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Politics

Athens Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis Speaks Exclusively to TNH in Boston

BOSTON – Athens Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis brought the presence and the message of Athens and Greece, in general, to the Boston Marathon, beginning with the presentation ceremony of the wreaths, the annual gift of Greece, which crowned the champion marathon runners on April 18.

For Mayor Bakoyannis, Boston is a familiar city and beloved by him since his student days at Harvard University. His visit ended on April 19 when he returned to Athens.

In an interview with The National Herald, he spoke about how Athens is being redeveloped and modernized, his intention to run again for re-election, the establishment Athens and Boston as sister cities, and Putin’s war against Ukraine.

From the Boston Marathon wreath-laying ceremony, left to right: Consul General of Greece in Boston Stratos Efthymiou, Chair of the Board of Governors of the Boston Athletic Association Dr. Michael O’Leary, Athens Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis, and Alpha Omega Council of Boston President Costas Sideridis. Photo by Areti Bratsis

Speaking about Boston, he mentioned that he is glad to be back in New England where he spent his student years. He also added: “I am delighted because I had the honor of participating in a truly important ceremony, the presentation of the gold wreaths that will crown the winners of the marathon. A tradition which, as you know, started in the 1980s, a really great tradition because not only do we honor the bond between Greece and the United States, as well as the Athens of America, which is Boston, but also because it is a reminder of our common values and principles, especially now, at a time in which democracy is under attack by the dark forces of authoritarianism and tyranny.”

Bakoyannis pointed out that especially at this particular point in time “such gestures are important because they are helping attract tourists from the U.S. to Greece, as Athens is a unique and safe destination, extremely popular on this side of the Atlantic.”

On his meeting with the newly elected Mayor of Boston, Michelle Wu, he said that “we had a very interesting and productive conversation, we agreed on moving forward with the twinning of our cities, which strangely enough has not happened until today. I say strangely because Boston, apart from the historical and symbolic importance that I mentioned earlier, is also home to a very large and extremely active Greek-American community. We agreed that this twinning should focus on issues that are of interest to both our cities: firstly, the strengthening of touristic ties, which is particularly important since there now is a direct flight from Boston to Athens for the first time in 25 years.”

Mayor of Athens Kostas Bakoyannis, center, speaks at the Boston Athletic Association’s event at Copley Square. Accompanying him are Alpha Omega Council of Boston President Costas Sideridis and Consul General of Greece in Boston Stratos Efthymiou. Photo by Areti Bratsis

He continued: “Secondly, the exchange of good practices in order to combat the climate crisis and thirdly, the cooperation on issues related to digitalization in general, but also regarding the ecosystems of start-up entrepreneurship which, as you know very well, both in Boston and in Athens show an extremely impressive range of accomplishment.”

Regarding a timeframe for establishing the twinning of the cities, Bakoyannis said that “the Mayor and I agreed to proceed with serious and well-thought out steps in the immediate future. I also had the pleasure of inviting her to Athens, to see our authentic Marathon. We will be very happy to welcome her.”

When asked to mention some of the key points of his mayoral tenure in the past two and a half years, Bakoyannis said: “Athens has changed a lot, little by little. Despite multiple and reoccurring crises, we have fought a battle on many fronts to improve the daily life of the people of Athens, because this is our greatest goal. It’s the many small things that make up the quality of life for all of us- the urban greenery, where there has been a very systematic and serious effort, our upcoming project to upgrade all the electric lights of the city. Also, we are restoring the pavements. We are paving a total of 1050 roads, preserving sports fields and playgrounds, renovating municipal clinics and investing in schools.”

“I could, of course, also talk about our larger projects, such as the green lungs of our city, whether it is the National Garden, the Lycabettus, Philopappos Hill or the Akadimia Platonos neighborhood, to name a few, or the even bigger one, a decades-old dream that is finally becoming a reality, the Double Redevelopment Project (the creation of two hyperlocal, metropolitan poles of recreation, sports, cultural and other complementary functions in the Alexandra Avenue and Botanikos of the Municipality of Athens).”

He noted that “now is not the right time to be taking stock. It’s time for continuous effort, and as you know, in our municipalities this takes up 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Athens Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis presented the wreaths for the winners of the Boston Marathon to the Board of Governors of the Boston Athletic Association, left to right: Costas Sideridis, Tom Grilk, Dr. Michael O’Leary, Mayor Bakoyannis, and Consul General Stratos Efthymiou. Photo by Areti Bratsis

Regarding whether the Grand Walk Project (the aim of which is the unification of the historic Center of Athens, the restoration of 50,000 square meters of free public space, the participation of citizens in the design, and the creation of 6.8 km long promenades) is progressing, Bakoyannis said: “it is proceeding as planned and on schedule. In a few weeks the Syntagma Square will be completed and within the next twelve months the Panepistimiou Square as well. We are now continuing with the Theatre Square and we will start working on the Triangle in the next few months, as well as on many other projects in our 129 neighborhoods and in the broader Center, because don’t forget that the Center is also the gateway of Athens to the world.”

Concerning whether his reference to the stadiums also includes the Panathinaikos stadium, Bakoyannis said, “of course, it is the reason for the Double Redevelopment Project, which creates two hyperlocal poles, one in Votanikos and one in the Alexandra Avenue. On one hand, in Alexandra Avenue, one of the most densely populated areas of Athens, we gain a great green space of nearly 20 square acres. On the other hand, in Votanikos, an area that has been abandoned for many years, we are creating the new arena of Panathinaikos and the sports facilities for the junior team. We estimate that the direct investments will exceed 350 million euros in the wider area of Votanikos alone.”

On the rise in crime, the Mayor said, “we are making a very great effort to convince the Ministry of Citizen Protection authorities that Athens needs more surveillance. There is a truly superhuman and heroic effort being made by the Greek police officers who are currently serving in the capital, but the harsh reality is that they are not enough. We need more forces and we hope that this will be quickly realized so that we can ensure the safety of all, which, don’t forget, is a basic human right.”

On Russia’s war against Ukraine, he said: “we have been very clear from the very first moment that Athens stands by the side of the suffering Ukrainian people and support the truly heroic battle they are fighting for democracy and peace. It is a battle that concerns us all because it is a battle for our values, our ideals, for democracy itself. We are all Ukrainians.”

On Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons, Bakoyannis said: “I think that even if Putin wins a battle, he has lost the war. And I want to make a distinction here between Putin and the Russian people. But as you can see, just in a few weeks historical changes have taken place that in a different period would have taken decades. Germany has changed its foreign policy. New Scandinavian countries are preparing to join NATO. We have a level of cooperation and unity between the NATO countries and the European Union that would have been perhaps unthinkable not so long ago.”

In response to Putin threatening the Scandinavian countries that intend to join NATO, he said: “I have been following the actions of those countries’ two prime ministers with great interest and I have not sensed any kind of fear on their side.”

When asked if the mayoralty would be a stepping stone for something further in his political career, Bakoyannis stated: “I am very clear and I have said many times that I will once again fight for the trust of the people of Athens, because I very much want to see the project we have started being completed. And I belong to the category of people who mean what they say.”

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