it like that. My family is Christian, but they are open to all people. I don’t think it would have been a problem for us to meet him in that situation. Back then we didn’t know why he couldn’t come to Norway. And I’ve no idea where he is now.”

As Liv recalls, one of the most difficult things was not being able to see her sister laid out when her remains were flown back to Norway. Her father was against it for some reason, possibly as he thought the coffin had been sealed for transport. It was only sometime later, when the family received a bill for returning her body, that they realised she had been embalmed.

“She was probably made to look very nice and it was very hard for me not being able to see her,” Liv says.

Some months later, the Greek foreign ministry refunded the family for the costs they had incurred in returning Toril’s remains, accepting, diplomatically, that the sum – 62,000 drachmas (12,500 Norwegian kroner) – could not compensate for the loss of her life. According to Norwegian foreign ministry documents that Liv saw last week, Athens wanted to express sympathy with the family and hoped that the unfortunate incident would not impact negatively on the relationship between the two countries.

Despite the devastating effect of Toril’s death on them, Liv says her family never really felt angry at those responsible.

“We were never bitter for those who did it. We were just very, very sad and sorrowful at our loss,” she says, adding that her absence was magnified when her first child was born eight years later. “I missed her very much as an aunt for my children and I wished they had got to know her.”

But she is still seen as part of the family, who celebrated what would have been her 50th and 60th birthdays by going out for a meal in a restaurant. Liv adds that she has always marked her birthday or death anniversary by buying roses in her memory.

Back to Greece

Over the summer, Liv made her third trip to Athens. As she says, she felt she had to come to mark the 40th anniversary of Toril’s death. Her first trip was in November 1998, for the 25th anniversary, and she no idea what to expect.

“Before I left, I pictured it would be just myself putting a rose on the steps of the Polytechnic or something. But I was very, very surprised that it was such an event. People kept coming to put flowers on the gates.”

On the 25th anniversary of the uprising in November 1998, Liv, on her first trip to Athens, pinned a photo of her sister on the gates of the Polytechnic. Her visit was covered by a Norwegian magazine (Photo: Liv Kari Engeland)

On the 25th anniversary of the uprising in November 1998, Liv, on her first trip to Athens, pinned a photo of her sister on the gates of the Polytechnic. Her visit was covered by a Norwegian magazine (Photo: Liv Kari Engeland)

The second trip in 2006, this time with her mother, was a considerable disappointment. They were invited, but at their own cost, to the annual garden party at the presidential mansion to commemorate the return to democracy, an event now abolished.

“We weren’t taken care of. Everything was in Greek. The president gave a speech. But the only word we could understand in his speech was democracy,” she remembers.

In recent years, the extensive coverage that Greece has received in the world’s press reminds Liv even more of the past.

“I guess Greece has a place in my heart, even though it should be negative,” she said. “I have feelings for Greece.”

Liv Kari Engeland at the Polytechnic memorial, summer 2013 (Photo: Liv Kari Engeland)

Liv Kari Engeland at the Polytechnic memorial, summer 2013 (Photo: Liv Kari Engeland)

• This article was first published in EnetEnglish.gr on 16 November 2013. A slightly shorter version of this article was published in Greek in Eleftherotypia on 17 November 2013. The news site OkeaNews.fr has kindly translated the article into French, entitled La dou­leur de Polytechnique est encore très forte en Norvège

Astrophotographer detects traces of ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ in tourism agency statement

In Greece on 14 November 2014 at 7:32 pm
Alex Cherney and his daughter, who led him to the stars (Photo: Facebook)

Alex Cherney and his daughter, who led him to the stars (Photo: Facebook)

When Australian astrophotographer Alex Cherney saw the excuse that the Greek tourism agency EOT came up with this week for including his timelapse footage of an unmistakable Australian landmark in a much-derided Greek tourism promotional video, he was reminded of a classic quote from the 2002 comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

“When I saw EOT claiming in a statement that ‘The mythology of the sky, at all latitudes and longitudes of the earth, is Greek’, all I could think of was the line ‘Give me any word, and I show you how the root is Greek’ from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. That sort of claim denies other sky cultures, like those of the Inuit and Aboriginal,” says Cherney, who has mapped Aboriginal astronomical constellations for Stellarium, a free, open-source planetarium computer programme.

Speaking from his home in Melbourne, Australia, the award-winning astrophotographer confirmed that a licence to use a snippet from his 2010 Ocean Sky production was only purchased “after the material was used‏” and after this blog reported that it had been included in EOT’s video without his knowledge or permission.

