ATHENS – A claim by Deputy Citizens’ Protection Minister Katerina Papacosta that the violence-ridden anarchist neighborhood of Exarchia is really a kind of cultural hub like Paris’ Montmartre brought ridicule and outrage from critics.
The ruling Radical Left SYRIZA is under fire for condoning constant clashes in the area between anarchists and riot police, and eight Coast Guard officers conducting a drug raid being ambushed.
Residents of Exarchia are protesting the spiraling troubles in a neighborhood where anarchists are increasingly taking control, tossing rocks and Molotov Cocktails at riot police and being heavily armed in some occasions.
Speaking to the Athens-Macedonia news agency, Papacosta described Exarchia as “a historic neighborhood, a center for arts and culture, the capital’s Montmartre,” comparing it to the peaceful artist haven in Paris that is filled with tourists and is home to the famed Sacre-Coeur church.
She was responding to questions the Coast Guard raid in which Citizens’ Protection Minister Olga Gerovasili said the Greek Police (ELAS) weren’t informed about the raid, later disputed by the police.
She had told radio station News 247 that, “ELAS didn’t go there, it was not informed,” but a police source told the paper it got notice as the raid was going on but not before.
Gerovasili described the notion that there is no political will to fight lawlessness as “foolish.”
“We all know there are problems in Exarchia. The problems of crime and delinquency cannot be solved by pressing a magic button,” she said, without explaining why there the government hasn’t ordered a crackdown in a neighborhood where lawlessness is rampant and uncontrolled.
Papacosta insisted that the government would display “minimum tolerance opposite lawlessness” – but not zero tolerance – and insisted that the Greek Police operates “methodically and with respect for human rights,” said Kathimerini.
Her comments came a few hours after self-styled anarchists attacked police with stones and firebombs in Exarchia once again with the violence seemingly unstoppable despite rhe presence of a major police barracks in the heart of the neighborhood.
The centrist Movement for Change mocked Papacostas’ claims, saying she had “no sense of reality” and challenged her to inaugurate an art exhibition in Exarchia without several riot police on hand for protection.