Greece is in total disarray – and for sale. What price is set on the cultural assets?
In the streets of Athens people are not only fighting the politicians, hindering their access to the governmental buildings. They are fighting each other and the police in full-scale riots. And while airports are closed and austerity is setting in, the tourists are obviously staying away. This is catastrophic in a country where app. 18 – 20% of GDP stems from tourism, and which could even register a 9% growth in foreign arrivals from 2008 to 2009 at a time where crisis loomed over most other destinations. Nowadays, of course, people are staying away to a serious extent.
Add to this the fact, that Greece has never really utilized its cultural heritage as a tourism asset, even though it is of course unsurpassed. The new National Archaeological Museum in Athens is a very good example. It took 33 years to find the money for it. Finally, when it opened in 2009, politicians condemned it as a total sell-out of the national heritage, because it was funded by EU money. In between the new Acropolis Museum opened with a venue focusing more on the
missing Elgin Marbles than the treasures still in Greek possession. Add to this the fact that although modern Greek is a language most tourists do not master, information on placards or in booklets even at the large tourist destinations are solely written in the Greek alphabet. It appears that the bloated numbers of employees in the relevant ministries have not even been able to secure a proper communications strategy let alone carry it out.
One reason is of course that Greek heritage is a contested issue for most politicians. Which culture, whose heritage? And what about Macedonia? Cyprus? These are questions not easily answered without incurring wrath and loss of public votes. Better – it seems – to focus on developing the natural and mythic resources of Greece, giving room for mega developments of luxury resorts inspired by life in ancient “Homeric Times”.
One such venue is Costa Navarino on the Pelopponese peninsula. Here motorways are being built to attract rich Athenians, while the airport is being expanded in order to cater for the Chinese invasion. All in all six five-star hotels and three golf courses are being spread over hundreds of square kilometers along a pristine coastline. It should be noted, that the countryside uniformly dotted with olive-trees is not in itself worth preserving. The point, however, is that the luxury resort is sprawling all over the place, thus securing a feeling of expanse and freedom which in the future will be reserved for the few lucky and super rich.
Costa Navarino is of course not the only project of this type. Another one is located on the South coast of Greece to be developed by the Emerald Group. The development of Cavo Sidero on the North East coast of Crete also belongs to this category. Although it was stopped in the courts in April 2011 it still figures in the promotional materiel for the Minoan Group, which planned the development 10 years back. Reasons for the court injunction was the fragile and spectacular nature on this arid and windswept peninsula plus the fact that 11.500 people from all over the world signed an internet petition and bombarded the relevant politicians with letters and information. Since April the Minoan Groups shares have fallen to an all time low. In the prospect material from the company, however, it appears that the project has not been written off. The hope is apparently that the current crisis will open up for less strict bureaucratic procedures. In the promotional material for “Investing in Greece” it says that the opportunity is legendary since most hotels are equipped with either one or two stars. Further it points out the merits of the new PPP scheme, which is meant to provide “significant opportunities to investors to participate in new infrastructure projects, including marinas and thermal springs”!
Interestingly enough the word cultural travelling is hardly mentioned at all in this promotional material although there would be ample room for professional development and investments.
Here is a proposal: Lease the prime venues – Acropolis, Olympus, Delphi – to professional event-makers for say a period of fifteen years. Then get this business developed and repay the debt.
On the contested nature of national identity in modern Greece:
Madianou, Mirca: Mediating the Nation: News, audences and the politics of identity. Routledge 2005.