In March, a group of medium and small businessmen plus some Athens residents sued the mayor of Athens, Mr. Kaklamanis, who is responsible for the policing of the city, alleging misconduct for his refusal to tackle the serious problem of street vendors, many of them illegal immigrants, selling counterfeit goods. It is estimated that counterfeit vendors cost the Greek state over five billion Euros annually, and their activities have caused many companies to make redundancies or even close.
A few days before the merchants went to court, the mayor had stated that
"I prefer to let these people earn 40-50 Euros instead of hunting them and leading them to becoming thieves."
After the suit had been lodged, we created a Paremporio! (Stop!) group on Facebook and a Greek-language blog so that people concerned about this issue could make contact and initiate activities to support our legal action and increase publicity.
On Saturday 10April, about 15 of us went to the fashionable Ermou Street in central Athens, where the problem is serious, and started taking pictures, making videos and giving leaflets to shoppers outlining the reasons why they should not buy goods from illegal vendors. Ermou Street was crowded and there were more than 200 African vendors there at the time, having spread their shoddy goods all along the pavements.
After a while, we were verbally attacked by some Africans, who called us "racists" and started shoving the members of our group, trying to push down their cameras. Some others started shouting that "the black race rules" and that they will "f***" white Greeks, our mothers and our wives. Suddenly, an old man (72) emerged from the crowd and started shouting at them that they should leave. Two of the vendors punched the man and knocked him down, before running off along a small street lined with cafes, sweeping over customers, chairs and tables. Some bystanders started pursuing them and they reacted by throwing chairs, tables, bottles and glasses.
A real battle started with all the vendors running through the city centre throwing things in every direction. Then they realized that there were only five or six men pursuing them. They turned around and attacked us with wooden beams, iron stands and anything they could grab from cafes and restaurants. Two people were hit on their head, one of them being badly injured. I got three hard blows on my back and was hit on the head by a bottle.
The police turned up eventually. Thirteen of the vendors were arrested later that day, of whom six had no right to be in Greece.
Our group has become instantly famous, and we are receiving calls from all over Greece. Traders organizations are also asking us to help them establish Paremporio! affiliates in other cities. The Federation of Traders Unions of Attica appointed me a few days ago officially to conduct the formation of such groups in all the Federation's member unions.
In Athenian suburbs that are being turned into ghettos, some residents have taken courage from our actions and started forming groups to stop illegal vendors, junkies, drug dealers and Islamist fanatics. On 18 April, a major newspaper, the leftwing Eleftherotypia, devoted three pages to us with the ironic title "The 'revolution' of the merchants."
There is a long way to go, but I believe we have taken an important first step, and we did it by involving and energizing people who have a genuine stake in society.