National Natura 2000 forest turns into ashes.


Dear reader,

This is our weekly round-up from Greece.

This week, a wildfire broke out near Corinth, swallowing a forest of immense beauty along with animals and houses - and sending the smoky signal of our dying planet over the Acropolis.

The Greek government passed a bill on family law concerning child custody, despite fierce reactions from women and international organizations, which voiced concerns that the bill violates international treaties and provides short of a safe haven for women and child abusers.

Finally, the Greek police evacuated a theatre squat that for a decade now has turned the place into an open culture hub. And then cemented all entrances of the theatre.

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Burned forests, wicked “development” ideas.

On Thursday, we woke up in Athens to the skies and the Acropolis covered with yellowish smoke and ashes flying around the city, landing on balconies and surfaces. The atmosphere was thick and suffocating. A forest fire was raging some 100 km away. The wildfire had broken out on Wednesday night in Gerania Mountains, Schinos area in North-Eastern Corinth, near the town of Loutraki. It had gone quickly out of control due to strong gales that reached some 8 Beaufort on Thursday night. Thirteen settlements and three monasteries were evacuated. As of Friday morning, with the fire still raging and the fire-fighters more optimistic as the winds have weakened to 4 Beauforts, 40,000 decares of forest were officially estimated as destroyed, according to Copernicus images. This became 65,000 on Friday night. Gerania Mountains was mostly a Natura 2000 protected area. Houses were also destroyed, animals burned, the power network was damaged. Keep in mind that last July, fires erupted in the nearby area, including Loutraki town, and the Eastern Corinthia area was declared at a state of emergency.  Actually, it was reported on Friday evening that the fire “left” Gerania Mountains, “because there was nothing else to burn there, and it actually ‘came across’ what the big July 2018 wildfire had left behind in 2018.”

The Civil Protection Deputy Minister Nikos Hardalias tried to justify the failed efforts to put out the fire claiming the fire safety period has just begun, so the state has not yet received the additional rented water-bomber aircraft. That’s hardly an excuse. We were writing last July when wildfires were again raging all over Greece, including the Loutraki area, that the Fire Brigade budget has been severely curtailed due to austerity. The Communist Party of Greece had emphasized in Parliament that the budget regarding maintenance, repairs, and fuel for circa 3,250 fire brigade vehicles has been curtailed by 55% in the last 20 years, while in 2020 it was curtailed by a further 1,8 million euros. Permanent personnel is not enough. Have a look here at the 2017 Fire Brigade budget cuts, from wages to vehicle maintenance. At the same time, the fire extinguishing aircraft are largely obsolete, as reported in 2019. Firemen were stating that these aircraft are very dangerous for their lives, they fly and they don’t know if a problem will come up. “The Memorandums dismantled us,” a fire brigade officer says in this piece that examines what changed to this force with the Memorandums.

According to evidence and testimonies collected till now by the authorities, the fire allegedly broke out during burning cut branches in an olive grove at 21.45 on Wednesday night.

However, the Greek twitter has gone wild, looking for explanations and reminding that the area now burned down was included in a wind turbine installation plan, a plan that after fierce reactions were finally (or temporarily) abandoned. Citizens movements had publicized maps with the wind park plans on Gerania, pointing out that most of the area is Natura 2000 protected. This is one of the last green areas where heavily cemented Attika “breaths” from. Wind-turbines plans are verified by several sources, as well as bauxite mine plans in the area, which were rejected by all local authorities.

Given the past record of all governments, people have become suspicious of what lies behind such extended wildfires, which destroy unique forest areas in Greece every summer. Regarding wind parks, specifically, it has become quite apparent that planning for their installation usually does not take into account delicate ecosystems and idyllic areas, like the Cyclades islands, where environmentalists and locals are up to arms with these plans. The most recent example is the reactions on the Greek paradise island of Amorgos, where the locals have filed a lawsuit to delay the project. Especially if one takes into account the recently passed “anti-environmental” law, which, according to analysts and environmentalists, allows for development (see: concrete hotel blocks) even within Natura 2000 areas, while providing for granting permissions to “investors” without long administrative processes, concerns are more than justified.

