CULTURE

Refugee apartment blocks face threat of bulldozers due to Olympics projects

Eight apartment blocks from the 1930s in the Bauhaus style that once housed refugees are the target of yet more window dressing for the Olympic Games. The Culture Ministry’s Central Council for Modern Monuments advised that six of the blocks be demolished, leaving the two behind Aghios Savvas Hospital to be renovated, and once the bulldozers have flattened around 60 years of collective historical memory, that the remaining 1.5 hectares become a park. The vote was taken (10 in favor and three against) long after midnight when representatives of the association of owners of the blocks on Alexandras Avenue and of ICOMOS (International Council of Monuments and Sites) and other organizations opposed to the destruction of these historic buildings had had to leave. The walls of the apartment blocks bear the indelible signs of bullets from the occupation and from rockets fired during the battles of December 1944. Unwatered flower pots remain in the front row of buildings, which are already uninhabited. Fearing expropriation, 220 apartment owners accepted the Greek Public Real Estate Corporation’s offer of 18 million drachmas per apartment to leave. Another 70 have stayed on to «guard Thermopylae.» «This is where my grandparents lived and died; this is where my parents were born; this is where I was born and where I live, and the bulldozers aren’t going to throw me out of the house that the State gave to refugees,» says Dimitra Hiotaki (see photo, with her dog) outside her apartment in the second row of buildings, one of the few with its door open. Journalist Giorgos Votsis of the Eleftherotypia newspaper was active in the campaign by Kathimerini and the other media to save all the apartment blocks and preserve the collective memory they represent. He discovered and complained about the fact that the greenery, the supposed park, which will be window dressing for the Olympic projects, will be in the form of flowerbeds covering an underground car park once the Panathinaikos Stadium opposite is finally handed over to the football club, as were the Karaiskaki and Nea Philadelphia stadiums, «with money from the state coffers.» Meanwhile, the official decision on the demolition must be signed by Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos, whose electorate is in Thessaloniki. The refugee organizations have taken up cudgels and sent a warning – the Athens Union of Smyrniots were the first, with an outspoken text – that they did not take lightly such disrespect to a place that is a record of refugees, who number almost 1.5 million in Greece.