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Documenta 14 Artists Decry Death of LGBTQ Activist as Violence Against Minorities in Greece Rises

ATHENS, GREECE—More than 142 artists, organizers, and other participants in Documenta 14 have penned an open letter in protest of the death of the thirty-three-year-old LGBTQ activist and performer Zak Kostopoulos, who died after being brutally beaten in the streets of Athens on Friday, September 21. The signatories condemn the growing number of violent crimes against minorities and marginalized communities in Greece and are calling out the “fascist mindset that propels such incidents.”

According to NBC, the attack on Kostopoulos was recorded and is currently being circulated by Greek media outlets and on social media platforms. Sources who have viewed the footage claim it shows Kostopoulos being kicked in the head and assaulted as he tries to leave a locked jewelry store near Omonia Square. After he breaks free from his attackers, he is forcibly handcuffed and taken away on a stretcher by the police. He died from his injuries while being transported to the hospital.

The owners of the jewelry store and of a nearby business are apparently the only perpetrators who have been arrested. Since the investigation is still ongoing, the course of the events leading up to the brutal beating of Kostopoulos remain unclear. Initial reports claim that Kostopoulos was trying to rob the store, but this account has been disputed. Greek LGBTQ activist Gregory Vallianatos posted on Facebook that Kostopoulos ended up in the shop because he was looking for shelter after being targeted by men who were involved in a brawl at a café where he was sitting. His death has been described by the open letter and other Greek media outlets as a lynching.

A well-known activist, Kostopoulos advocated for the HIV-positive community and was a member of Positive Voice, raising awareness for people living with the virus. He was also a popular drag show artist who performed under the moniker “Zackie Oh.” His death prompted hundreds of people to criticize the Greek authorities for failing to stop the attack. More than five hundred people also attended a protest rally in Kostopoulos’s memory in Athens on Wednesday, September 26. Supporters of Kostopoulos joined hands, marched from Omonia Square to Syntagma Square and then to the jewelry shop on Gladstonos Street, and chanted with “Rage and sorrow, Zackie we will miss you.”

The open letter, addressed to the prime minister of the Hellenic Republic, Alexis Tsipras, and the mayor of Athens, Giorgos Kaminis, also cites a public statement that was written in solidarity with Yiannis Boutaris, the mayor of Thessaloniki, who was assaulted by a far-right mob during a public event on May 19. It urges the politicians “to take an unequivocal position against violence” and to “ensure that the legal process is open and transparent until all involved perpetrators are brought to justice.”

The open letter in full is as follows:

Concerned with increasing number of cases of violence targeting minorities and underprivileged members of society in Greece, and the corresponding brutalization of public discourse, the undersigned artists and organizers of documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel feel obliged to call for justice again—and now with regard to the most recent, shocking events that took place last Friday, September 21, in Athens.

A 33-year-old LGBTQI activist and drag performer Zak Kostopoulos was savagely beaten up by several men in the centre of Athens, while others stood around, watching in complicity. The ensuing police intervention was recorded on videos, now available on internet. That intervention was similarly brutal and exclusively aimed at restraining Zak Kostopoulos, and not on capturing the perpetrators. With multiple injuries, Kostopoulos died on the way to hospital. The circumstances of the attack are now a subject of investigation and some of the suspects were detained, then released. Yet, aside of the legal process that was set in motion, it is crucial to understand and expose the larger fascist mindset that propels such incidents and renders them as socially acceptable acts of retribution.

On June 04, 2018, the participants of documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel—artists, organizers and curators—issued an open letter of solidarity addressed to Yiannis Boutaris, the Mayor of Thessaloniki, who was assaulted by right-wing mob during a public celebration in Thessaloniki on May 19, 2018. The attack became symbolic of the divide between the open-minded, overall progressive policy on gender and ethnic minority issues, implemented by Mayor Boutaris during his two terms as the Mayor of Thessaloniki, and the firmly authoritarian, ressentiment-driven stance of his hate-mongering enemies.

It is certainly not coincidental that one of the perpetrators of the Athens attack had previously published, via Twitter, a vulgar and aggressive statement pasted on photograph of Mayor Boutaris helped by his aides during the Thessaloniki attack in May:“This is what the traitor looks like when the Pontians f*** [expletive] him. Those like him will end up like him. Beware.”

These words became reality just months later, on September 21, when their author was among those who physically assaulted Zak Kostopoulos.

The public killing of Zak Kostopoulos bears strong resemblance to lynching. In order for the currently expanding culture of violence not to prevail, in Greece and elsewhere,“society must be defended”—the title of Michel Foucault’s 1975-76 Collège de France lectures is more than pertinent today. It is in this spirit, and in the wake of Zak Kostopoulos’s death, that we would like to urge you, as the Mayor of Athens, to take an unequivocal position against violence. In our letter of solidarity with Mayor Boutaris on June 04, we quoted the African American theologian and freedom fighter Martin Luther King Jr., who said,“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

With this sense of common urgency, we ask your office for a clear public statement, and to ensure that the legal process is open and transparent until all involved perpetrators are brought to justice.

October 3, 2018