About 16 seconds of footage from Ocean Sky, a timelapse production that took him 1.5 years of work and 31 hours of taking images over six nights on the Southern Ocean Coast in Australia, appears in the Gods, Myths, Heroes video. The clip shows the Twelve Apostles, a very famous Victoria landmark.

Cherney says the first he heard that his footage was in the video was in the early hours of November 10 when someone from Greece alerted him through Facebook. His Greek contact suspected it was without his permission. Cherney’s initial response was one of surprise, especially as this was a video put out by an official tourism agency: “How do you react when someone tries to steal your work? It’s not nice. Going to these remote places is expensive. One night’s filming gets you 20 seconds of timelapse footage if you’re taking two shots a minute, as I did.”

Later that day, he emailed the producer of the Visit Greece film, Andonis Theocharis Kioukas of Qkas Productions, with a link to the video’s licensing page. Kioukas replied to inform him that he had subsequently purchased the appropriate rights from an agency representing Cherney, a transaction he has been able to confirm.

“This was done after the material was used, so in this regard EOT and Mr Kioukas did the right thing to rectify the situation‏. I think I have to give Mr Kioukas the benefit of the doubt and assume a genuine mistake which was rectified properly and promptly. However, I cannot speculate how and where did they got the original footage. I have had that video ripped off and the copyright removed before, so it is possible that they got it from a source that already did not have the copyright mark there‏.”‏

Footage by Alex Cherney of the Twelve Apostles, an Australian landmark, was used in the EOT video without permission (Screengrabs)

Footage by Alex Cherney of the Twelve Apostles, an Australian landmark, was used in the EOT video without permission (Screengrabs)

In any case, however, he maintains it was not enough for EOT to say they were not responsible. Earlier this week, an EOT official informed this blog that “EOT is never using [sic] footage without clearance. We collaborate with production companies that, according to their contract with the organisation, are responsible for every permission of use of the material.”

For that reason, Cherney believes, EOT, which after all paid for the film to be made, should exercise more diligence and oversight in ensuring that all material that appears under its name is authorised and licensed. He added that were the case had come to court – and he’s grateful it won’t – he would have sued “EOT as the first point of contact”, not the producer.

It’s the duty of every producer to seek permission to use material, he said. “I always mix my videos with music, but I always look for a creative commons licence or contact the rights holder directly. Likewise, most producers would contact me directly, or through an agency, to negotiate a price to use the material. That’s how I fund other trips and projects.”

Cherney points out that in the EOT video, his footage has been cropped just above the copyright line, which is unmistakable in the original. “That constituted unauthorised usage of my footage because the copyright mark was not visible.”

However, the watermarks of Greek photographers whose material was used can be seen in the tourism video. Earlier this week, another photographer, Norwegian Athens resident Stian Rekdal, said footage of his had also been used without his permission. Likewise, his watermarks had been removed in the EOT video. Questions from this journalist to EOT about the missing watermarks have gone unanswered. Rekdal has since confirmed on Facebook that he has been compensated for the use of the footage in the EOT video.

“The good thing about the attention given to this story is that it raises the importance of the correct licensing of video materials and should help prevent misuse in the future,” Cherney believes. ‏

My big fat Greek sky

Cherney points out that ancient Greek sailors would have been very confused had they encountered the night sky visible in his Ocean Sky video. “While there no southern constellations in it, what you see – like the Scorpius – are all upside down. And just off screen to the left is the Southern Cross, which the ancient Greeks did not know about. If ancient Greeks sailors used these for navigation, they would have ended up in Australia.”

When Giant Fish Leaves the Sky it is Time to Travel: Alex Cherney and John Morieson’s cultural reconstruction of the night sky totems and stories from the Aboriginal Boorong clan, which lived in northwestern Victoria, Australia


Ocean Sky proved so impressive that it landed Cherney first prize for astrophotography at the astronomy-related 2011 Starmus Festival, held in Tenerife in 2011. He says that given it has a staggering 2m views on Vimeo, it was only a matter of time before someone spotted his footage in the Greek video.

His success is all the more impressive considering that he only started looking at the stars in 2007 when his daughter, then four, asked him to help her “find aliens” as part of a space project she was doing at school.

“We went to a local astronomy club and when I looked through a telescope, I said ‘What have I been missing?’”

Riot police attack students outside Athens Polytechnic

In Greece on 14 November 2014 at 10:09 am
(Photo: Orestis Seferoglou/Eleftherotypia)

(Photo: Orestis Seferoglou/Eleftherotypia)

Amid scenes of panic, riot police used stun grenades and tear gas to attack hundreds students attempting to hold a protest meeting on the campus of Athens Polytechnic on Thursday night.

