ATHENS – A savage attack on archaeologist Manolis Psarros is being seen as an attempt by Greece’s underworld and developers to build where they want on the popular island of Mykonos and a warning not to try to stop them.
Archaeologists have sway in decisions to allow development but there’s so much money to be made, especially on Mykonos which is known for gouging tourists and tax evasion that even fines don’t deter, that the brazen assault was made.
As police are investigating the focus has fallen, wrote The Guardian’s Helena Smith, “firmly, on Europe’s most famous party island where a building frenzy has put the archaeological service, entrusted with protecting Mykonos’s rich cultural heritage, on a war footing with developers.”
For the past decade Psarros has headed the division that issues construction permits on the island, putting him in a position to stop construction although bribery is commonplace and threats too.
“Everything about this attack is indicative of how out-of-control the situation in Mykonos has become,” Despoina Koutsoumba, head of the Association of Greek Archaeologists told the newspaper.
“It’s clear, as there are no other motives, that this was a Mafiosi-style hit executed by people who followed Manolis from work. It’s about huge business interests and was aimed at striking fear into the hearts of archaeologists,” she said.
The attack was so savage that even the New Democracy government that wants to allow tourism almost everywhere, including on public beaches and protected environmental areas to bring in more tourists and more money, moved to stop unlawful construction on Mykonos – with loopholes and exemptions.
The report said that doctors found injuries so severe they were delivered by people who were professional and that Psarros was lucky to be alive, underworld interests so strong that even journalists have backed off since the 2021 killing of investigative reporter Giorgos Karaivaz, gunned down outside his Athens home.
For doctors they were wounds that spoke: Psarros clearly had been kicked and punched in an assault that bore all the hallmarks of a professional hit, underworld interests so powerful that even journalists have backed off since the 2021 gunning down of investigative reporter Giorgos Karaivaz.
The attack, said the newspaper, “has also exposed a darker side: of an island hijacked by interests that have come to see the rocky outcrop in a Twilight Zone beyond the reach of central government and the long arm of the law.”
Mitsotakis held a meeting of senior cabinet ministers where the report said ministers spoke openly as Mykonos as a “state within a state,” and no government yet able – or willing – to stop it.
He said that another 100 security personnel would be sent to the island, including police officers and financial crime investigators as well as more environmental and building inspectors.
It comes as the spring season has opened to tourists and summer beckoning, a time when the island is overrun with big spenders and taverns charge 1000 euros ($1078) for champagne and restaurants hit unsuspecting tourists will bills for hundreds or thousands of dollars, all with impunity.
LAWLESS STATE ISLAND
“There is no such thing as an island where some people think they are above the law,” said Mitsotakis. “This is a situation that will be faced decisively,” he added, with elections coming and as he’s trying to deal with a surveillance scandal and a train tragedy that killed 57 people, blamed largely on government failures to provide safe trains.
Greece’s community of archaeologists, a group no bigger than a 1000-strong, have long been seen as trying to protect the country’s historical legacy and its ancient past and they are, said the report, an independent last line of defense against runaway development.
But tourism trumps almost everything in Greece because it’s the biggest revenue engine, bringing in as much as 20 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 199.32 billion euros ($214.9 billion) annually.
In 2022, as tourists began arriving in big numbers as the COVID-19 pandemic waned, they spent 17.6 billion euros ($18.98 billion,) which would have been higher but Russian airlines were barred over sanctions for the invasion of Ukraine.
Some 27.8 million foreign visitors arrived in Greece in 2022 – almost three times the country’s population – making it the third most-visited country in the world, the report also noted.
“The concerns of archaeologists forced to navigate a notoriously slow-moving bureaucracy matter little to investors. Fines slapped on offenders for building villas, hotels and beach bars close to, or on, ancient sites, ‘are nothin’” compared with profits to be made, say locals who also lament the unruly development of an island that has left many unable to enjoy, or afford it,” the report added.
Greece is especially keen on drawing the uber-rich for whom money is no object, with 5-star hotels and luxury reports popping up like crocuses in the spring, all bringing in money, money, money.
On Mykonos, Middle East investors want to build an entire tourist village for the super-rich with a port for super-yachts, further cutting off access to beaches as has happened on Athens’ coast taken over by developers.
“We want the state to be an ally to protect our island,” Mykonos’s mayor, Konstantinos Koukas, said. “We want mechanisms of control to be bolstered and of course we decry any threat against state employees. Today it is archaeologists. Tomorrow it will be us.”
Psarros said he wants to get back to work after he recovers “because to do otherwise, or if I were to be removed from the post, would send the wrong message to my assailants.”
Koutsoumba said the intimidation is ongoing despite the publicity after the attack and that a female colleague on Mykonos was also targeted with threatening text messages.
“If the government means what it says it will have to start demolishing illegal buildings,” said the archaeological association head, but every government which promised that wound up giving amnesties to get gines and money even though unlawful building was blamed for many deaths in the seaside village of Mati, almost destroyed in a July 23, 2018 wildfire, with access to the sea and escape blocked off.
“Right now it’s Mykonos, but later it will be some other island. The time has come for action and that means bulldozers being sent in. It’s the only language anyone will understand. An example needs to be set, and it needs to be set now,” said Koutsoumba, but it never has.