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Society

As Summer Ends, Greece’s Lagging Take Back Beaches Revolt Doesn’t

September 18, 2023

ATHENS – The tourists are still coming and beaches are still filled in Greece in September – many of them still taken over by private business unlawfully given state permission or just seized – and residents still trying to take them back.

The Reclaim the Beach movement that hit a high in the middle of the summer, sparked by protests on the island of Paros, is still ongoing but the government hasn’t moved to limit beach takeovers by luxury hotels and resorts.

The beaches are leased – in violation of the Constitution – but supposed to be limited to 50 percent of the available space but protesters, using drones, have shown many are essentially completely taken over.

There were some raids and a few arrests, but those have faded in line with typical government crackdowns that last only a short time until another news cycle, crisis or scandal and the beach revolt is slowing too.

In a feature, BBC Travel noted locals, especially on islands, are still fighting back even as the prized spots on Athens’ coast have been ceded to private businesses charging as much as 340 euros ($363) daily for loungers and umbrellas.

https://www.bbc.com/travel/article/20230912-what-to-know-about-the-beach-towel-revolt-taking-back-greek-beaches

“While the movement started in Paros, it has now spread all over Greece and even to neighboring Turkey, with campaigners demanding space to lay down their towels for free,” the report noted.

But deadly wildfires in July and floods that followed dominated the news and the beach revolt stories faded into the background although the leaders are still trying to keep the momentum going.

Another Sept. 3 demonstration “marked the start of a new nationwide campaign and was the first time that multiple beach towel protests happened in different regions of Greece on the same day, the report said.

THE SHIFTING SANDS

Demonstrations were held on the islands of Naxos, Crete, Rhodes and Aegina but no reports if they are succeeding in any large measure. A popular beach, Koundouros, on Tzia, is dominated by loungers for rent and a restaurant.

Eleni Andrianopoulou, spokesperson for the Naxos campaign, said she and other locals have long been frustrated over-development on the beaches for several years, but had been unsure how to act. After learning what was happening in Paros, they were immediately inspired to start their own Facebook campaign. “I think this is a real paradigm shift for Greece,” she said.

Crackdowns on unlawful beach takeovers are seen by critics as token efforts to appease protesters at the same time the government wants as many of the beaches as possible leased to bring in money, especially to foreign investors.

“(There is a) long-standing lack of oversight, which has led to increased impunity,” Efthymia Sarantakou from the University of West Attica told the travel news site of the problem

“There are allegations of civilians being intimidated by beach bar employees when they tried to sit on what remained as a free part of the beach,” she said, being shooed away unless they pay for rentals.

Naxos Mayor Dimitris Lainos said that, “We have seen that the Ministry of Finance does not have the staff numbers to carry out adequate checks,” he said, not indicating whether there’s really the will to do so.

The report said that, “It appears that the protests are having an effect,” pointing to a handful of inspections as proof, some beaches opened, but many others have gone unchecked or unlawful operators punished.

“On Naxos, fresh checks were carried out in response to protests, but many business owners were pre-alerted and simply removed their offending sun-loungers before inspectors arrived,” the report noted.

“I want to believe that these protests will lead to greater citizen participation in managing tourist destinations and, of course, in managing public spaces,” said Sarantakou. “This can only be achieved through improvements in the institutional framework and oversight,” he said.

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