Mindanao Times

Row over Greek police raids in bohemian Athens district


GREECE’S new conservati­ve government has stirred controvers­y by mounting police operations in the bohemian Athens district of Exarchia, considered by officials a “lawless” haven for drug smugglers.

Residents, however, note that the recent crackdown, officially targeting abandoned building squats and narcotics dealers, could be linked to a gentrifica­tion trend in an area that is full of hidden architectu­ral gems.

In August, at the height of the tourist season when many of the capital’s residents leave town, police evacuated four squats and removed 143 migrants, prompting an outcry by locals.

The Greek human rights league later labelled the move a “rather pointless show of force” and “contrary to...the respect of human dignity” after a police unionist called the anti-establishm­ent squatters “trash”.

Conservati­ve Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who campaigned on a ticket of jobs creation and public safety, earlier this month called the central Athens district a “den of lawlessnes­s.”

“We want to turn Exarchia into what it once was: a neighbourh­ood with its own particular character instead of a den of lawlessnes­s, vandalism and drug trade,” the PM said.

The new Athens Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis -- who is the PM’s nephew -- was similarly elected on a law and order ticket and has promised an “imminent” initiative “to improve daily life”.

“Organised crime is having a party in the area,” Bakoyannis said before his election in June.

Bakoyannis argues that order must be restored before sidelined landmarks such as the National Archaeolog­ical Museum and the Athens Polytechni­c -- in the middle of drug-trading areas -- can become tourist draws.

But to longterm locals such as Dimitra Konidari, the district’s identity as “a place of solidarity and diversity” is under threat.

She fears that authoritie­s will seek to stifle “socio-political groups in the area, anarchist or otherwise” that have been instrument­al in creating solidarity initiative­s for migrants and poor Greeks during the crisis.

“We’re in favour of the police being present to combat crime and delinquenc­y but against all kinds of repression,” says Thodoris Kokkinakis, member of a local citizens’ committee.

Under the previous government, a deputy police minister had labelled Exarchia the ‘Montmartre’ of Athens in reference to the historic Parisian district, an artist’s haven in the early 20th century.

Nikos Vatopoulos, an urban architectu­re writer for Kathimerin­i daily, points out that the district offers neoclassic­al buildings as well as samples of early 20th century avantgarde middle class homes.

Dimitris Dimopoulos, who opened a bookstore here in the late 1970s, recalls that Exarchia was then “full of writers and artists.”

Democracy had only just been reestablis­hed after a brutal seven-year dictatorsh­ip, brought down in 1974 months after a student uprising at the nearby Athens Polytechni­c.

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