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Columnists

Beach Blanket Bingo: Preview of Greece’s Rich Summer Charade

It’s a hot July day in Greece, 2024, another heat wave rivaling the one in 2023 that could have melted steel. People who have cars or can afford ferries to islands are flocking to beaches looking for relief.

Those stuck in Athens, which in the summer is essentially a cement oven because the rooftops haven’t been covered with greenery to reduce the heat and carbon dioxide emissions, are out of luck because there’s only a few municipal pools.

That means children whose parents don’t have vehicles or can afford to get them to the nearby seaside just swelter. Those who do reach Athens beaches find many of them are taken over by private businesses and luxury resorts.

Some charge $300 a day or more to rent an umbrella and lounge chair from which you can order bad food that costs as much as a supermarket run for a family, and luxury resorts won’t let the unwashed inside.

Greece has some of the world’s greatest beaches but many of them have already essentially been confiscated – violating the Constitution which states ALL beaches are public – with successive governments leasing them to companies for profit.

Ostensibly – and unlawfully – only 50 percent of beaches can be leased to businesses, but many are just taken over by those without leasing them and cover an entire beach front, locking out the non-paying public.

Leasing these beaches makes money for the government so every government Minister looks the other way, ignoring the Constitution, and no group has brought suit to do anything about it.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was even at the dedication of another one opening on Athens’ seashore and wooing even more to take over the best beaches in the country, companies kicking sand on the 98-pound weaklings who can’t stop them.

In the summer of 2023, the residents of the island of Paros had finally had enough of being prevented from using their own beaches and began a brisk, if brief movement urging Greeks to take them back.

It didn’t work, of course, and the usual promises were made by the government to crack down on businesses operating unlawfully on beach fronts, issuing a few fines for show and pretending to care.

No luxury resort was hurt and beaches that have been taken over, especially on popular islands like Mykonos and Rhodes, do what they always do every year: ignore any edicts about what they’re doing and keep renting out umbrellas.

And this year will be just like the last except that even more prime beaches are being taken over, which will lead to some more protests in vain with residents carrying placards and chanting as they march past people renting umbrellas – many of them tourists – on beaches that belong to the public, who can’t use them.

Why? There’s money to be made in them ‘thar beaches and that is the only currency that counts in politics, followed by votes, and you can put money on betting that no luxury resort will be required to let the public use their beaches.

Where’s the real effort to stop it? Where is the WWF and environmentalists who should stop issuing press releases and hire some good lawyers to go to court to force enforcement of the Constitution?

So people who don’t want, or can’t afford, to rent umbrellas and lounge chairs every time they go to an alleged public beach will have to try to find a spot somewhere on the side and plant a blanket at the risk of being shooed away.

The New Democracy government’s response to protests against public beaches being taken over by businesses has been to draft limits on how much can be used, with public responses and environmentalists saying it falls too short.

Comments submitted after the proposal was put out for public review showed skepticism that the new measures would be enforced and that they didn’t go far enough to ensure public access to beaches, including on popular islands.

Eight environmental groups, some of whom have been trying to stymie the overrunning of public beaches, including private businesses taking them over without leases and trying to prevent public use, were critical, but that’s all.

The new rules would set distances between concessions, dictate the maximum area of beach that can be granted for exploitation, and will allegedly safeguard beaches where commercial exploitation is not allowed – but will be.

Current regulations have been ignored in many cases and demolitions of unlawful businesses on public beaches delayed for years – and the ministry is now taking jurisdiction over them away from municipalities, left powerless.

The draft law was just put out for public consultation and demarcates coastal areas and beaches for leasing and penalties for violators, rarely invoked, with only occasional brief shut-downs of unlawful operations.

It also will allegedly prevent so-called ‘block leases’ for adjacent beaches that could be linked to take them over, and provides safeguards for beaches that yet haven’t seen development.

But it also says that “social factors and local peculiarities” will be taken into account as criteria for the environmental protection of a beach and will allow the return of most old coastal areas for business use.

But orders for demolitions of unlawful businesses on public beaches have been ignored or not enforced and Cretans blocked crews from razing dozens of them on a popular beach. Blanket time.

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