Trying to preserve heritage, Greece witness public protest

Archaeologist Manolis Psarros was attacked earlier this month while going to his car on a dark side street in Athens. The state employee’s office was located in a neoclassical culture ministry building beneath the Acropolis, and it was 8.30 p.m., later than usual for him to get home.

Psarros, who is in charge of the Cycladic island, explained that he needed to finish his papers on Mykonos because there would be a general strike the following day. He told the Observer, “I can remember approaching the automobile, but it’s a blur after that. “All I know is that I took a blow to the back of my head so hard that I lost consciousness.”

The soft-spoken Greek had fractured ribs, a broken nose, and eyes so severely damaged that his vision was compromised when he awoke in a hospital bed on March 8.

Doctors saw them as speaking wounds since it was obvious that Psarros had been punched and kicked in an assault with all the characteristics of a skilled blow. 52-year-old was fortunate to be still alive.

The effects of an attack that might have gone undiscovered are still felt in Greece three weeks later.

The probe focuses on Europe’s most well-known party island, Mykonos. A building frenzy has put the archaeological service—charged with preserving the island’s rich cultural heritage—in conflict with developers.

Psarros has been in charge of the department that has provided building permits for the Aegean hotspot for the past ten years.

Despoina Koutsoumba, in charge of the Association of Greek Archaeologists, claims that “everything about this attack is indicative of the situation in Mykonos has become.” “It is obvious that this was a Mafia-style attack carried out by individuals who followed Manolis from work since there are no other explanations. It was written to instil dread in archaeologists’ hearts and concerned enormous business interests.

The centre-right Greek administration concurs. Last week, prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and law enforcement and municipal officials agreed that the anarchy driving illegal buildings on one of Greece’s most well-known tourist spots was caused by an unsolved crime.

Mykonos has long been a leader in the world as a playground for the wealthy, with bars, restaurants, and beaches that regularly generate enormous profits.

Yet, the vicious assault on Psarros has also revealed a more sinister side: that of an island that has been taken over by interests that have come to perceive the rocky outcrop as being outside the purview of the central government and the law.

Officials publicly referred to Mykonos as a “state within a state” as Mitsotakis called a meeting of senior cabinet ministers to review the situation. The Greek prime minister expressed similar worries and warned that measures to maintain public order would be put into effect.

The first of 100 additional security professionals, including police officers, financial crime detectives, and construction and environmental inspectors, will arrive by air in the upcoming days.

Along with stepping up enforcement, the Aegean archipelago’s neighbouring islands of Mykonos and Mykonos will also crack down harder on unauthorized buildings in rural areas.

According to Mitsotakis, there is no such place as an island where some individuals believe they are above the law. “We will respond to this crisis in a determined manner.”

Less than 1000 archaeologists work in Greece, and they are often considered the country’s exceptional historical legacy’s guardians. For many, the tenacious band of committed archaeologists and researchers represents the last defence against the increasingly prevalent tourism-related depredations.

It is a delicate balancing act to ensure that the natural beauty that draws tourists to the country is preserved while also recognizing the need for tourism, which accounts for 25% of GDP and is by far the largest engine of the Greek economy.

The tourism industry’s spectacular post-pandemic recovery did not help. Investors care little about the difficulties archaeologists face through a notoriously cumbersome bureaucracy because Greece is expected to have another record-breaking tourism season; last year, it was the third most visited destination on the planet. Locals bemoan the chaotic growth of an island that has rendered many unable to enjoy or afford it and claim that fines imposed on offenders for erecting homes, hotels, and beach bars close to or on historic sites “are nothing” in comparison to the profits to be made.

Investors from the Middle East have recently moved in, revealing controversial plans to build a tourist enclave with a port big enough to anchor superyachts as Mykonos has soared into its stratosphere.

Konstantinos Koukas, the mayor of Mykonos, stated last week, “We want the state to be an ally to safeguard our island.” We want the control procedures to be strengthened, and we condemn any threat against public employees. Archaeologists are doing it now. Tomorrow, we’ll be doing it.

Along with wanting to get better quickly, Psarros wants to get back to work right once “because do otherwise, or if I were to be removed from the role, would send the wrong message to my assailants.”

Time is essential, according to Koutsoumba, as a female coworker on Mykonos was also the target of threatening text messages last week. The head of the archaeological association, who will participate in a demonstration Tuesday outside Koukas’s town hall office, stated, “if the government means what it says, it will have to start dismantling unlawful constructions.”

“Mykonos is it right now, but another island will take its place eventually. The time has arrived for action, which entails sending in bulldozers. Everyone will only be able to understand it. It’s imperative to set an example right away.

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