Softening us up
It feels that we are ‘being softened’ up and to become so fearful and desperate that we will grab at anything that offers work and money.
The vultures are around, but they are not landing yet to gorge themselves on the desperation. That they are still airborne is a testament to the Greek people and ironically, to the chronic corruption of the state. These 2 factors combine to make Greece an unattractive place to invest in. The vultures cannot easily trough when they are not sure about laws of ownership, the extraordinary complexity of laws and the sheer bureaucracy which needs to be satisfied even to sell a coffee. Then there is the public, who especially in the urban centres, cannot be trusted not to burn your place down, boycott and resist.
In the meantime, the government continues to implement laws which will not only make it easier for the vulture capitalists but will provide new opportunities for plunder. Last week for example, a new law has been proposed that will open up Greece’s currently designated areas of natural beauty for touristic development. It also proposed that golf course developments would be allowed in more areas including some islands.
For Samos, this could mean a disastrous future. If you ask most people here about the strengths of Samos they will invariably talk about its natural beauty – its forests; its coastline largely free from large scale distorting hotels; its hill villages where the streets made for donkeys keep the cars out and not least the abundance and glory of its wild flowers. They will also tell you that its combination of wet summers and hot summers leads to fruits of the most exquisite flavour.
This in essence is the wealth of Samos and the material base for building a future that will ensure the well-being of the future. As most will tell you, this demands a tourist strategy that will enhance and not destroy the beauty of the island and fits easily alongside the patterns of life here. You can hear all kinds of ideas, especially the opening up of the traditional foot paths which were the main routes of communication before the car and the road. Through this, people dream of walkers making their ways to villages and to their local tavernas and bars, of maybe renting rooms in village houses, and are discussing how they could involve visitors in the grape and olive harvests and the making of wines, oil and spirits.
Nowhere in any of the dreams will you hear people call for the intervention of the big multinational tour and hotel companies. They know from direct experience that these are plunderers who extract and destroy rather than invest and sustain. The contracts of the big operators with small hotel keepers are ruinous with them taking as little as 6 euros a night for a room. For those caught up in these contracts their summer season is little short of slavery working 24/7 for a pittance.
But I am fearful for the future and I am concerned that so few share this concern. Already the wealthy – largely Greek – have left their ugly footprints on Samos. Like pigs after truffles they have a thirst for beautiful and unspoilt locations. Samos sadly, is already littered with such places where in midst of stunning hills or in isolated bays the rich have contrived to build ostentatious houses – often in vomit inducing taste – which they occupy in splendour for 4 weeks in the summer. Even worse, was the building of a complex of luxury chalets with pool and so on in the midst of the nature reserve beyond Potami beach. They charge hundreds of euros a night to their wealthy clients at a place where they should not be and looked after by 2 Philipino men who live on site in a shed, work 24/7 for less than 20 euros a day. It is said that permission and support was given on the grounds that they were building an environmental research centre!
There is no reason for these ‘facts on the ground’ to be tolerated. We should no longer accept the state’s 100% tolerance of these crimes and demand zero tolerance and a repeal of all the amnesties which allowed these properties to remain.
We need to make it clear, at the very time when the Greek government is actively seeking big touristic investments that the people will not accept any proposal that does not meet with local need, aspiration and demands. We will not let our places become playgrounds for the wealthy who seek to plunder our wealth for their seclusion and their games whether it is golf or speed boats. When the Greek state talks about tourism they are not speaking about the people who just get by and are looking for campsites, good affordable local travel and so on. Their eyes are on the tourism and recreations of the wealthy. That’s where the money is.
Keeping the bastards nervous is the least we can do and I hope it won’t be long before we start making a list of all the illegal buildings of the rich which so disfigure this island.
There are other lists I think we should be making too.
Last week Sofian and I went to a part of Karlovassi I didn’t know to buy some flour and rice. I was impressed by the place which is a modern mill complex just behind the municipal stadium. As we were driving away I asked Sofian about a large complex of buildings which appeared to be empty. These he said were student residences built with EU funding for the University (branch of the Aegean University). They have been empty since they were completed.
Yet again, another public building funded at some expense, completed and yet not used – just like the swimming pool, the new port, the museums in Agios Konstantinos and Ambelos amongst those I know of. I suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg. In Ambelos for example, the school closed 3 years ago. It is a wonderful resource in the centre of the village but never used. The village school in Manolates is similarly closed and unused. Again, I suspect there are many more.
It seems to me that the state or whatever public authority owns these buildings has lost any legitimacy to have any say about their disposal and use. Their abandonment over years is sufficient grounds – use it or lose it and they have clearly lost it.
All of these buildings and premises must be handed over to the people of Samos and for the purposes of enhancing the well being of the people and the island. I have no doubt about our capacity to run a successful port and swimming pool. I have no doubt that the hundreds of empty student rooms could provide much needed low cost housing and welfare provision for the most vulnerable. I have no doubt that we could do much more with the beautiful campsite in the pine trees at Agios Konstantinos which was used by about 20 boy scouts for 2 weeks last summer.
And as for all the empty and abandoned schools the possibilities are endless in terms of what they could do to help sustain and develop villages made vulnerable by the flight of the young and the slow spread of summer homes which leave villages depopulated in the winter.
This is what takes up so many peoples’ energies these days. It has all been compounded by a long, wet and cold winter. Although we have yet to get many spring days people are preparing the gardens. For those without land the search is on to find a plot. Dimitris our friend in Agios says he can longer re-call how many times he has been asked if he knows of available land.
Publicly, everyone is ‘kala’ (good) when you greet them. Sadly, this is a giant lie for many and how could it be otherwise with no job or massively reduced pensions/benefits and ever increasing prices. The jump in petrol prices to 1.84 euro for a litre of unleaded petrol is devastating.
The pressure never relents but gets worse. A typical example are our Karlovassi friends whose only income comes from the rent of an apartment they own. Their long standing tenant has given notice that she will move out at the end of March as she has found somewhere cheaper. Once she has gone they will have no regular income. They will have little choice but to lower the rent if they either hope to retain their current tenant or attract another.
The poor here survive through a myriad or mutual relationships which include friends as well as family. After five years of recession, these relationships are under massive strain as incomes drain away.
One can barely imagine what all this is doing to people and their well being.
I was in the public hospital last week. When I eventually got to have the scan I needed, the technician simply seemed to lose control. As I entered the room he exploded for no obvious reason and had to be escorted out of the room by two other attendants and I was asked to go back outside and wait. After about 10 minutes they called me again and the technician had regained his composure sufficiently to scan me. I felt so sad for him as it was obvious he was under massive stress and close to breaking up.
It seems to me that people here are being eaten up, some more quickly than others. In future entries I must try and get some sense of what is happening to the isolated and older poor people.
It also seems to me that people such as myself, who do not face such basic threats to their survival have a responsibility which includes putting forward ideas and strategies, of compiling information which can be of value in terms of resistance as well as our development, and alerting people to threats and opportunities. Getting by is now so all consuming for many that the notion they have either the time or the energy to consider anything but their immediate needs seems fanciful.
Samos Diary 3