Seeking to fend off growing criticism that it tolerates acts of violence and vandalism by anti-establishment groups, the government rushed to condemn, in the harshest of terms, an arson attack early Monday at the Petraki Monastery in central Athens, which houses the central offices of the Church of Greece’s Holy Synod.
Government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili described the attack as “abhorrent,” and stressed that “religious freedom, as enshrined in the Constitution, and the unhindered practice of religious worship are strictly protected by the state and no act of violence against them can be tolerated.”
However, her remarks were seen by critics as a desperate effort by the government, which has found itself on the defensive, to counter last week’s hail of criticism from the opposition and church authorities for allegedly being soft when it comes to law and order.
The accusation gained traction after the government was slow off the mark to condemn a string of attacks against churches, including the disruption of a religious ceremony at Thessaloniki Cathedral by a group of anarchists. The latter were protesting the forcible eviction in July of anti-establishment groups – pledging allegiance to migrants stranded in Greece – from three buildings in Thessaloniki, one of which belongs to the Church.
The evictions had been condemned by ruling left-wing SYRIZA party officials, who accused the government of strong-arm tactics and betraying the party’s principles.
The apparent sense of confusion within the government as it tries to strike a delicate balance between law enforcement and SYRIZA’s sensitivities regarding the right to stage sit-ins, has been seized upon by opposition parties – and the conservatives in particular – who are accusing it of pandering to party hardliners as attacks against religious targets proliferate.
“The audacity [of the attacks] is linked to the fact that SYRIZA – despite our repeated calls – has refused to condemn such acts of violence and lawlessness,” New Democracy party spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos said yesterday, urging the ruling party to stop “covering for” anti-establishment groups.