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Columnists

The Ugly, Dark Side of Greece’s Tourism Goes Unseen

“You Will Want to Stay Forever,” Greece’s tourism slogan in 2022 proclaimed, typically showing the beautiful side of a country with plenty of it, from the monasteries of Meteora to the 6th Century town of Monemvasia on the Peloponnese to more than 6,000 islands, 227 of them inhabited.

Enough people believe it that some 20 million could come during the waning COVID-19 pandemic that’s still infecting people, putting them in hospitals, on ventilators, and in the ground, dozens dying every week.

In the restaurants, bars and taverns, at the archaeological sites, on the beaches – including those where people are charged to use public land with every government looking the other way – Greece is a fairy tale image this year.

Not quite though.

You won’t hear or see much, or anything, about taxi drivers cheating the unwary, wild dogs a threat in remote areas where the Tourism Ministry wants you to visit, restaurants on Mykonos (Scamos) and places gouging people, getting away with it, intimidating them to pay, like sidewalk sharks in Athens directing people into bars where they will be cheated. Too, there’s been violence and rapes against people expecting philoxenia.

With as many as 33 million people or more, it’s inevitable and a mathematical certainty that there will be ugly incidents and worse, but Greece has already forgotten what happened to American tourist Bakari Henderson on Zakynthos, AKA Hooligan’s Island.

He was murdered in 2017 by a gang of Serbians and a Briton of Bosnian descent, but they got away with it after a Greek court said stomping a young man to death, with video rolling, wasn’t murder.

That was because Greece and Zakynthos need the money and murder means nothing compared to that and the island today is even uglier than it was five years ago, overrun with troublemakers and the famed Navagio Beach, with a shipwreck visible, surrounded by litter and filth.

Santorini, once voted the most popular island in the world, is a caricature of a parody and busier than Times Square and everyone jockeying to take Selfishie photos with thousands of people in the picture, trying to capture a sunset they think doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world.

There are islands where you can find the real Greece, a place of serenity, fresh produce, quiet, have an ouzo with the locals, hear yourself think, and have a real vacation, which is when you go where people aren’t, but the government doesn’t really want that – it wants you packed cheek-by-jowl and opening your wallet.

In a scene right out of a horror movie, perhaps the worst incident of tourists at risk in Greece was on the lawless island of Crete, where shooting at road signs is for fun and a sport, along with firing guns into the air, the occasional person being killed when a bullet hits them.

That involved a German family who found themselves chased for a couple of miles by two men after the visitors passed them on a road, the Cretans taking that for an insult second only to German paratroopers landing on the island in May, 1941 only to find themselves being stabbed by old ladies with pitchforks.

Don’t Mess With Crete is the slogan there but the thugs went just a bit outside when they hit the family’s car, holding a father and three adult children, who were also attacked and had a knife pulled on them.

Some sane Cretans prevented a tragedy and intervened or you would be reading about another Zakynthos incident in which the government would pray for the victims and tell you to visit Crete.

Greece’s state-run ERT TV said the driver of the chasing car got up next to the tourists vehicle, opened the door and started punching away at one victim before his brother got out and started fighting back.

You won’t see that on the dazzling images of Greek beaches, drone shots of the Acropolis, people lazing away on an island, or sitting under a tree at a seaside tavern enjoying the best of Greece.

On popular Rhodes, a bus full of tourists was attacked by two young men on a motorbike without license plates who started stoning it, so maybe they’re just trying to Keep Up With The Cretans.

The tourists had just gotten on after their plane landed so maybe the Tourism Ministry can say being stoned is a local custom of greeting foreigners, although the driver’s window was broken so thank Zeus it didn’t crash.

It could have happened anywhere, but the grisly death of a British tourist struck by a helicopter blade after he got off near Athens International Airport on a trip back from Mykonos was beyond tragic, but already forgotten as visitors crowd beaches, bars, restaurants, taverns, and ancient sites.

Sometimes the violence comes from tourists attacking tourists, as happened with a group on Crete from The Netherlands, and when a 19-year-old Brit was assaulted by fellow Britons on, you guessed it, Zakynthos.

So there is crime and graffiti and all the excesses of humanity, just as everywhere else, but what Greece has to offer tourists is not just what they see but what once was, looking back through the eons to a little country that shaped the best of civilization. It stays with you forever.

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