Greece’s Unlawful Buildings Demolitions Target Wealthy Areas

FILE - A destroyed house stand near the sea one month after a deadly wildfire tore through holiday homes near Athens, on at the seaside area of Mati, on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS – While plans to raze 3,200 unlawful buildings have been delayed despite the July 23 wildfires that killed 96 and were blamed on unlicensed homes in the seaside village of Mati blocking access to the sea, when they begin the targets will be the homes of the wealthy, primarily on the coastline between the country’s Capital and Sounio.

That was being done so that the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition could first go after unlawful homes more likely to belong to supporters of poll-leading major rival New Democracy Conservatives as part of a political agenda, said Kathimerini.

Tearing down unlawful buildings, long promised by successive governments who backed off, granted amnesty and issued fines instead, would come in what could be a pre-election period with SYRIZA reeling in surveys after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras constantly reneged on anti-austerity promises.

Environment Minister Giorgos Stathakis, who has no experience in the field, said demolitions wouldn’t begin until mid-September after the government made a show of a bulldozer knocking down a fence blocking the sea.

He said the government’s aim is to “quickly restore legality,” but didn’t explain why the first razings would place in areas with Conservative voters and not those of the government, although the coalition includes the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) of Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, an ultra-Conservative.

“The priority is (to knock down) illegal constructions along the coastline and in national forestland, as well as buildings whose owners have agreed to demolish to avoid the penalties,” he told 24/7 FM.

So far, only four of 900 properties damaged by the fires have been knocked down and there’s little sign the government is moving ahead with the demolitions despite what Stathakis promised with critics saying the Administration can’t afford to lose more voters.

The investigation into the fires is picking up, said Kathimerini, with more evidence showing a chaotic response by the government, which had no disaster or evacuation plans and gave no warning to the residents of Mati.

Documents from the Health Ministry’s National Operations Center (EKEPY) showed the first death was reported at 9.33 p.m. on July 23, several hours before authorities admitted that the blaze had caused fatalities, the paper said.