by Ares Kalandides
How many times have we heard sarcastic remarks about armchair activism on social media, belittling the politics of Facebook or Twitter? And it is true that for most, that’s the sum total of their activism. A like. A click. Yet here is one internet campaign, “Stop The Destruction Of Greek Seashores” which has succeeded in breaking through cyberspace and moving citizens to action.
Evidently, preventing the destruction of our sea coasts is a cause that unites people of all kinds, across the political spectrum. The Greek shoreline is so vital to our national imagination that when it is threatened, we feel threatened ourselves. It’s not only about our freedom to use the beach; it’s about the intrinsic value of our natural environment, about the Greek landscape as an integral part of our identity. Maybe that’s why 15,000 people felt moved to join the Facebook page “Stop The Destruction Of Greek Seashores” in less than four days.
The group behind the page, which new volunteers are constantly joining, calls on all Greek citizens to submit their comments to the government’s public consultation page, and to the individual articles of the bill (http://bit.ly/1q01GJf); to contact their representatives in Parliament (http://www.vouliwatch.gr/); and to ask local municipal candidates to state their position.
We can all agree that the current condition of our seashore is far from ideal. Illegal buildings, litter, and other abuses show that it’s not enough to have the right laws in place – we must also possess the political will to enforce them. I believe we also agree that tourism is an important source of income for the country and for many households, and likely to continue so for many decades yet. Tension between the goals of development for tourism and the long-term protection of the environment is to be expected. The value of low-impact tourism is not self-evident nor is such a model easily achieved; it requires strategic thinking and coordinated action.
With the proposed legislation, the government purports to bring order to the chaos of current seashore policy. Instead, it invites immediate environmental disaster and undermines the medium-term prospects of the tourism sector itself.
Submitted to public consultation on 17 April, the bill effectively allows unrestricted development of the shoreline for commercial use. In practice, this opens the door to all kinds of abuse (beach umbrellas as far as the eye can see), the gifting of various parcels of land to particular businesses (at the expense of everyone else’s interests), landfills changing the shape of the coastline (they are explicitly permitted in the legislation), the legalisation of illegal buildings (for a consideration, of course) – and subjects local authorities to all kinds of pressure. In short, any possibility of coherent planning is swept aside, to be replaced by commercial decisions.
The proposed law removes restrictions not just on light, seasonal construction (such as umbrellas, sun-loungers and bars), but also on all kinds of construction for profit. For example, if a business can demonstrate that a proposed structure is a commercial necessity, it is then allowed to build all the way to the surf, or even extend the shoreline with landfill if its business interests require so (Article 13). The only mention of public access is so worded as to make it secondary to commercial considerations (Article 10)“In the concession agreement are included terms that guarantee public access after justified consideration of the interests that are served or hurt by the concession”. Illegal structures are simply legalized, as per the usual, disastrous Greek practice of the last 30 years, which encourages illegality by rewarding it.
Moreover, this bill was submitted to public consultation in the run-up to Easter, with the consultation period ending in the election season, thus hampering any response from local authorities and political parties. Additionally, it was submitted by the Ministry of the Economy, in its capacity as administrator for national assets rather than, as might be expected, by the Ministry of the Environment.
No one would deny the need to bring order to the rules and regulations governing the use and protection of coastal areas, to find a solution for illegal structures and in particular to police and enforce the existing legal framework. Yet nothing in the proposed bill promises any improvement along these lines. The governing principle of the bill is quite baldly stated: “everything is negotiable”.
Stay tuned for price tags on the Greek landscape.
Sign the petition to save the Greek coastline
Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/715686115141235/
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/aigialoi
Hashtag on Twitter: #SaveGreekCoast