Saturday, August 13, 2022

A Greek's View on Where His Country's Brand is Headed



Sixteen or so years ago, when I wrote (but had not yet published) the first of my dozen Greece-based novels, I raised what I saw as existential threats to much of what I treasure about Greece.   Those same concerns have played a part in each of my novels no matter the locales in which I place them, for those threats have only grown––and in the process spawned new and more insidious risks to this glorious country


This week an opinion piece appeared in EKATHIMERINI, Greece’s newspaper of record, written by its editor, Alexis Papachelas, speaking out against many of those same threats and more. Whether his words will lead to much overdue action, or simply more benign, political neglect, will determine much about where this unique and precious nation is headed.


Here’s Mr. Papachelas’s article, titled “The party has started again.”  It’s generated a lot of chatter on social media.


Every Greek is happy that tourism will do so well this year and that foreigners – mainly – are constantly buying land and houses on the islands. But at the risk of sounding grumpy at the time of the “big party,” one must ask questions that demand answers. On the one hand, we have a surge of visitors and buyers; on the other, we have an obvious lack of infrastructure and planning.


Where to begin? From the traffic that becomes unbearable during peak season when a distance that once took 15 minutes to cover now takes an hour and a half? The method of collecting and processing garbage that is still from the middle of the 20th century? The lack of water and sewage networks? The ports, whose capacity is for the 1970s? Or from the issues with water?


Beyond these issues, however, there is also the bigger picture. It has to do with what each island can withstand, in terms of construction. Many islands, especially in the Cyclades, witnessed years of a building frenzy that turned large areas into urban landscapes. The economic crisis came and construction halted. But now the “party” has started again, and it doesn’t seem like anyone is capable of setting conditions and restrictions.


Municipal authorities feel overwhelmed by challenges and pressures from small and larger interests. They compromise, remain idle and collect votes for the next municipal election. The state does nothing because the political cost will be great. People who fought for many years against those mentalities are starting to give up as they get older and see they are losing the fight.


My fear is that, in the end, the culture of indifference could boomerang on the country’s tourism brand. This is already the case with some of the most visited islands that cannot solve basic problems, such as security and garbage collection and management. It’s crazy for one to spend millions on a house and then realize that the infrastructure around one’s investment is Third World; or paying 1,000 euros for a room and then getting stuck in endless traffic, or seeing dirty cobblestone streets.


A well-traveled friend predicts that, eventually, “salvation” will come from foreigners who buy properties here and will at some point begin to demand infrastructure and services commensurate with the value of their investments. It may be so, but this makes me very angry because it shows that we cannot protect our heritage, our property, our brand by ourselves. And the damage done will be difficult to reverse if there is no planning, restrictions and strict enforcement of terms and rules.


Well said, Mr. Papachelas.




Jeff’s Upcoming Events


Bouchercon 2022   Minneapolis, MN

Thursday, September 8th  11:30-12:15 

"Odd Jobs: Writers Write What They Know."

Alan Gordon AKA Allison Montclair (Moderator), Julie Holmes, Donna Andrews, Linda O. Johnston/Lark O. Jensen, Annelise Ryan, Jeffrey M. Siger

1 comment:

  1. So worrisome, Bro! The Italians were faced with these issues decades ago. They passed what some consider draconian laws on what can and can’t be built in protected areas. These exist, not only in the historic centers, but also in large swaths of the countryside — like then entire Chianti district of Tuscany. Ultra strict rules. But they worked. And the popularity has only increased.
    And twenty years os so ago, they completely revised the trash collection in heavy tourists areas of Florence.

    I don’t think the foreign landowners will make those predicted demands. On the Greek politicians. As a foreign owner myself myself in Italy, I fear such people despair of having any political influence. I believe they will just take their “party” elsewhere. (Wanna guess who this anaonymous commenter is?)