The wildfire causes have not been clarified and documented yet. We will follow developments closely and keep you updated.


“A husband that beats his wife can still be a good father”: The guy who said this is still an ND MP.

A new controversial bill on family law was passed this week, despite fierce reactions from women and feminist organizations, the UN, and even MPs of the ruling New Democracy party. The bill amends Greek Civil Code provisions on custody of children supposedly to "strengthen the active presence of both parents in the upbringing of the child". However, according to critics, it does so by violating international treaties on women and children’s rights. For example, the feminist organization “Mov” (“Purple”) which called on the PM to withdraw the bill emphasized that it violates the Istanbul Convention, (Law 4531/2018), 2012/29/EU Directive on Victims’ Rights  (Law 4478/2017) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (Law 2101/1992).

The two most controversial articles are those on joint and equal custody (Article 7) and on time allotted for the child to communicate with the parent not living with it (Article 13). For example, the bill provides that a violent husband/father can share custody of a child until a final court decision finds him guilty of abuse.

More specifically, according to Mov (which echoes most of the critique), the bill is indifferent to the child’s best interest, as it does not assess the case of each child individually, but it imposes “joint and evenly exercised parental custody” as the rule for ALL children with separated parents”. Moreover, “domestic violence victims (children and non-abusive parent, mostly mothers) are exposed by the Bill to a greater danger than they were already in as the rule of “joint and evenly exercised parental custody” obliges the child to be in physical contact with the parent they don’t reside with, “for at least 1/3 of the total communication time unless this parent requests shorter time.” The child’s refusal is considered parental alienation by the other parent, punishable by removal of custody. Moreover, “the parental rights of the parent-perpetrator and his/her contact with the child can be restricted or ceased only after being convicted by the court of the first instance for crimes of domestic violence or crimes against sexual freedom or crimes of financial exploitation of sexual life; in Greek courts’ reality, this means that ALL perpetrators are granted unhindered access to their victims for more than 2-5 years.”

Two ND MPs, Olga Kefalogianni and Marietta Giannakou fiercely and openly opposed the bill. The amendments they tabled were rejected and finally, they both voted against the bill. “It’s a strange thing, the Minister invited various organizations -active dads and whatever else- yet he turned down seeing women’s organizations,” Mrs. Giannakou said in a TV interview. “Why the Association for Women’s Rights didn’t have the honor to be accepted by the Minister?” In another interview, the MP openly talked about powerful lobbies throwing a lot of money in support of this bill to be passed. “We came across peculiar organizations, parents, joint custody, active dads, formidable advertisements in favor of the bill, which implies a lot of money were spent, and a very similar letter that is being sent to us by email under various names containing no real data, that is false data.”

The vice-president of the European Democratic Lawyers Association Yiota Massouridou also said in an interview that an anti-feminist lobby, known as the Men's Rights Movement, is behind the Greek bill. "No government until now accepted promoting their interests," she said. The movement has its roots in the United States but is said to have spread globally. It has claimed, among other things, that men are oppressed by women, if not more.

Justice Minister Tsiaras, indirectly yet clearly referring to MPs Kefalogianni and Giannakou said that “someone cannot object [to the bill] motivated by personal experiences.” “If we were men, would the Minister have made such a comment?” Giannakou responded.

An unbelievable statement was made by ND MP Yannis Loverdos in Parliament on Wednesday. Loverdos claimed that even if a husband beats his wife, he can still have the right to see his child - in other words, you can beat the mother of your child, but still, be a good dad. And this person is still in his place, with not the smallest reaction from the ruling party in which he belongs.

Human Rights Watch had said on 6 May that the bill disregards risks for domestic violence victims that would put women and children in jeopardy.

