Her name was Greece. She was the mother of early democracy. In her womb she carried ideas of representation and fair governance. She created the basis of a system we now so dearly cling onto and fight for, yet her time has passed. She has withered away from the forefront of history, where she once shone a guiding light to those who wanted to make a difference and raise their voice on a marketplace of compromise among equals.
We have long seen Greece as a cradle of democracy, glorifying its ancient past, but that narrative seems like the stuff of myth now.
Operation Zeus started in August 2012, yet very little has been reported on it. The Greek government, seemingly in an attempt to sweep some of their many problems under a metaphorical rug, has set up internment camps in the country that are most recently targeting transgender individuals.
It all started with problems stemming from increasing migration to Greece. The country’s economy was already in a shambles when the Arab Spring brought in a further rise in immigration. Opportunities to receive asylum were restricted, and migrants without papers were detained and sent to camps. It is said that there are at least 5,000 people in official migrant camps and an unknown number of migrants, and now other detainees as well, at 25 other facilities.
These actions by the government have been condemned both by national and international agencies who have visited the camps and found the conditions to be unacceptable and inhumane, with people being crammed together into a small space, not even having room to lie down. Yet the tragedy persists. It is completely outrageous to subject any person to this kind of treatment, whether they are illegally in the country or not, but the government has now gone further to target its own citizens.
The list of “undesirables” named by the government consists of drug users, sex workers, and now members of the trans community. On May 30th, the Greek police began arresting and harassing transgender individuals in the city of Thessaloniki, and after that Athens. They have been arresting people without any proof of violation of the law, detaining them for hours at police stations for merely existing. The Greek Transgender Support Association (website in Greek) says that in all incidents the police have harassed and humiliated the people in question, among other things telling them to “return to normal”. Trans women were especially targeted, on the claims that they were supposedly involved in sex work.
There is a call on EU states to put pressure on the Greek government to stop these practices. However, it may not be merely the Greek government that is at the root of these atrocities. The Greek Transgender Support Association suspects that the reason behind starting these arrests may have been a call by local municipal and church representatives who were originally protesting pride parades, with a plan to target the weakest link in the LGBT community. The one group receiving least support from the government and even from within the LGBT movement: our trans brothers and sisters.
Even though the European Convention of Human Rights is supposed to protect Greek trans people, there is no native Greek legislation that would prohibit discrimination, leaving trans individuals in a dire position. However, this is not only about non-discrimination anymore. It has escalated to police brutality and the violation of basic human rights. The Greek government claims this is an effort to make citizens feel safer. It is completely the opposite; it is a conscious effort to erase an entire subgroup, and force them to either hold themselves prisoner in their own bodies or be detained in a larger prison.
25 trans women arrested last August under Operation Zeus have now all been acquitted. The court accepted that being a trans woman in a given location at a given time did not in itself infer such a person was a prostitute. However, the Greek Transgender Support Association reports that arrests of trans people have continued since this decision, and have become daily in some parts of Thessoloniki since 30th May.