In the shadow of the Acropolis

By Nikos Xydakis

The recent inclusion of 19 properties owned by the Ministry of Culture in the portfolio of TAIPED, the fund overseeing the sale and privatization of state assets, is clearly part of new policy to speed up the sell-offs and generate cash in order to pay the country’s debts to its creditors on time. The same logic of expediency saw the large plot that was once home to Athens’s old international airport on the southern coast at Elliniko being taken away from the organization that was in charge of managing it and also placed in the portfolio of TAIPED, which is now speedily ceding it to the only buyer to have expressed an interest.

The rush to sell these assets, which is not accompanied by any kind of joint strategy between the state and the investors as to how they will be developed, raises serious questions regarding their true value and whether they are being purposely sold on the cheap in order to speed up the privatization process.

More questions are being raised in the case of the buildings in the historical center of Plaka that have been handed over to TAIPED, the most important being whether Greece’s national and historical capital is being sold short and whether the government is serving special interests of its own in doing so.

The area around the Acropolis comprising the Plaka and Anafiotika districts has been listed by UNESCO as a buffer zone around one, if not the most significant monuments of world heritage. The Ministry of Culture acquired these 19 properties by appropriation for this precise purpose. The entire area is extremely important from an archaeological perspective, but also has an incalculable symbolic value for the modern Greek state. Greece’s first modern university and the residences of many important figures of the newly founded Greek state were built there, on the slopes of the Acropolis.

The area, of course, has always attracted interested buyers, usually very wealthy individuals, and especially after the historic center of old Athens was significantly improved by ministers such as Antonis Tritsis and Stefanos Manos, but also Melina Mercouri, who was responsible for the appropriation of sites around the ancient citadel that were of archaeological interest.

Does the decision to place the Culture Ministry’s 19 properties mean that the buffer zone around the Acropolis is being put up for sale? Will the outrageous proposal put forward by German magazine Bild suggesting that Greece should sell or rent its islands to cut its debt come to pass? If so, then consider this: The Culture Ministry’s real estate portfolio contains 220 state-owned buildings in Plaka, 68 in Anafiotika, 108 in Akadimia Platonos, the site of Plato’s Academy, 40 around the Ancient Cemetery of Kerameikos and 355 in the Medieval City of Rhodes.