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AEK Athens fans and their deep anti fascist identity

An immigrant team and its long-history antiracism

Enrico Cavalieri
Enrico Cavalieri Istituto Comprensivo Porretta Terme. FMH contributor

On last 8th August a UEFA Champions League match should have been played in Athens between AEK and Dinamo Zagreb, but due to the deadly stabbing of the AEK supporter Michalis Katsouris the match has been postponed. The victim was part of Original 21, a group known for its political involvement and antifascist activity.

On the other side, a large part of Dinamo Zagreb supporters belonged to the Bad Blue Boys, a Croatian nationalist group whose history is strictly connected with the narrative of Yugoslavia’s dissolution war, for the famous match against Red Star Belgrade of 1990. Bad Blue Boys had come to international news also recently, when some of its members paraded through Milan showing a fascist salute. On the 8th of August some Panathinaikos supporters were in Athens on Dinamo’s side as well.

The great people exchange of 1922

Back in time, we can find out that AEK fans’ anti racist identity is strictly connected with the very origin of the team. In November 1924 the team played its first game ever, a friendly against Olympiakos Piraeus. The club had been founded some months before by Istanbul Greek refugees from the Greco-Turkish war of 1919-1922. 

In the aftermath of the Great War and the definitive fall of the Ottoman Empire, this local but long and bloody conflict was fought. At the end of it, one of the biggest double deportations of European history was carried out. Turkish and Greek governments agreed on having a big population exchange in which 1.5 million of Anatolian Greeks were sent off from Turkey, and 400,000 people with the Muslim faith had to leave Greece. Both peoples involved had to leave the land in which they had lived for centuries, just because of their ethnic origin or religion. 

Many of the Anatolian Greek refugees went to live in Athens, building new neighborhoods and starting a new life. The kafeneia (pubs) of the capital were filled by these uprooted people, who faced their nostalgia drinking, dancing and even creating a new musical genre, called Rebetiko, which has been defined as a sort of Greek Blues. 

A club born from immigration

Some of these refugees founded football clubs. The most important club of Athens up until now is black-and-yellow AEK. Its name is the acronym of Athlitikí Énosis Konstantinoupόleos, Athletic Union of Constantinople, the Greek name that the city of Istanbul had since the Romans made it the capital of the Empire, rebuilding the city of Byzantium in 330 AD. AEK’s logo, the two-headed eagle, was the symbol of the Paleologue dynasty, the last Byzantine emperors. 

The club has always kept its “immigrant identity”, and the strong antiracist and antifascist feelings of its fans are a direct consequence of it. Today it is mostly known for its football and basketball teams, but more than 20 other sports are played in the kitrinomavra (black-and-yellow) colours.

Thinking points

AEK Athens was founded by immigrants, and this identity made its fans develop strong anti racist and anti fascist feelings. Do you know any teams of immigrant origin in your country? How does that club combat racism?

Find out more

You can find more informations on AEK’s history in this article, from Football History magazine, or in the official AEK FC site. The movie Rembetiko (1983) will bring you into some atmosphere of the Anatolian Greek refugees of the Greco-Turkish war. Here and here some articles about the murder of Michalis Katsouris.

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