On top of all, main opposition SYRIZA MP Yannis Ragkousis revealed in Parliament that on 17 May, that the UN Working Group on discrimination against women and girls and the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences had sent a letter to the Greek government, expressing serious concerns regarding the joint custody bill. The UN representatives were requesting for the letter to be communicated in the Greek Parliament. The Justice Minister apparently ignored both the letter and the request for communicating it.

In this six-pages letter, the UN Working Group on discrimination against women and girls and the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, voiced their opposition to the six articles of the bill (5, 11, 13, 14, 7, 8). They emphasize among others that the bill fails to define what the best interest of the child is in every different case, thus it is not clear if the child faces the risk or not of domestic violence from one of the parents. Moreover, they state the bill lacks safeguards for the victims of domestic abuse, including ongoing conduct with an abuser, heightened by the need to go to court to obtain a final decision to stop contact or communication with the abusive parent. Also, the UN is concerned that the bill only takes into account married or legal partners, which could lead to discrimination against women if the primary caretaker of the child is a single parent who is not in a case of a registered partnership. Finally, regarding the bill’s provision that the child’s relationship with the other parent’s family should be safeguarded by the other parent, the UN specialists say contact and relationships with extended family can present additional risks in cases of abuse or acts of violence against the child.

Deafened to all calls from civil society and international organizations, the government passed the bill with its own votes minus its two rebelling MPs on Thursday - with no amendments.

The ND government has apparently set course for a radical transformation of the Greek society inspired by the Middle Ages and authoritative governance models.


How would you feel if you watched somebody building a theatre’s entrances?

On Wednesday morning, the police evacuated the squatted “Embros” theatre in the Psyrri area and then ordered workers to build its entrances with concrete blocks, in a move highly illustrative of this government’s mentality as to independent culture hubs. Because in the squatted “Embros” theatre thousands of people had the chance to enjoy plays, discussions, and events for free (or contributing what they felt like) over the last ten (crisis) years.

“Embros” has a long history. Its life as a theatre started at the end of the 80s: for circa a decade, this building was housing the most progressive theatre group in Greece, “Morfes”, - and its Drama School. The building, which belongs to the Hellenic Public Real Estate Corporation and was previously housing the Printing House of “Embros” newspaper, was rented by the “Morfes” group, which then turned it into a theatre with two stages.

Unfortunately, the theatre officially paused all operations in 2006.

The squat in 2011 breathed life again into this landmark place. The Artist group “Mavili movement” undertook the initiative, while Residents of the Psirri Movement participated and supported it. Theatre and cinema artists, visual artists, and musicians swarmed in the revived space and turned it into a free culture space in the heart of crisis-ridden Athens.

International media have repeatedly reported on the “Embros” squat, referring to it mostly as a textbook case of how art can play a pivotal role in times of crisis through a collective effort. The Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (HRADF), the shadowy institution under the jurisdiction of which all to-be-sold assets of debt-ridden Greece are handed over, in 2012 asked the squatters to vacate the place, so they could rent it accordingly. In 2016, HRADF cut the electricity in the place. Surprisingly, HRADF president Stergios Pitsiorlas intervened, and the electricity was reconnected. “Embros” squat was attacked by neo-nazis in 2018 during the “Utopia” exhibition, in which some 80 artists were participating.

Internationally renowned Greek artist Dimitris Papaioannou, who was behind the imposing Athens 2004 Olympic Games Opening and Closing Ceremony posted on Facebook that “Embros” squat “has nurtured culture for a decade.” And he went on to talk about “Embros” and another squat that actually nurtured him as an artist: “I was invited at the beginning [at Embros squat], 2011, to talk about another squat theatre that back in 1989 we had created with our bare hands. THE ARTIST'S BUILDING, or, simply THE SQUAT we called it and that is where my first live performances happened and thrived for 10 whole years. We broke in, illegally hacked electricity and water, and transformed the ground floor into a 40 seat theatre. We had become the talk of the town and there were long waiting lists to get in. We had no idea that we were starting a new language that would carry our lives for decades to larger and larger scales and now around the whole world. A squat is a building occupied by people living in it without the legal right to do so. An artist is a human being that has to condense and transform the times he lives in into expression shared with others. She or he will do that no matter what, even illegally.” He also posted a photo of his presentation “in EMPROS followed by photos of THE SQUAT,1990 of our young selves starting out.”

