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Friday, October 5, 2012

Attack on Tanzanian community centre creates fear

by Lynn Edmonds5 Oct 2012
An attack on the Tanzanian community centre created fear among immigrant communities (Athens News)
An attack on the Tanzanian community centre created fear among immigrant communities (Athens News)
A recent attack on the Tanzanian Community Centre in Athens highlighted ethnic tensions in the Agios Panteleimonas neighbourhood, where fringe groups, community members, and residents became embroiled in street clashes. It also heightened a climate of fear among immigrant groups and raised concern among some activists about police’s relationship with Golden Dawn.
Upturned tables and chairs with missing legs, a computer smashed into bits, and a jumble of destroyed furniture faced journalists when they stepped inside the interior of the Tanzanian Community Centre on Lemesou Street near Plateia Amerikis, where its members gathered to watch football and host children’s birthday parties, among other activities. The centre was attacked the night of September 25th, by a mob believed to be linked with Golden Dawn.
The centre was ransacked after a group of 30-40 residents and Golden Dawn members visited the night before, threatening trouble if they did not close. A press release issued by the Tanzanian Community as well as police statements corroborate that 10 members were gathered inside the building, when around 1am, a group of 60-80 gathered outside the premise. Those inside the centre called the police, which promptly arrived. A while later, at around 2.30-3.00am, the group came back and ransacked the place. A video of the attack can be seen here.
The Tanzanian Community Centre has had strained relations with its neighbours since it moved to Lemesou Street four years ago. Rumours swirled on both sides that there have been threats with weapons. One neighbour, Antonis Voletis, hailed me in order to voice his grievances against the community centre to the press. He was eager to ensure that the community centre was not portrayed as a victim in the media, saying that he couldn’t sleep at night because of noise from the centre, and that members littered the streets with beer bottles. He took out a rock from inside his house and demonstrated how the day following the attack a protester had thrown it at his wife, asserting that the rock bounced of a flowerpot and hit her on the head. The community centred contributed to an environment in which he felt displaced, Voletis said. “The whole neighbourhood is a bar for black people. They have a bar over there, and a bar on the other end of the street. So we should leave the country and they should stay here.”
Ligopora remarked that the community centre’s location is in some ways unfortunate in that they are located between two bars frequented by Africans, and are held responsible for the behaviour of every African on the street. “So when people pass by and they are drunk, [neighbours] think they are coming from the Tanzanian Community Centre. I tell them, we Africans, we are the same,” he said, pointing to his skin, “you cannot know that they are coming from the Tanzanian Community Centre. But because they are annoyed, they attribute it to us.” He claimed.
Disagreements with neighbours, and a desire to resolve them, was also evidenced in the centre by a sign that read “To all soccer fans while following football matches, please have a decent cheering, as your noise might infuriate our neighbours.” One community member estimated that they had spent between eight and ten thousand euros to soundproof the building.
But the particulars of “neighbourly disputes” do little to explain the violence of the attack, account for the frightening trend of attacks on immigrants, which activist groups number at 500 in the past six months, or address a fear among some that the police are not there to protect them.
Certain accounts assert that police “left” or “stood by” during the attack. In an interview, secretary of the Tanzanian community Kayu Ligopora claimed that the police did not try to prevent the centre from being destroyed. “The police didn’t try to stop this violence from happening. The one thing they did was to get us out of the building.” He also reported that one officer from the DIAS motorcycle unit commented to another “‘there are only eleven people in here,” and then left. He said ‘we thought maybe we had some help, when they left… we called again and again and again” before the MAT riot police came and escorted the members to a safe place.
Social justice organisation Network for Political and Social Rights is claiming that right-wing group Golden Dawn works hand-in-hand with police, especially in neighbourhoods such as downtown Athens’ Agios Panteleimonas, and The Guardian reported on September 28 that police officers sometimes referred Greeks to Golden Dawn when they had had trouble with immigrants. READ MORE