ECOCLUB.com Team Blog
blogging about ecological & socially just tourism & living
an athenian autumn
While international tourist arrivals are falling for a second consecutive year and accommodation rates slashed to bargain levels, the government’s neoliberal agenda includes the long-lease of at least 40 “uninhabited” islands for “tourism development” ignoring the fact that most are considered important bird and marine conservation areas and some are actually located within marine protected areas. In fact some in the government, dreaming of billions of euros in proceeds, would have liked to sell these islands outright. However, for the time being this is not quite legit / allowed by the constitution (money - launderers beware) - although exceptions exist such as a few small private islands (famously Skorpios and Spetsopoula) owned by heirs of shipping magnates, lesser known but richer industrialists and some others incredulously claimed by heirs of traditional goat herdsmen-boatsmen perpetually looking for gullible buyers.
Domestic tourism in particular has taken a big hit, reflected in - among other things - the large losses of ferry operators and the huge number of hotels of all sizes which are for sale and up for grabs by foreign investor funds, offshore schemes and assorted money-launderers.
Other government plans include the abolition of the unemployment benefit paid by the state to hotel workers - the tourism season in most Greek destinations is just 3 months long and hotel employees are usually laid off in October to be rehired the following June - and the selling-off of large state-owned properties for tourism development such as the Afantou estate in Rhodes and the area of the old Athens airport in Elliniko.
The social security system is seriously malfunctioning with insured patients having to pay for doctors and medicines, and then wait - indefinitely - for the state to cover the expenses. The friendly mass-media are promoting leaks which talk about a 6 day week and 13-hour day, back to the late 19th century.
Unemployment breaks a new record every month, probably approaching 60% among young people, some of whom are migrating and others joining the ranks of a rising neo-fascist movement which results in almost daily attacks (beatings, stabbings, arson) against immigrants in the centre of Athens, which along with armed house burglaries have severely tarnished the image (which so much concerns our hot air tourism marketeers) and more importantly the standard of living in what used to be, not too long ago, one of the safest metropolis.
What concerns less and less those who have lost their jobs and are in danger of also losing their houses to constantly bailed-out private banks, is the wider, ongoing geopolitical poker game of whether Greece will remain in the Euro, or whether the Euro itself will remain. In the recent words of Mario Monti the Italian PM, ordinary Greeks are requested to undergo a socioeconomic transformation of a magnitude normally possible in a generation in just 2-3 years. Let us hope that they/we will not decide to turn against one another, not unheard of in these parts of the world (Balkans, Mediterranean, Near East).
But not all is bleak. Really! Public beaches are still crowded on weekends and so are street cafes, bars and tavernas it seems people are learning (how) to live outside “official” employment and the official economy with various mutual aid and cooperative efforts constantly springing up. At the same time the crisis seems to benefit in mysterious ways the arts so Athens is brimming with events this Autumn ranging from an experimental improvised music project with Karagiozis, the traditional shadow puppet theatre underdog character, most suitable for the crisis, in Cine Trianon, one of Athens’ famous open air cinemas, to four Yuri Grigorovich Ballet Theatre of Russia performances (with tickets starting from a crisis rate of 9 Euros for students) to leading greek rock artist Yannis Angelakas concert in the open-air Halandri Rematia Theatre (where you may also spot herds of large green parrots formerly escaped and now reproducing in the wild) and plenty of rare free street-art happenings including (last week) officers in uniform downtown demonstrations with mock self-hangings and the more traditional general strike (Geniki Apergia) on September 26 - solidarity tourists mark your diary!