Greece: Thessaloniki mayor injured after far-right attack

Attack on Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris comes amid a spike in far-right violence across Greece.

Thessaloniki, Yiannis Boutaris
Yiannis Boutaris (C) was aided after being attacked by a group of nationalists in the city of Thessaloniki [EPA]

The mayor of Greece’s second-largest city was admitted to hospital with injuries after he was set upon by a group of ultra-nationalist demonstrators.

The attack took place in the northern coastal city of Thessaloniki on Saturday during a commemoration marking the killing of Greeks in the Ottoman Empire during the tail end of the World War I.

Known to many Greeks as the “Pontic Genocide”, the killings are marked by annual events organised by Pontic Greek associations. Groups and representatives from across the political spectrum attend each year.

The 75-year-old mayor, Yiannis Boutaris, reportedly sustained injuries to his head, back and legs after being attacked with bottles and kicked in the head and body.

It comes on the heels of a surge in far-right violence in Greece. 

Kostas Tsakalidis, a Thessaloniki-based photographer, witnessed the attack while covering the flag-lowering ceremony during Saturday’s commemoration.

“A group of people started to shout at him for his opinion on the Macedonian dispute, the LBGTQI community, Turkey, and [nationalist] football clubs,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that he had seen many of the assailants at “extreme right protests” in recent months.

“Some people were shouting about Jews because he has had [a] close relationship with the Jewish community over the years.”


Tsakalidis explained that Boutaris fell to the ground after being hit, while attackers threw bottles “and other objects” at him. One assailant proceeded to kick the mayor as he lay on the pavement.

Although a group of police officers were located nearby, Tsakalidis said “none of them intervened” to stop the attack. 

At the time of publication, Greek police had not replied to Al Jazeera’s request for a comment.

‘Popular rage’

On its website, the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party – which holds 16 seats in the Hellenic Parliament – accused Boutaris of “tarnishing” the commemoration.

In a separate statement, Golden Dawn celebrated the attack as “popular rage”, accusing Boutaris of supporting Turkey at a time of rising tensions between Athens and Ankara.

In late January, upwards of 300,000 people rallied in Thessaloniki against negotiations between Athens and Skopje to resolve a decades-long dispute over the name Macedonia.

During that rally, unknown perpetrators spray-painted “Golden Dawn” on Thessaloniki’s Holocaust memorial.

Others attacked a pair of anarchist squats in the city, setting one ablaze and badly damaging the building.

On the same day, leaflets accusing Boutaris of being “a slave of the Jews” were passed out and scattered on the pavement in the city centre.


Seraphim Seferiades, a politics professor at the Panteion University in Athens, said far-right violence “is definitely on the rise”. 

“It’s something to be expected because there is a political gap [that the far right] is exploiting, and in that context, it’s likely we’ll see more violence,” he told Al Jazeera. 

“It’s certainly dangerous,” he added.

‘Fascist assault’ 

The three Pontic Greek groups that organised the event “strongly condemned” the attack.

“The perpetrators of the attack were extremists who have nothing to do with the organised Pontic space,” the groups said in a joint statement.

The attack was also roundly condemned by Greek political parties.

Syriza, Greece’s ruling left-wing party, described the attackers as “fascists”.

“This fascist assault is an attempt to target and intimidate Yiannis Boutaris,” Syriza said in a statement released after the incident.

Pasok, a centre-left party, condemned the attack on Boutaris as “embarrassing” and “unacceptable”, decrying the “extreme elements” who committed the violence for “tarnish[ing] the day of remembrance”.

In a statement published on Saturday night, the centre-right opposition party New Democracy condemned the attack “in the most unambiguous manner”.

Saturday’s incident is the latest in a string of far-right and xenophobic attacks in Greece, including a slew of assaults targeting refugees, migrant labourers and others across the country.

Earlier this month, police opened an investigation after several headstones were smashed in the Jewish section of the First Cemetery of Athens.

In Lesbos, a Greek island that hosts thousands of asylum seekers, a band of far-right assailants attacked a group of refugees in Mytilene’s central square with bottles, Molotov cocktails and stones in late April.


According to Greek police statistics, the number of hate crimes more than doubled last year when compared to 2016, rising from 84 to 184.

In January, a far-right group called Crypteia phoned several civil society groups, including the Muslim Association of Athens, with death threats.

In Thessaloniki, photographer Tsakalidis said Saturday’s attack on the mayor was “shocking”.

“I’m very ashamed that this situation happened in my city,” he concluded.

Source: Al Jazeera