Cyprus: 1000-strong antifascist demo in Limassol against fascist pogroms – Interview with Athina Kariati

In the past week, there have been disturbing incidents involving fascists in Cyprus. These incidents occurred both in villages within the Paphos region and in the city of Limassol. The fascists organized a series of racist attacks that resulted in injuries to migrants, with several requiring hospitalization. They also vandalized migrants’ shops and instilled a climate of fear among the migrant community. Troublingly, the police appeared to tolerate these pogroms, not intervening to stop criminal activity.

However, the anti-fascist movement refused to remain silent in the face of provocation. On Saturday, September 2nd, a significant mass march took place in Limassol, denouncing fascism and racism while demonstrating solidarity with migrants and refugees. Nearly 1,000 people participated in this march, a figure that far surpassed the number of fascists involved in the previous day’s pogrom. Once again, it became evident that initiatives against the fascist threat consistently attract a significantly larger layer of people than racist actions which pollute our streets and neighborhoods.

In light of these events, we spoke with Athina Kariati, a representative from New Internationalist Left, the Internationalist Standpoint affiliate in Cyprus.

Athina, can you tell us a few words about who was behind the recent racist pogroms?

The fascist pogroms began in Chloraka, Lemba, and Emba, villages situated in the Paphos region, at the end of August (see our article here). These areas had been subject to systematic infiltration and influence by fascist elements over the last years.

Several years ago, the government allocated a building complex to serve as housing for refugees and asylum seekers. This complex was deemed uninhabitable in 2020. Despite dire conditions, refugees and asylum seekers, driven by desperation and poverty, continued to reside there, sometimes resorting to unauthorized electricity connections to sustain their lives.

When their electricity supply was cut off during the summer, they organized a peaceful march through the streets of Chloraka to voice their protest. This demonstration was neither violent nor did it lead to any incidents. However, it provided an opportunity for the fascists to emerge once more. Chloraka has a significant Syrian community, with many people having lived there for decades as recognized refugees, most of whom have successfully integrated into Cypriot society. They speak Greek, hold jobs as workers or employees, and some even own their own small businesses.

Four years ago, a Syrian individual was involved in a dispute with a Cypriot resident, and it was on the pretext of this incident that the National Popular Front (ELAM), a fascist political party in Cyprus represented in the parliament, began to frequent the area, ostensibly to “protect” the local residents.

This conscious fascist intervention went hand in hand with the deeply inhumane immigration policy implemented by the Cypriot state. These were then coupled with racist propaganda that extends beyond ELAM politicians to include those from the center-right, perpetuated daily by the media. It is not difficult to see how this has fostered an atmosphere of tolerance for the actions of far-right elements. The horrible living conditions faced by refugees within the complex served as the catalyst for these events.

The motivations behind the pogrom in Limassol differed. A march in solidarity with refugees and migrants had already been announced by the anti-fascist and anti-racist movement, prompting various far-right groups to call for their own march the day prior, on Friday, September 1st.

What was the attitude of government authorities towards fascist attacks?

In all three of these disturbing pogroms, the police was present but did not intervene. This was especially evident during the second racist attack, when it was widely anticipated that violence would erupt. The fascist march on September 1st was orchestrated through various far-right websites and was accompanied by menacing threats and promises of attacks.

It came to light later that the police were fully aware of what to expect during this march. Approximately 200 fascists gathered on the main promenade in Limassol, an area where most shops are owned or operated by migrant workers. It was in this location that the third pogrom in less than a week unfolded.

While the government did issue verbal condemnations of these incidents, as did the center-right parties and even ELAM itself, their statements were full of racist rhetoric.

On September 2nd, following apologetic statements from the police admitting their “mistake”, they chose, as they often do, to target and confront antifascists. It appears that the size of the march may have prevented them from doing so during the event. Nevertheless, we later learned that they stopped two cars before the march and arrested the passengers, ostensibly on the grounds of discovering “offensive instruments” in their possession.

Once again, these actions demonstrate where the loyalties of the police and the state lie.

The march of September 2 was a first response against the fascists. Can you give us a picture of the mood on the ground? Are there any proposals for a continuation of the struggle?

The march that took place on September 2 marked a powerful response to the fascists. Close to 1,000 individuals, representing a diverse range of ages, gathered without concealing their identities, creating a vibrant and positive atmosphere. Their presence succeeded in altering the dynamics that had taken hold along the Limassol seafront.

With slogans such as “With the migrants, we stand united,” “Solidarity is the weapon of the people,” “Smash the fascists in every neighborhood,” and “No to pogroms, anywhere and everywhere,” they managed to bring smiles back to the faces of the migrants working in the seaside shops.

This march serves as the initial response. There are discussions on the need for more anti-fascist actions to be organised in the days to come. On Monday, September 4th, the large social democratic AKEL party (Progressive Party of Working People) will be organizing an anti-fascist march, while discussions are ongoing for similar events in Nicosia and Larnaca.

While the September 2 march can be celebrated as a success, it is essential to recognize that it signifies not the end but the first step of a sustained struggle that must be pursued until the end. The fascists are nurtured systematically by the system and have risen to prominence. Just hours after the September 2 march, reports emerged of black-clad masked assailants attacking four deliverymen, robbing them of their money and motorbikes. This underscores the pressing need for continued collective effort, in unison with all those who demonstrated their bravery and determination on the streets on Saturday, September 2nd.

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