Damian Mac Con Uladh

Archive for December, 2014|Monthly archive page

A Gael in Greece: 2014 in review

In Greece on 29 December 2014 at 11:45 pm

Hi all!

Thanks for reading and sharing my posts during the year. Some of you I know personally; others may know me from my time at the Athens News and EnetEnglish, two media outlets that unfortunately have shut down, leaving me and many others owed months of back pay.

This blog is a voluntary effort, a way for me to write about matters that I deem important and that may not be getting the attention they deserve in other media. As such, it reflects my own areas of interests and, as it is my blog, a forum to express my own opinions, from time to time.

Wishing you all the best in 2015!


Here’s what WordPress has to say about my blog in 2014:

Here’s an excerpt:

Madison Square Garden can seat 20,000 people for a concert. This blog was viewed about 69,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Madison Square Garden, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

A sniff at democracy

In Uncategorized on 18 December 2014 at 10:04 am
(Photo: ProtoThema.gr)

Independent MP Grigoris Psarianos appears to sniff the inside of the jacket of his colleague Rachel Makri (Photo: ProtoThema.gr)

This is a scene from the backbenches of the Greek parliament, where the government yesterday evening failed in his first attempt to have its candidate for state president elected, in a process that will likely go to another two rounds and, as is looking increasingly likely, to national elections.

The government managed to muster a mere 160 votes, twenty short of the 180 it will need to see Stavros Dimas, its presidential hopeful, ensconced in the state’s highest office. Only five MPs from outside the two coalition parties supported Dimas in the first round of voting, including independent MPs Grigoris Psarianos, Spyros Lykoudis and Christos Aidonis, who decided that the responsible thing to do for the country at this juncture was to vote with the government and prevent snap elections.

Ahead of the vote, one would think that the gravity of the situation facing the country would be playing on the minds of all MPs, especially Psarianos (a former Syriza (2007-10) and Democratic Left (2010-14) MP, now independent), Lykoudis (elected with Democratic Left in 2012, now independent and head of a new party called the Reformers) and Aidonis (elected with Pasok in 2012, independent since 2013), who, after all, are presented as paragons of responsibility who have the country’s best interests at heart, leading the way for others to follow.

But minutes before the vote, a roll-call procedure which got underway shortly after 7pm, Psarianos had other things on his mind. In this image, taken at 6.59pm, we apparently see him sniffing – yes, sniffing! – the coat of a female colleague, independent deputy Rachel Makri (who can be seen in the centre of the photo below), who had taken her seat two benches down shortly beforehand.

(Photo: TheToc.gr)

Rachel Makri (centre) wearing a light blue coat (Photo: TheToc.gr)

Holding the jacket is novelist Petros Tatsopoulos, an independent MP who was elected on a Syriza ticket in 2012, who is clearly amused. Sitting in front of Psarianos is Lykoudis. On his left is Aidonis, bursting into laughter. Joining in on the fun from across the aisle is Markos Bolaris, an independent MP who was expelled from Pasok in November 2012.

Like schoolboys in the back row of the classroom, they probably thought no one would notice, despite the intense media focus on the proceedings. But a group of men in the 50s and 60s getting a kick out of smelling an item of clothing belonging to a younger female colleague is anything but responsible parliamentary behaviour.

It’s hard to know what Psarianos was up to. Only he could tells us. As a passionate wearer of angler jackets, even in the parliamentary chamber, perhaps he’s afflicted with some kind of jacket-envy, given that he’s not that particularly well-endowed when it comes to that item of clothing.

Grigoris Psarianos speaking from the parliamentary tribune (Photo: ienimerosi.gr)

Grigoris Psarianos speaking from the parliamentary tribune (Photo: ienimerosi.gr)

Police remove Syrian refugees from Syntagma

In Greece on 15 December 2014 at 9:17 am
(Photo: Screengrab/Omnia TV, YouTube)

(Photo: Screengrab/Omnia TV, YouTube)

Fifty-one Syrian refugees, among them six women and two children, who were sleeping out on Syntagma Square as part of a protest that started almost a month ago were removed by police in the early hours of Monday morning and reportedly taken to the aliens department on Petrou Ralli street.

