‘We can guarantee that the Olympic Games will be safe for everyone’

Two months after his appointment to the post of public order minister, Giorgos Voulgarakis’s first interview was published in Kathimerini yesterday. Top of his agenda is security for the upcoming Olympic Games in Athens and the smooth running of the city. He denounced criticism of security measures as malicious and self-serving, asserted that Greece can guarantee the safety of the Games, and attributed the recent bomb attack in Kallithea to extremists. The security operation for the Olympic Games is the largest ever, yet many people claim that Greece will not be ready by August 13. Unless they have another agenda, then they are mistaken, to say the least. Remember that we have named 37,000 people who will be working to safeguard facilities; we have finalized appointments, responsibilities and even shifts. The security personnel have been trained to planning stage at 32 test events and eight wide-ranging exercises, so they are ready to work in real situations and time to face any eventuality. The electronic equipment is being installed and all operational plans have been completed and tested. Very little remains to be done to complete the preparations. What do you mean by «another agenda?» Haven’t you noticed the insistence of some of the media on the same issues even though they have full information? Don’t you find the incident of the two Times reporters strange? The journalist did say that she had spent a long time at the Olympic Stadium before the police arrested her. I can’t comprehend such journalism; it doesn’t suit my values. But don’t you feel that international discussion of terrorism and asymmetrical threats concerns Greece? Obviously it does, but as the organizer of the Games. That’s why so much money is being spent on security, why we have exercises and why so many people are involved. The whole idea is to create as hostile an environment as possible for asymmetrical threats. What do you believe is the greatest threat facing Greece? To tell you the truth, I’m more anxious about the smooth running of the sporting events than about security issues. And that’s because I know everything humanly possible has been done in that respect. Has the issue of armed escorts for foreign teams been resolved or is pressure still being brought to bear? Let me make it perfectly clear: Armed foreign escorts for foreign sporting contingents is not permissible. As the organizer, Greece guarantees the security of the Olympic Games. We have spent three times what was spent by Sydney, the largest amount in the history of the Games, for high-tech equipment and staff training. We are working closely with EU countries, Balkan countries and Turkey, we have signed 32 cooperation protocols with 22 countries and we have NATO’s help. Besides, athletes from 202 countries are participating. You can imagine what it would be like if they all had armed escorts. How did your trip to the US go? It was extremely useful. We showed key officials the measures we have planned and implemented so as to hold the Games in the safest possible environment. We also had the opportunity to make many television appearances, where we informed the American public about our systematic, coordinated efforts to hold the best and safest Games. Long-term benefits Assuming the Games go well, how will they benefit the police (ELAS) and Greece in terms of security? The degree of personnel training, the level of international cooperation and the adoption of international models and equipment in planning and implementing the Olympic security measures means that Greece will be able to export experience, expertise, training and equipment afterward. This will play a major role in mapping out a uniform international strategy for combating terrorism and organized crime. It will also contribute to a stable environment that will favor the growth of the national economy and boost tourism. We are planning significant steps to improve the life of citizens. Our goal is for the police to acquire a more people-centered role, to act and behave as an active social partner by the side of the people everyday, offering help and solutions to real problems. To do that we have to create a stable, sincere relationship of trust between the police and the people, especially the young, and we will take steps to do so immediately after the Games. What challenges will the police face after the Games in the international security environment, and what plans are there to deal with them and avoid limiting the role of the police to dealing with everyday crime? The new dangers have broadened the meaning of security and forced governments and police forces to discard traditional methods and adjust to the new order. Apart from establishing the personal security of the public, our goal is to ensure an environment which will guarantee basic human rights and freedoms. I mean human security, which is achieved by means of protecting human rights, civil society, democratic governance and the existence and operation of all democratic institutions. This is extremely difficult for the police to guarantee. However, they do have one of the greatest though yet untried allies – the public. What is needed now, more than ever before, is cooperation between police and citizens though organizations, municipalities, schools and non-governmental organizations. It’s a different philosophy of policing.

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