In a video filmed from a balcony on Stournari St, where students had managed to force open a side gate to the university, which reportedly had been locked on the orders of the rector, a detachment of MAT riot police can be seen attacking the demonstrating students as they approached the entrance at around 8pm.

The footage shows officers – who reportedly had given no prior warning to the students to disperse – chasing protesters, hitting them indiscriminately with batons, and spraying gas into a crowd of people they had cornered around the university entrance.

There were reports of about a dozen injuries. Witnesses said they saw photojournalist Giannis Liakos of InTime agency being stuck in the head with a baton by a riot policeman.

The students had planned to hold a general assembly to discuss events earlier in the day at Athens University, where riot police moved in to prevent the building being occupied ahead of Monday’s commemoration of the 1973 Polytechnic uprising which was bloodily suppressed by the junta.

Two students suffering injuries, one to the head and face, when riot police moved in on protesters who had gathered outside the university.

Unemployment rate at 25.9% in August; 1.35m people out of work

In Greece on 13 November 2014 at 1:36 pm
"I don't hope anything, I am not afraid of anything, I am unemployed" (SpirosK photography/Flickr)

“I don’t hope anything, I am not afraid of anything, I am unemployed” (SpirosK photography/Flickr)

The country’s unemployment rate fell slightly in August, with 25.9% of the workforce or almost 1.35m people registered as being out of a job, according to the Hellenic Statistics Authority (Elstat).

The August jobless rate, at its lowest level since September 2012, was less than the revised 26.1% figure (down from 26.4%) recorded in July.

The figures (pdf) put the total number of people employed in August at 3,551,148, the unemployed at 1,349,495 and the economically inactive at 3,334,759.

This means that the country’s unemployment figures have grown by almost a million in five years. In August 2009, as the international crisis was breaking, 452,706 people (9%) were recorded as unemployed.

The figures also show that about 3.5 million people are working to support more than 4.5 million unemployed and inactive people.

The data showed that in August, the number of people with jobs fell by 15,698 compared with the previous month, representing a 0.4% rate of decrease.

The ranks of the unemployed fell by 20,398, a drop of 1.6% on the previous month. The number of economically inactive grew by 31,709, up 1% on July.

The data showed that the unemployment rate for women (29.5%) is higher than that for men (23.1%).

The regions of Macedonia–Thrace (27%), Attica (26.9%) and Epirus–Western Macedonia (26.6%) had the highest unemployment rates.

The Aegean (20.2%) and Crete (22.9%) recorded the lowest figures.

In terms of age group, the largest proportion of unemployed was in the under-25 age group, where 49.3% are registered as unemployed, down from 50.7% in the previous month.

‘Why did you annoy them?’ Coastguard officials acquitted of torture convictions

In Greece on 12 November 2014 at 6:26 pm


Two coastguard officials who were convicted last year of torturing a Moroccan asylum seeker on the island of Chios in 2007 were acquitted by an Athens appeals court last week.

Calling for the coastguards’ sentences to be squashed, the state prosecutor claimed, among others, that no torture could have taken place as there is no evidence that the coastguard officers had received training in torture methods.

In November of last year, Piraeus naval court found the pair guilty of having tortured their victim by putting a bag over his head and submerging it in a bucket of water, a type of waterboarding known as the so-called “wet and dry submarino”, and by carrying out a mock execution. They were handed jail sentences ranging from three to six years for the torture, which was carried out aboard a coastguard boat that was taking migrants from a small islet to the port of Chios.

In two hours of testimony to the appeals court, the victim described what was done to him by the accused. Writing in Avgi newspaper, journalist Eleni Rousia said the victim was treated in the court as if he himself was accused of a serious crime. At one stage, when querying what could have led the coastguards to torture someone, the prosecutor asked the victim “why did you annoy them?”.

What the so-called wet and dry submarino torture involves. Sketch from the Norwegian Medical Association website

What the so-called wet and dry submarino torture involves. Sketch from the Norwegian Medical Association website

The victim’s legal team said that this was the first complaint of a “wet and dry submarino” that they had received. They also told the court that the torture had been confirmed by the Medical Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims.

The court also heard from seven witnesses, all colleagues of the accused. All claimed that the date of the alleged torture was an ordinary day, with one saying he only knew about the torture method from having seen it performed in films.

The coastguards’ defence lawyers spoke of a conspiracy against Greece, in which the victim was a mercenary.