According to a solidarity committee that has been supporting the Syrians, a contingent of police arrived to where the Syrians were sleeping at around 2.45am and quickly ordered them into a waiting police van. The same reports said that some of the Syrians were taken away barefoot as they had not been given time to gather their belongings, including important papers and documents that they had stored in bags. The committee said one Syrian was struck in the mouth and left bleeding.

A short time later, municipal cleaning crews arrived and removed the Syrians belongings and dismantled the temporary structures they had erected.

The Syrians began their protest on November 19 in order to highlight their predicament as refugees. They are seeking ways to continue their journeys to preferred destinations in Europe, where many have family or can expect to receive the necessary support as refugees.

The Greek authorities have said they can accept up to ten asylum applications from Syrians per day but warned that apart from access to healthcare, the state is not in a position to support the Syrians in any other way.

Some days ago, a number of Syrian families were taken to municipal hostels, where they have been accommodated.

Other sources: OmniaTV

In Syntagma Square : Syrian Refugees Fight Back

In Uncategorized on 10 December 2014 at 9:34 pm

The Samos Chronicles blog has produced the most comprehensive account of why Syrians are protesting on Syntagma Square. In their own words, Syrians explain why they find themselves in Greece and why they are determined to continue their journeys to their intended destinations.

The Samos Chronicles is written by Sofiane Ait Chalalet and Chris Jones, emeritus professor of social policy and social work at the University of Liverpool.

Samos Chronicles


There are many aspects to the desperation which has driven the Syrian refugees to this self-organised protest. Many of them are on hunger strike. One common bond is the fear of being trapped in Greece with no money and no support. Without money to pay your way out of Greece clandestinely you face a frightening future.

Many of the Syrians who make it to Greece have some money; some have much. In many respects those in Syntagma square, are more privileged than the millions of Syrians living in the camps in Turkey or Jordan. Of the 11 million Syrians refugees today (including those internally displaced within the country as well as outside the borders) only 4% make it to Europe.

We were told many stories in the Square of people selling homes, cars and businesses to pay for the escape from Syria. But as a consequence of there being no…

View original post 3,272 more words

Putting theory into practice for Syria’s refugee children

In Greece on 10 December 2014 at 12:59 pm

Screenshot 2014-12-10 12.54.21

According to YouTube, this video was most-watched in Greece in 2014. Made by Save the Children UK, the tragic second-a day clip shows what could happen to a young girl’s life were war ever to break out in Britain.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent many hours talking to the Syrian war refugees who have been protesting their plight on Syntagma Square in Athens since November 19.

The Save the Children video doesn’t even come near to describing what Mariam, a wonderful nine-year-old girl, has experienced in the three years since her mother was killed in Damascus. Yet, after an ordeal that has taken her and her father though wartorn Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and now Greece, all that’s on offer for them, as they’ve been told, is asylum in Greece without any support whatsoever. A cynical offer, one that would effectively leave them homeless and destitute and without the support of relatives (in Germany and Sweden) that she and her father need.

Is that the best the EU can do for these people? Isn’t it time to translate the public’s sympathy for the plight of children made refugees by war – as the popularity of the hypothetical British video in Greece suggests – into concrete action to help the Syrian refugees?

That my native country of Ireland should feel somehow satisfied that it has resettled 201 Syrians and has plans to take in 220 more – out of a total of 3,200,000 Syrian refugees – is shameful when one considers that Greece receives that number and more every few days.

Mariam (9)

Mariam (9)

Syrian refugees’ case reaches European Court of Human Rights

In Greece on 8 December 2014 at 11:13 am
Syrian refugees prepare for their 19th night sleeping on Syntagma Square in central Athens (Photo: @NickBarnets/Twitter)

Syrian refugees prepare for their 19th night sleeping out on Syntagma Square in central Athens (Photo: @NickBarnets/Twitter)

Europe’s human rights court is expected to issue a decision early this week on an emergency case taken on behalf of some of the hundreds of Syrian refugees who have been camped out in central Athens to highlight their plight for almost three weeks.

The Syrians, among them many unaccompanied minors, families with young children and elderly, last night completed their 19th night camped out on Syntagma Square, with only rudimentary plastic sheeting to protect them from the rain and low temperatures.

