ATHENS – After giving amnesty nine times since 1974 to unlawful construction – seen as a way of seeking support from voters by governments – Greece now pledged to stop the practice on the island of Mykonos after an archaeologist involved in building oversight was badly beaten.
The attack on Manolis Psarros came outside his home on Athens but tied to his work on the popular island known for tax evasion, gouging tourists and defiance of police and inspectors.
Successive governments have promised to crack down on illegal buildings that see private interests and developers take over beach fronts and even allegedly protected areas for profit.
But each time various administrations have backed away, even after July 23, 2018 wildfires partially blamed on unlawful buildings barring access to the sea in the village of Mati that killed 103 people.
Planning permission in Greece is often subject to a veto by the local archaeological service, which is tasked with protecting the country’s ancient heritage, giving them some power to control it.
With the New Democracy government already backpedaling over a surveillance scandal and the deaths of 57 people in a head-on train collision blamed on negligence, Environment Minister Kostas Skrekos said, “The law will be enforced on Mykonos,” reported Agence France-Presse (AFP.)
That echoes what over governments have said for decades and each time relented, allowing the country to be overrun in spots by unlawful buildings and reports of inspectors being bribed and amnesties tied to fines to bring in revenues.
Skrekas said that there won’t be construction permits for rural areas outside the existing urban planning grid. “No illegal plan will be legalised…there will be no loophole,” he said although the government will allow many exemptions.
Mykonos attracted more than two million tourists in 2022 and is a boost to the country’s economy that New Democracy is trying to accelerate as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes.
But other media reports in Greece said that developers can make so much money from building resorts and other construction that they don’t mind even heavy fines because they don’t have to fear the buildings being razed.
The Greek archaeologists association said the attackers of Psarros were likely hired by people engaged in illegal construction. “The perpetrators of the criminal and Mafia-style attacks against the archaeologist will be punished,” Skrekas said, but no one’s been charged or arrested and often aren’t.
A Greek police unit specializing in blackmail cases is investigating the incident and the archaeologists association said that unlawful construction on Mykonos is “out of control,” the news agency reported.
After the beating, state-employed archaeologists in Greece launched a strike in protest and said the attack may have been linked to commercial pressure to extend tourism development.
The Culture Ministry condemned the assault, while Mykonos Mayor Constantinos Koukas described the incident as a “criminal and brazen attack that has shocked us all,” although the island is known for trouble and lawlessness.
(Material from The Associated Press was used in this report)