When news of the Greek debt crisis first broke in 2010, a number of German tabloids called on the country to pawn its cultural and natural heritage to pay off its debts. “Sell your islands, you bankrupt Greeks!” ran a headline of the ever tasteless Bild. “And sell the Acropolis too!” With the bailout of May 2010 in the making, the populist editors of the right-wing magazine, apparently oblivious to the historical sensitivities around the German annexation of foreign territories, stubbornly insisted: “We give you cash, you give us Corfu.”
Today, more than four years since the signing of the first memorandum of understanding, it seems that Germany’s nationalist media — along with the European investor class and the oligarchic Greek elite — are finally getting their way. Greece’s subservient government is now pushing hard to open up new frontiers for privatization, with some 77.000 state assets slated for sale, including a host of historic marinas and idyllic islands, a number of ancient palaces, and large stretches of the country’s spectacular and unspoilt coastline.
Earlier this year, the government announced that it would move ahead with its plans to sell off a number of beautiful buildings of great historic value at the foot of the Acropolis. The Guardian reported that “among the properties are refugee tenement blocks built to put up Greeks fleeing the Asia Minor disaster in 1922 and culture ministry offices housed in neo-classical buildings in the picturesque Plaka district … that were erected shortly after the establishment of the modern Greek state. Both are widely viewed as architectural gems.”
The announcement came on the heels of a controversial decision to rent out two of the most important archeological sites in Athens — the Stoa of Attalos, which sits in the ancient agora, and the Panathenaic Stadium — to companies for private events. Earlier, similar plans had been mooted by leading politicians of the ruling conservative party to lease out the Acropolis for photoshoots and other commercial and promotional activities.
Then, in May, the government upped the ante by proposing a bill that would effectively overturn decades-old constitutional protections of the country’s coastline that restrict development and guarantee open access to the beach. The Greek privatization fund TAIPED subsequently marked 110 beaches for privatization, including such gems as Elafonisos, home to the valuable marine archeological site Pavlopetri. Under the coastal bill, ownership of the seashore — along with any architectural structures and the surrounding natural environment — will fall exclusively unto the buyer, who will be able to “develop” their property and restrict access to non-owners.
The consequences of this privatization drive would be disastrous and largely irreversible. Thanks to its constitutional protections, the Greek coastline has so far managed to avoid the kind of mass development that has befallen the Spanish coastline — leaving it intact as one of Europe’s last-remaining unspoilt seashores. As The Press Project points out, however, the proposed coastal bill “would make it possible for even large beaches in Greece to be carpeted from end to end with umbrellas and beach bars,” while the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has warned of a Spanish-style construction boom of holiday apartments that could cover the Greek coastline in concrete.
Needless to say, the privatization drive goes hand-in-hand with the strangulation of Greece’s public sector — under direct orders of the Troika of foreign lenders — which renders the crisis of the country’s archeological heritage all the more acute. The budget of the Culture Ministry has been slashed by a savage 52% since 2010, putting at risk some of Europe’s most valuable cultural treasures by greatly reducing the available funds to maintain and protect archeological sites and run public museums. Meanwhile, the Environment Ministry has overtly shifted its attention from preserving the country’s natural heritage to opening up new spaces for oil exploration.
This is the opening of the article, the rest of which can be read here