They took the decision to protest in front of the Greek parliament on November 19, in an attempt to convince the government to find a solution to their acute problems. Since then, some of the protesters embarked on a hunger strike.

The application to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), taken in the name of 30 Syrians, maintains that the refugees, who risked their lives in fleeing their war-torn country and in reaching Greece, should have been given automatic protection upon their arrival in Greece, according to national, European and international standards. This would also mean that they be afforded reception conditions in terms of housing, food and other support.

The decision from the Strasbourg-based court could come as soon as Monday or Tuesday, according to human rights lawyer Electra Leda Koutra, who submitted the case under the court’s rule 39 on interim measures, which are urgent measures that apply only where there is an imminent risk of irreparable harm.

Among the 30 Syrians seeking the interim measure is a 12-year-old child who is an unaccompanied minor. A “holder of a Syrian passport, he has been left without information, without any kind of support, guardianship or monitoring, on the Greek streets, after having been considered ‘deportable’ to a war zone”, the application states.

Although the child has indicated that he would consider applying for asylum in Greece, he has said this would be conditional on him being promptly reunited with his brother, a recognised refugee, in Sweden. However, any such applications from unaccompanied minors would take at least eight months to process, according to the application to the court.

Although the government has said it could process up to ten applications for refugee status a day, the application to the ECtHR argues that this is a wholly inadequate response to the situation as it envisages offering homeless refugees no accommodation or support in the meantime and would thus leave them to fend for themselves and exposed to racist attacks, among other dangers.

The application also maintains that what Greece is offering to the Syrians in terms of reception conditions should they obtain refugee status is unacceptable under the country’s international obligations. In a leaflet, interior ministry officials told the Syrians that only a few women with small children would be accommodated in a hosting facility, and no subsistence or other support would be possible, “because of the Greek state’s financial crisis”.

“That documents admits in the most public – but also cynical – way that Greece cannot offer the reception conditions guaranteed by the CEAS [Common European Asylum System] on EU ground. No housing, no food, no clothing, no social and integration services are to be automatically offered, despite the opposite legislative guarantees,” Koutra told A Gael in Greece.

She adds that under Greek presidential decree 80/2006, which transposes into national law European Council directive 2001/55, the country may offer temporary protection to refugees without obliging them to apply for asylum. This would require the permission of the European Commission and Council, but Greece would need to propose it.

“This they could not refuse. This could certainly take place concerning the Syrians,” Koutra believes. “Legally, the Syrians have a chance to succeed in what they are asking, even if they don’t know the law. They are members of a large group, have come to Greece thinking it was a safe place. If Greece cannot guarantee them this, it should not obstruct them. If there is a crisis, Greece must admit this and request help.”

As the Strasbourg court has been informed by the lawyer, all the other Syrian applicants named in the case have said they will refuse to apply for asylum in Greece.

The overall situation pushes Syrians into taking unconventional ways to reach safe EU countries, the application points out, putting their lives in great danger in the process. Already, two Syrians who were part of the Syntagma protest have died while attempting to make it to western Europe on foot, including a doctor, Ayman Ghazal. On Monday, one of the Syrian protesters provided A Gael in Greece with the names of four other Syrians who died recently died after leaving Greece in forests of neighbouring countries: Nizar Sourki, who died in Macedonia, and Mohammad Aryan, Ismael Alahmad and Khaled Husain Basha, who died in Albania.

The application points to a series of ECtHR rulings that established that asylum seekers have been left in an extremely vulnerable situation and humiliated in Greece due to the failure by the authorities to act on its obligations under the EU’s reception directive. Other rulings from the court have found that asylum seekers have been subjected to “degrading treatment” in the country’s detention centres. These rulings effectively prohibit a number of EU countries from deporting asylum seekers to Greece.

She has told the court that “Recognising that Greece finds itself in a situation in which it is almost impossible to meet the needs of persons in analogous status … we requested that the Greek Government should at least recognize that fact and let them proceed to other EU countries, in any legal way possible.”

