ATHENS – Its vaunted vow to start immediately tearing down unlawful buildings in the aftermath of the July 23 wildfires that killed 96 people stalling, the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras now said it won’t begin until the middle of September at the soonest but legal procedures could push it back.
While razings have begun in the seaside village of Mati, the worst hit, and where unlawfully built homes allowed by successive governments – including Tsipras’ – blocked access to the sea and escape, the government made a big show of a bulldozer knocking down a fence and hasn’t accelerated demolitions across the Athens area as promised.
That was first said to be because courts would have to review the government’s plan to knock down unlawful buildings with no explanation why it couldn’t proceed because the structures were built without licenses.
The government said it would demolish some 3,200 unlawfully built properties in what was once forestland that was burned so developers could erect homes, and on the seaside where people find a good piece of land they don’t own and build on it anyway.
Each government has said it would stop the practice but then given amnesty and allowed it to continue so the owners could be fined and money could be brought into state coffers even though much of the lands on which they were built had been burned, often by arson, and dozens of people had died.
So far, out of 900 demolition orders, only four have been taken down. Notifications are being sent out and demolitions will begin in mid-September, Environment Minister Giorgos Stathakis said, according to Kathimerini.
Earlier in August, the government said it would speed the pace of the demolitions but that stopped almost as soon as the first cameras left after photos were taken of the fence being knocked down.
“Under the weight of the national tragedy suffered by the Greek people, the state must take immediate measures to proceed, without impediments, to the demolition of illegal structures and buildings that pose a risk to public safety,” an unidentified source told Kathimerini.
“In order to ensure that residents are protected in the event of danger, it is the government’s obligation to show zero tolerance for illegal buildings on coasts and in forests,” the source said, with no explanation why that kind of general information that’s positive for the government was so sensitive that no name could be given.
Tsipras, who the major rival New Democracy said personally prevented the demolition of buildings as soon as he took office in January, 2015, first said some 3,185 buildings would be knocked down but apparently not unlawful beach clubs blocking the public’s access to the sea along Athens’ coast.
Former PASOK Socialist Minister Yannis Maniatis, whose party went defunct after backing austerity measures and has been assumed by the new center-left coalition Movement for Change, said Tsipras gave the order not to demolish buildings even after legal remedies had been exhausted by owners and occupants, the business newspaper Naftemporiki said.
Maniatis posted the text of the draft amendment, the minutes of a Parliament debate and other documents on his personal Facebook account, after the New Democracy Conservatives, who PASOK served in a previous coalition, also said SYRIZA stopped demolitions almost as soon as taking office in January, 2015.