His name was Kostas Fragoulis and he was a gypsy. He was 16 years old, he was married and in some photos he was seen hugging his daughter, a year and a half old. On Monday, December 5, he went to a gas station in Thessaloniki to put 20 euros of fuel in the tank of a car that he was driving without permission. He left without paying and the owner called the police. A 34-year-old officer chased him on a motorcycle and shot him in the head. The young man was hospitalized in a coma until he passed away on Tuesday, December 12. His death has triggered protests by thousands of gypsies, especially in Athens and Thessaloniki, the most populated cities. And he has revived the complaints about the exclusion of this ethnic group and the recurring police violence.
The policeman who killed Fragoulis was suspended and is under house arrest, charged with intentional homicide. He stated that Fragoulis hit him with the car and that his life and that of his companions were in danger.
Riots and demonstrations over the death of Fragoulis have been going on in Greece for more than a week. They have coincided with the protests that have taken place every December since that month of 2008, when Alexandros Grigoropoulos, a 15-year-old teenager, was murdered during a police operation. Grigoropoulos was not a gypsy, but his death sparked an unresolved debate in Greece about the excesses of the police. The protesters who denounced the death of Fragoulis have recalled the case of the 18-year-old gypsy Nikos Sampanis, who died in 2021, also shot by the police during another car chase.
The journalist Giorgos Tsitiridis, author of the book The gypsies of Greece, published in 2021, explains that the settlement of Agia Sofia, where Kostas Fragoulis lived, is a good illustration of the living conditions of many gypsies. Tsitiridis recounts that this camp was inaugurated in 2000 with the aim of temporarily housing families who lived, for the most part, in the bed of the French River. “A nine-year-old boy drowned when he was swept away by the river. That provoked a storm of reactions and the local leaders provisionally ceded 150 hectares in Agia Sofia. The following year some 250 Roma families moved into single-family homes. In theory, that was temporary, but today, more than 20 years later, 3,000 gypsies live there in deplorable living conditions”.
Tsitiridis recounts that in Agia Sofía there is only one nursery, no child has finished the school year and crime is rampant. In the rest of the country things are not going much better for the gypsies either. The specialized journalist explains that, despite the fact that the Roma have been living in Greece for hundreds of years, despite the fact that they have been officially treated equally, that they have been given integration opportunities and National Strategic Plans have been drawn up in all countries In the EU, Roma continue to face discrimination in the labor market, education, housing and healthcare.
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Although institutional discrimination does not exist in Greece, daily life, according to Giorgos Tsitiridis, is plagued with marginalization towards Roma. “Hospital doctors and nursing staff often don’t treat them the same as the rest. The police are more severe with the Roma. Even in court the sentences are harsher for them”.
This situation contrasts with the fact that gypsies have lived in Greece since the 15th century, have contributed to the country’s musical culture and fought against the Nazis in World War II, Tsitiridis recalls. “But here they continue to be treated as foreigners,” explains the journalist. “They are the recurring victims. They are often blamed for all the ills of society. They, in turn, as society evolves, find it very difficult to keep up, trapped by unemployment and illiteracy.
“The first thing to solve is housing”
María Tzampazi is a 40-year-old Roma politician who works in Athens with the left-wing Syriza party, in charge of the social inclusion of Roma. She believes that although there are some Roma in the country who have studied and are independent, “there is still a long way to go.” The situation of the Roma in Greece is more or less the same as it was 30 years ago, she believes. “The changes”, she maintains, “have been minimal and that is because during all these years the political plans on this issue have been designed superficially. There was also no monitoring of each strategy. In my opinion, the first thing to solve is the gypsy housing. In Greece we have 377 settlements, but 71 of them have no access to electricity or water.”
“Most of the Roma in Greece”, adds Giorgos Tsitiridis, “live in camps and ghettos in inadequate conditions, often in makeshift accommodation with no water or electricity, in areas with no sewerage, no urban planning and no structures such as schools, hospitals, centers health, or playgrounds.
Last year the Government carried out a national census in which it also had representatives of the Roma community to find out how many Roma there are in the country and in what conditions they live. The figure ranges from 150,000 to 200,000 Roma in a country of 10.6 million inhabitants.
Giorgos Tsitiridis admits that there are also areas where the Roma are more integrated. They are places where they live in houses provided by the municipality, such as Dendropotamos, Agia Varvara or Florina. But also in these cases there are usually problems of anarchic construction, crime, and lack of interaction with non-Roma populations. There are very few municipalities in which the degree of integration reaches a satisfactory level.
In Greece, almost everyone is aware of the vicious circle in which this ethnic group remains trapped: abundance of early marriages between gypsies, paternity at a very young age —such as Kostas Fragoulis—, several children in each marriage, the lack of official documents —such as birth certificate, identity document or health card—, school dropout, unemployment, a low level of comprehension of the Greek language, the ghetto as the only refuge and a life expectancy 10 years below the rest of the population. population.
What no one ends up knowing is how to escape from that circle.
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