“We are of the view that, accepting to ‘gradually’ apply for asylum at this stage (as protesters), just for the ‘title’ of it, without the rights and benefits escorting the status of an asylum seeker, does not constitute an effective remedy for the applicants, in the meaning of the [European human rights] convention. It would not move them to a position of safety, and it would not redress the rights the applicants are complaining about. Moreover, it would take about two months for all the protesters to be registered, which would mean that, besides their guaranteed rights, they would have to spend winter in the Athenian streets, in a situation that is menacing their lives, bodily and mental integrity –not to mention their dignity as human beings,” she explained to the court.

Koutra hopes that whatever the outcome, the decision from the court will be extremely important. She points out that on November 26, two days after submitting her application, the ECtHR responded promptly and, applying an urgent procedure, requested the Greek government to clarify a number of points regarding the Syrians by December 5.

Firstly, the court asks the government to describe the situation the Syrians find themselves in. Second, to clarify on what measures it envisages for particularly vulnerable Syrians, such as women with young children and unaccompanied minors. Thirdly, it calls on the Greek government to explain how it intends to process asylum applications, and, finally, to explain in what conditions the asylum applicants would be obliged to wait while their applications are being processed.

Syrian from Athens refugee protest dies trying to enter Albania

In Greece on 5 December 2014 at 10:43 am
Leaflets with a photo of Dr Ayman Ghazal were distributed last night at the Syrian protest (Photo: @giorgospanagaki/Twitter)

Leaflets with a photo of Dr Ayman Ghazal were distributed last night at the Syrian protest (Photo: @giorgospanagaki/Twitter)

A doctor who was part of the protest that Syrian refugees started two weeks ago in Athens to highlight their plight has died trying to cross the Greek–Albanian border, other Syrians at the protest said on Thursday.

They named him as Dr Ayman Ghazal, who was around 50 and originally from Aleppo. Friends said that after spending a ten days at the protest, he felt it was in his best interest to continue his journey to northern Europe and what he hoped would be safety.

According to the Deport Racism website, the doctor had tried to cross the Greek–Albanian border with a group of 30 people. They had taken a bus to Ioannina, in Epirus, and from there they reached Kakavia border crossing by taxi.

From there, they started to walk towards the border. After a four-hour trek, they came to a stream which they had to cross, up to their waists in water. Sometime later, Dr Ghazal had a seizure. When his friends phoned for an ambulance, they were told to return to Kakavia. The police also told them the same thing.

His comrades then set off for Kavakia, carrying Dr Ghazal on a sleeping bag. Outside Kakavia, they came across an ambulance, which transported him to the nearest hospital, where he died.

The others in the group were then arrested and detained in a police station from midnight to 6am. While in custody, they claim police swore at them, saying things like: “Go to Syntagma where they have blankets and free food, fuckers!”

The rest of the group are now back in Athens.

Abdulghafour Tammaa, one of the protesters on Syntagma, tweeted that Dr Ghazal had died in an Albanian forest “of the cold”, adding that his “dream of Europe” had perished with him.

According to a post on the Facebook page of the Syrian protesters, the dead man’s family are in Mersin, Turkey.

About 200 Syrian refugees, among them elderly, women and children, have been camped out on Syntagma Square in central Athens since November 19. The numbers at the protest swell during the day with other Syrians who have accommodation elsewhere. The Syrians want to be allowed continue their journeys to countries they say will guarantee them protection as war refugees. According to EU rules they must apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter, but the Syrians say that Greece has no infrastructure to support them.

Dr Ghazal’s death highlights the perilous nature of the journey war refugees and other migrants take in their desperate attempts to reach safe countries. In November, eight migrants were killed when they were hit by trains in neighbouring Republic of Macedonia while another man, a 23-year-old Afghan, died when the board he was strapped onto beneath a train broke.

Last night, their 16th camped out on Syntagma square, Syrians and their supporters lit candles and held up photographs of Dr Ghazal in his memory.