In a statement issued before appeal hearing, Amnesty International called for the establishment of an independent complaints mechanism to deal with allegations against the police and coastguard.

It said the court’s decision showed it was imperative “to create a truly independent and effective complaints mechanism against arbitary behaviour by the police and to harmonise the definition of torture as provided by Article 137 (A) 2 of the Greek criminal code with international law.”

The human rights organisation noted that “for years it has received and recorded many complaints from refugees and migrants of torture or other ill-treatment at the hands of the the police or coastguard while in detention, during the Xenios Zeus [police sweep] operations and during illegal push backs on the land and sea border between Greece and Turkey.”

The incident was first documented in the report entitled “The truth may be bitter but it must be told: The situation of Refugees in the Aegean and the practices of the Greek coast guard” (pdf), which was published in 2007 by the Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Refugees and Migrants and the NGO Pro-Asyl.

[The above piece is based on an article published in Avgi on 7 November 2014]

What the victim told lawyers about his ordeal in 2007

The incident was first documented in the report entitled “The truth may be bitter but it must be told: The situation of Refugees in the Aegean and the practices of the Greek coast guard” (pdf), which was published in 2007 by the Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Refugees and Migrants and the NGO Pro-Asyl.

“Everyone was sitting on the floor and seemed terrified. There was a boy a little apart from the group. His shirt was pulled over his head. His upper body was bent far forward. I found out later that the boy was 17 years old, and that during a search they had found a knife on him. As soon as I got on the large boat, I was beaten. Several times they hit my head against the railings … I had to kneel down. One policeman stood behind me while two stood in front of me. The one behind me hit me with a stick on the head, deliberately and hard. He hit me on the crown of my head repeatedly with the stick. I tried to protect myself with my arms. Then he hit my arms. I tried to look behind me, and he started hitting me again. The two policemen in front of me were armed and showed me their weapons while I was being beaten. They looked at me very seriously. They said: ‘We are going to kill you.’ The expression on their faces was terrifying. I was very scared. The other policeman – a fat one – came up to me and said into my ear: ‘Tell the truth. These two policemen are very dangerous. They will kill you.’

“Then they brought a plastic bucket full of water. I was kneeling the whole time. ‘Do you see the water?’

“My arms were pressed together behind my back, held by one of the policemen. The other policeman put his hand on the nape of my neck and pushed my head down into the water; I couldn’t breathe anymore. I was only pulled up after some time. ‘Do you now know the colour and name of the boat?’ I said ‘no’. He punched me twice in the face. The policeman behind me grabbed my arms again. I wanted to take a deep breath of air. The policeman in front of me asked: ‘Do you remember now, or not?’ I said no again. He grabbed my head and pushed it into the water. I was absolutely terrified. I thought I would not survive. When I came up again the policeman again asked, ‘So, you don’t remember?’ I repeated that I did not.

“So then the policeman took a plastic bag and put it over my head. With one hand he tightened the bag around my neck. I couldn’t breathe anymore. They repeated the process of the plastic bag three times – every time they asked the same question. Then a policeman signalled with his hand: that’s enough.”

Some questions for Greece’s tourism agency EOT

In Greece on 11 November 2014 at 7:42 pm
Screengrab from EOT's Visit Greece website

Screengrab from EOT’s Visit Greece website

Greek tourism agency EOT has issued a very detailed statement in Greek on the controversy surrounding the video it launched last week.

The statement is unclear in some key aspects and I have asked EOT for clarification on a number of issues. I have decided to publish these questions before receiving a reply as EOT’s statement will be reproduced in full in the bulk of Greece’s media without the necessary questions being asked. This is what invariably happens when press releases are issued late in the day to media organisations that haven’t or won’t follow the story.

My questions are:

1. EOT mentions that Andonis Kioukas, the video’s producer, confirmed to it in writing that it had rights to use the footage of timelapse photographer Stian Rekdal. When was this written statement provided to EOT? Was it before November 10 or on November 10, ie after the publication of my article in which Rekdal clearly stated that he had not been asked for his permission to use his footage.

2. EOT’s statement does not mention if it has rights to the material belonging to Australian photographer Alex Cherney. Does EOT have permission to use his work? Has Kioukas has confirmed this in writing?

3. The watermarks on both Rekdal’s and Cherney’s footage were not visible in the EOT video (ie they were cloned out) while the watermarks of at least two Greek photographers who were credited as sources were left in place. Why was Mr Rekdal’s watermark removed if EOT claims it has rights to use his work? Who removed these watermarks and why?