La plage, c'est moi - how Greece is selling civil rights

Article published on May 13, 2014
Article published on May 13, 2014

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The coastline of Greece extends over more than 10,000 kilometers and is considered the most important resource of the country. Therefore, the Greek Constitution obliges to preserve the environment, and public access to the sea is protected by the law. This fundamental right is now for sale .

The coast­line of Greece is not merely a re­source, but a fun­da­men­tal part of Greek cul­ture. Pub­lic ac­cess to the beach is pro­tected by the law, but now this might change. The min­is­ter of fi­nance has pro­posed a leg­is­la­tion that al­lows pri­vate in­vestors to ac­quire coastal and beach premises. But there is re­sis­tance. I meet Vi­vianna Met­alli­nou in a restau­rant on the beach prom­e­nade of Thes­sa­loniki. After a warm wel­come she or­ders fried cala­mari and Ouzo. Vi­vianna is a busy woman. I had con­tacted her due to her on­line pe­ti­tion on change.​org against the new leg­is­la­tion. As we talk, I learn that she is and ar­chi­tect, a grad­u­ate of the pres­ti­gious Mass­a­chu­setts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy (MIT) and also run­ning for City Coun­cil, which will be elected on 18 May .

The beach is a fun­da­men­tal right

When we come to speak about the pe­ti­tion, her first com­ment is: "This is a provoca­tive act." The de­ci­sion to sell the beaches was made be­hind closed doors and pri­mar­ily by eco­nomic con­sul­tants - not by elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the peo­ple, she ex­plains. Since the be­gin­ning of the cri­sis it is not the first time that fun­da­men­tal rights of the Greek peo­ple are being lim­ited. The rather half-hearted han­dling of the Con­sti­tu­tion be­came es­pe­cially ob­vi­ous in health care is­sues: Only one third of the Greeks is health in­sured and has ac­cess to med­ical care.

The cri­sis still has con­trol over the coun­try. By sell­ing state as­sets, the gov­ern­ment in Athens hopes for the long-awaited eco­nomic re­cov­ery; a strat­egy the Troika made a con­di­tion for the loans of the past. In its last re­port it was pointed out that the process of pri­va­ti­za­tion lacked sat­is­fac­tory re­sults. In charge of the re­spec­tive trans­ac­tions is TAIPED, a com­pany based in Athens. Its sole share­holder is the state of Greece. Every­thing is for sale: Air­ports, har­bors, mari­nas, gas or water com­pa­nies as well as land. Un­for­tu­nately, the com­pany shines nei­ther with suc­cess, nor with trans­parency. Now, the EOT, the Na­tional Tourist Oraniza­tion­, which re­ports di­rectly to the Min­istry of Cul­ture and Tourism, has given TAIPED green light to sell beach premises to pri­vate in­vestors.

Tourism does not need pri­vate beaches

"Some premises, okay, but every­thing and with­out reg­u­la­tions," Vi­vianna crit­i­cizes the rad­i­cal course of ac­tion, taken by the gov­ern­ment. Any­one with enough money can come and buy a piece of beach, make what­ever changes de­sired, even if that means to ce­ment parts of the coast­line. This way, Greece is not only run­ning the risk of de­stroy­ing coastal areas, as it hap­pened in parts of Spain. More im­por­tantly, the politi­cians in Athens sell Greece's most valu­able re­source. And, last but not least, the coun­try, largely de­pend­ing on tourism, learned as early as the 50s and 60s that busi­ness with va­ca­tion per­fectly works with­out pri­vate beaches.

In the pe­riod be­tween 1957-1967, the Greek ar­chi­tect Aris Kon­stan­ti­ni­dis was head of the Xenia pro­gram, an ini­tia­tive of the Na­tional Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion for struc­tural de­vel­op­ment of the tourism sec­tor. Kon­stan­ti­ni­dis’s main char­ac­ter­is­tic was his sus­tain­able ap­proach. Typ­i­cal for his style is a mod­ern form lan­guage, which he un­der­stood as a con­tin­u­a­tion of the Greek tra­di­tion. His build­ings not only melt to­gether with the land­scape in color and di­men­sion, but also take into con­sid­er­a­tion cli­matic con­di­tions, e.g. by pro­vid­ing shadow zones and by using tra­di­tional ma­te­ri­als. The ma­jor­ity of his build­ings be­came cul­tural her­itage, has shaped tourism in Greece for decades and never blocked pub­lic ac­cess to the beach .

Stand­ing up for your rights

Now the law 2971/2001 that guar­an­tees free ac­cess to the beach is dras­ti­cally al­tered and the re­stric­tions im­posed by Ar­ti­cle 24 of the Con­sti­tu­tion, pre­serv­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, are dis­abled. "Greece is a nau­ti­cal coun­try. The sea is our way of life" , says Vi­vianna and un­der­lines the ur­gency of the leg­is­la­tion for the pop­u­la­tion. The broad re­sis­tance among the Greeks against the new leg­is­la­tion proves her right. In ad­di­tion to her pe­ti­tion on change.​org that has mo­ti­vated more than 25,000 peo­ple to sign in only few days, there is an­other one on avaaz.​org as well as var­i­ous ini­tia­tives in the so­cial media. Es­pe­cially on the In­ter­net, a steadily in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple ob­jects to the lack of re­spect the gov­ern­ment shows for de­mo­c­ra­tic and eth­i­cal prin­ci­ples. But this is not only about ethics. "The con­flict is real, it's pol­i­tics and it's about stand­ing up for your rights."

This ar­ti­cle was orig­i­nally pub­lished on 10 May, 2014 on www.​eu­dyssee.​net