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Growth wars: Archaeologists Strike Back

My Big Fat Greek Week

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Artist impression of the seaside park of Elliniko, at the site of the old International Airport of Athens.

06 October 2017

- It has been an ongoing debate, clouded by loud voices shouting that "backwards-thinking unions are stubbornly blocking development, growth and the potential of prosperity".

- And it was resolved this week.

- The issue at hand was the develompent project for the property surrounding and including the old International airport of Athens, which has been left to abandon for more than 15 years.

- A plan for development, put forward last year, by a consortium of Greek, Chinese and Arab investors would see the old airport turning into a large seaside park (as big as Central Park in New York or the Royal Botanical Gardens) that would incorporate hangars and some of the edifices, such as the main building, designed by the seminal Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, which is considered a landmark of significant architectural and historical value.

- This has been stalled and stalled and stalled, waiting for the Central Archaeological Council of Greece to greenlight the project.

- Long story short: the Council didn't. Or at least, not the way the developers wanted it.

- After it convened, taking into account all aspects and assessments, it unanimously decided that the site contains an area covering 30 hectares (out of the 620 ha of the whole plot) that is of high arcaheological significance.

- Unanimously. Or rather 15 to 1 votes. The one vote in question was that of a professor who claimed that larger part of the site should be declared of archaeological importance.

- Up to the very last minute, the Council, the peak body of archaeologists in Greece was under attack, by the media, echoing the developers' viewpoints, as well as the outrage of the fund which was set by the country's lenders to privatise the country's assets.

- Up to the last minute, a group of archaeologists was ridiculed and chastisised, for doing their job.

- Which is to safeguard the unique cultural heritage bequeathed to this poor country.

- Welcome to Greece. A place where no development project can ever go forward before the Archaeologists say so.

- Yes, it sounds strange.

- But it goes with the territory.

- You can't marvel for the country, its history, its cultural significance, it touristic value and not see this as part of the process.

- You can't pretend to care for the country and bully its guardians.

- So now what?

- The government wants the project to go forward as soon as possible.

- Because despite all the bullying and name-calling, the Council's decision does not mean that the project cannot go ahead.

- It only means that the contract signed by the Samaras government in 2014, which saw that developers would be fully reimbursed, if works revealed an archaeological site, is not valid anymor.

- It also means that developers have to respect this decision and conform with the relevant regulations, regarding archaeological sites.

- Which is exactly what they did not want.

- One of them was infamously said that this is not 'Legoland', plans cannot adjust to any ruling issued by the state.

- Well, it seems that he might want to reconsider.

- Better yet, embrace the opportunity and build a world-leading archaeological park, incoporating findings with the modern architecture masterpiece of Saarinen, nature and sports facilities etc.

- Who says that all cannot be combined?

- Only those with a narrow view of development and growth, who are too afraid to oppose to the 'investors' wishes, in awe of their wealth and power.

- Kudos to the archaeologists who did not concede, and remained true to their vocation.

- And ensured that anyone who wishes to do business in Greece, should respect planning laws, as it happens in all EU countries.

- Now developers pledge to respect this decision and commit to the proper rendering of any archaeological findings.

- And this is what is called a happy end.

- We're not used to this in Greece.

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