This video, recorded by the MultiKulti website on the rainy night of December 3, shows the difficult conditions faced by the Syrians on Syntagma Square: 

Demonstrations banned for Davutoğlu’s visit to Athens

In Greece on 4 December 2014 at 2:03 pm
Map on the exclusion zone based on the police statement (Source: Damian Mac Con Uladh/Google Maps)

Map on the exclusion zone based on the police statement (Source: Damian Mac Con Uladh/Google Maps)

Ahead of an official visit to Athens by Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, police have declared a ban on all “outdoor gatherings and demonstrations” from 6am on Friday to 3pm the following day “for reasons of public security and non-disruption of the socioeconomic life of the city”.

Syntagma Square, where hundreds of Syrian war refugees have been protesting to raise awareness of their plight, falls inside the exclusion zone.

According to a To Vima journalist Dionisis Vithoulkas, police officials have said there is no question of moving the Syrians out of the exclusion zone.

December 6 marks the sixth anniversary of the police killing 15-year-old student Alexandros Grigoropoulos, whose murder sparked weeks of rioting in the capital. Large numbers are expected to attend commemorations marking his death, especially as a friend, anarchist Nikos Romanos, who was with him when he was shot, is on the 25th day of a prison hunger strike.

Romanos (21), who was convicted last month for armed robbery and faces trial in connection with activities with an armed group, began his hungerstrike in protest at being denied furlough to attend university classes.

Previous exclusion zones for visits of foreign dignitaries

German chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit in October 2012

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble’s visit in July 2013

German chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit in April 2014

Former US diplomat to launch new book on November 17 terror group

In Greece on 2 December 2014 at 9:44 am
A November 17 propaganda photo

A November 17 propaganda photo

A new study on resistance and terror groups in Greece from 1967 to 1974 will be launched at noon on Wednesday 3 December at Ianos bookstore (24 Stadiou) in Athens.

Published by Lycabettus Press, Greek Urban Warriors: Resistance & Terrorism, 1967–2014 is the work of eight years of research by Athens resident and former US diplomat Brady Kiesling, who in 2003 resigned from his position as chief of the political section of the US embassy in Athens in protest at Iraq invasion.

While its focus is on Revolutionary Organisation November 17 (17N), the deadliest armed group in Greece in the period that killed 23 people before being dismantled in 2002, the book also looks at the myriad of other groups active in the country over the last four decades.


Kiesling began working on the project in 2007, when he produced a short handbook on Greek terrorism based on official accounts. It turned into a multiyear research project to to disentangle the lies and wishful thinking of Greek urban guerrillas and the people pursuing them.

Fluent in ancient and modern Greek, Kiesling watched the 17N appeals trial, interviewed key participants, waded through masses of archival material, and used computer software and painstaking deduction to reconstruct the secret history of the Greek armed revolutionary movement.

Kiesling is the author of Diplomacy Lessons: Realism for an Unloved Superpower (Potomac 2006) and numerous articles. He lives in Athens, where he writes on history, archaeology, ancient religion, and politics.

Click here for the book’s table of contents, introduction and index

Extract from Greek Urban Warriors: Resistance & Terrorism, 1967–2014


The mood in Greece at the beginning of 1989 was foul. The scale and brazenness of the Koskotás embezzlement/bribery scandal humiliated the state. In early January, ex-president Karamanlís broke his silence to pronounce Greece “a boundless mental institution.” The demoralized government offered a pathetic “no comment.”

In a boundless mental institution few thought it strange that radical leftist urban guerrillas insisted on the same right as other inmates to comment on social policy. However, 17 November was torn by conflicting aspirations. On the one hand, its members wanted the guilty punished. On the other hand, “catharsis” implied redemption, while revolutionary dogma clearly stated that capitalism was unredeemable. 17N could not bear the thought of the hated Right being wafted back into power on the strength of these scandals. It hated SYN and its constituent communist parties as a contemptible crutch for the capitalist system, but was realistic in dismissing the small revolutionary parties as too weak to be relevant in a bourgeois election where votes were counted.

Ultimately, 17N members hated PASOK less than they hated PASOK’s rivals. Without wanting to, 17N became part of the mechanism for PASOK’s redemption. Its first step was an attempt to strengthen the spine of the judiciary to pursue and punish scandals.

On January 10, prosecutor Kóstas Androulidákis left his house in Zográfou at 8:10 in the morning and walked 50 meters to his parked car. …