Two weeks ago, Zak Kostopoulos, one of Greece’s most prominent and courageous LGBT activists was beaten to death in broad daylight – just minutes walk away from the Omonia police station.
On Tuesday October 2, thousands of Athenians joined a protest organised by the LGBT to peacefully commemorate Zak’s life. Beginning at the site of his killing on Gladstonos Street, where many tributes have been left, the crowd assembled on Octovriou 28th Avenue and marched along Stadiou to Syntagma Square, where a moving candlelight vigil and Madonna sing along was held in front of the Hellenic Parliament.
The exact circumstances around the activist and drag artist’s death are still very unclear – but with each new video released online, the official story that it was a ‘robbery gone wrong’ and the shop owner fought back in ‘self-defence’ seems more and more fictitious.
What we know is that Zak was filmed locked in a pawn shop, before being savagely beaten by its owner, an accomplice (believed to be a member of the fascist Patriotic Front) and finally by a group of policemen.
Zak was handcuffed before being put unconscious in an ambulance. Unusually, there is still no agreed time of death or conclusive coroners report (more on that later), but when he arrived at the hospital he was dead.
There are many conflicting stories and unanswered questions about what happened and why. What is certain is that the murder has unleashed the most toxic elements of Greek society.
The media reported the story as: ‘HIV positive junkie robs jewellery store and is killed by owner in self-defence’ and proudly presented polls that suggested both that the public support killing ‘robbers’ and that a third of the population would not want to live next door to a gay person.
The police seemed to make no effort to secure the crime scene, allowed vital evidence to be cleaned away by the owner and actively participated in the beating that led to Zak’s death.
All three of the coroners involved have previously been accused of tampering with evidence or presenting verdicts that favoured Golden Dawn members.
After people left tributes, members of Golden Dawn set fire to everything left at the site of Zak’s death and have been marching around Athens shouting: “Junkies and gays you’re not necessary.”
After Zak’s death on Friday September 21, the LGBT community and anti-state violence activists came together in a 3,000-strong march condemning the attack. But many in the LGBT community were disappointed by the aggressive stance of some protesters. His friends, those inspired by his activism and those touched by his performances as drag artist Zackie Oh just want to remember one of Greece’s bravest activists – the first to announce in public he was HIV Positive.
“Zak was a warm and peaceful person who always had time to help others,” remembers Zak’s friend and housemate Ilias Gkionis, who performs under the name Parvus Princeps. “Zak took me in when I was homeless and he barely knew me. He was also my drag mother and convinced me to get on stage for the first time. We just can’t accept the way he has been characterised by the media – he would never threaten anyone.”
Zak’s murder occurred just four days after the fifth anniversary of the killing of leftist rapper Pavlos Fyssas by a member of Golden Dawn. To date, Fyssas’ killer has not been convicted, despite his confession to a judge. While the circumstances around Zak’s death are still very mysterious and the motive not yet understood, the likelihood of far right involvement and police collusion suggests the full truth might never come out – and, even more gravely, that fascists can still murder with impunity in Greece.
“It’s like in Twin Peaks; where we will probably never know what happened to Laura Palmer,” friend, artist and LGBT activist Menelas Siafakas explains. “No-one knows how this happened and it affects everyone differently. But we want the truth. And we want justice for our friend Zak.”