Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Nicosia: racist youths; foreign student, immigrant worker victims

Walking back to the archaeological institute from the old town of Nicosia, I found racist Greek Cypriot youths threatening some internationals, although I don't know whether they were foreign students or immigrant workers, with one (or maybe two) leftist Greek Cypriot(s) between them; I don't know exactly what the excuse was, but there was talk of a bicycle.

At first, there seemed to be more racist Greek Cypriot youths and several of those had makeshift weapons, like mop handles and metal bars. When the racists' ringleader's primary target tried to talk with him and to explain that he had done nothing wrong, he sneered back, 'eisai mangas?' It's difficult to translate, but he basically meant, "you think you're tough?" (or, "you think you're a big man/spiv/wide boy/wise guy?").

If I remember rightly, the ringleader of the racist Greek Cypriots then hit his primary target with the long mop handle and, during the wrangling that followed, one of the other victims caught the long mop handle and bent it; when it snapped, there were armed members on both sides and the tension increased.

(This is what remained of the mop handle afterwards. It was left on the ground by the victims after they had reached the safety of their flats; the racists kept and took the other, longer end.)

As this continued, more of the victims' friends arrived, with more makeshift weapons and the racists became a little easier to manage, backing away to the other side of the road, telling the victims to wait for two minutes while they got their friends and more weapons for themselves.

The victims became more aggressive as they tried to drive the racists away and the leftist Greek Cypriot and I turned to calm them down, trying to convince them that it would be better for them to walk away. One of the victims found a massive wooden plank and, after bringing it with him whole, broke it into smaller pieces to give his friends something to defend themselves with, too.

(This is one piece of a plank that must have been three metres long; again, the victims left it on the ground once they were safe.)

Then the racists' friends arrived and they got "brave" again. As the racists approached, the victims retreated into the courtyard by their residences. I couldn't see what was going on, so I tried to get a local to ring the police; he would only tell me the number for me to ring them myself, so I retreated out of sight line and hearing range of the racists and called them.

Once the police finally answered the phone, I had to explain in Greek, then English, then Greek again to one policemen, who forwarded me to another in a completely different suburb, who I explained the situation to three more times, before he told me to speak to a third; I asked him to explain it to the third himself to save time and insisted they just get someone out soon. They sent a car out, which did laps around the block, as the racists dispersed into ones and twos and tried to look nonchalant.

When they saw me taking photogaphs of the weapons, the victims called down to me from the top floor of the building they were hiding in. (It seemed to be part of an educational institution, or flats above that institution, so I don't know whether they were living above or studying there, or whether people who were studying there gave them sanctuary.) 'My friend, where are you from? Are you Greek?' I explained that I was English, checked that they were okay - as okay as they could be - then left.

The racist Greek Cypriot youths are still waiting, outside the victims' residences, on the streets, in the open businesses over the road and spread all around the block.

(The blurry figure to the left of the red car in the centre was the ringleader, who upgraded his armoury to a heavy bicycle chain lock after his friend took his bicycle from the railings opposite the victims' residences.)

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