On 19 May, the ND government cemented this open culture hub. “Ιnvestors” will probably be very happy, as the building is a real estate ”fillet.” ND government has “cemented” the Acropolis. They wouldn’t hesitate to cement a squatted theatre.


How Greece became Europe’s unlikely model student - So long as its finances are in order, no one cares what else it does: “As long as Greece keeps getting good grades in the areas that count, no one minds. A government that goes with the flow politically carries out reforms without complaint, and does the bloc’s dirty work on migration will always be welcome. Its flaws can be ignored.”

Greek FM condemns Hamas, says “Israel has the right to self-defense.”

Fraport looks to tighten grip in Greece, weighs up smaller airports: The government and the Superfund are proceeding with the processes of utilizing the smaller airports as some of them have very high upgrade needs.

Τax Foundation study: Greece has fourth highest tax rates on working people with children: Ominously, among 36 OECD member-states, Greece places an unenviable fourth place for the highest taxation of wage-earners with children, with only Turkey, France, and Sweden ahead.

TUI: More than 4K holiday-makers from Germany arrived in Greece since Friday aboard 23 flights - TUI said 23 flights landed in Greece since last week carrying its customers.

10 Priceless Masterpieces in the National Gallery of Greece.

A Tour of Nine Magnificent Museums Showcasing Greece’s Cultural Heritage.

Athens Shuts Down for Antetokounmpo Movie Filming.

Blue Flag 2021 Greece: Greece holds second place in the world among 49 countries awarded with the “Blue Flag.” The country has 545 award-winning beaches, 16 marinas, and six tourist boats. This year, in all 49 countries participating in the Program, Greece owned 13.5% of the total award-winning beaches.


Greek shipowner Panos Laskarides stated in an interview: “People who are in shipping don’t need the Greek government. don’t need the Ministry, don’t need the IMO, don’t need the Prime Minister. They can shit on the Prime Minister. They have no need for the Prime Minister. Why? Because shipping has nothing to do with Greece. There is nothing that a shipowner will gain from Greece. No cargos from Greece, no contracts from Greece, nothing in Greece. Only his office is here. 80% has foreign flags. They don’t care about the Greek flag.” The journalists showed the statement to Shipping Minister Plakiotakis, apparently catching him by surprise. See the video here. Watch the whole documentary in the context of which the statements were made - “Black Trails” - here.

Plan ahead.

Save the date: 23, 24, and 25 September - The Annual Berliner Gazette conference is back! AthensLive is a proud associate of the event.

This year, the theme is black-boxing “the East”. Even decades after the official end of the Cold War, “the East” remains the Other. Only because of this reinforced Othering of what Western media now designates “post-communist” space can it so comfortably be instrumentalized as a black box of the West’s “ethical imperialism”: the much-invoked opacity of “the East” can be presented as a lack of transparency and hence a legitimation for the West’s ostensibly “civilizing” therapies and impositions; meanwhile, that very opacity can be used to veil privatization processes of state-owned enterprises, for instance, in obscurantism, that is, beyond the light of rational comprehension and democratic accountability. Black-boxing “the East” in this way makes it possible to conceal abuses of power, wide-ranging mechanisms of exploitation, and privatization-related aggravation of structural problems. Moreover, it provides the perfect conditions for the misuse of subsidies, white-collar crime, and organized crime.

Berliner Gazette is a year-long project. It initiates diverse activities, most importantly a series of texts and a conference, in which researchers, activists, artists, journalists, and other producers of subjugated knowledge participate.

The BLACK BOX EAST project will culminate in the international Berliner Gazette conference on September 23, 24, and 25, 2021.

Check out the whole program and register for the workshops here.  

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