Yiannis Boutaris, a winemaker with a passion for the environment, on Time’s list of ‘heroes’

His name is associated with wine. He’s a professional drink manufacturer. And he’s also one of alcohol’s strongest opponents, a member of Thessaloniki municipal council and a «hero,» a title recently conferred on him in April by Time magazine. Yiannis Boutaris recently saw his name linked to that of David Beckham, Bono, J.R. Rowling and other celebrities in Time magazine’s list of 36 eminent European personalities, chiefly for his efforts to save brown bears and protect wolves. But what is not known about Boutaris is his ability to stay a step ahead, to achieve his goals and visions quietly and simply, without being a technocrat. Boutaris, a successful businessman and founder of Arcturus, a leading Greek environmental organization, spoke to Kathimerini on the occasion of Time’s recent award. Though he has done his best for the environment, he does not describe himself as an ecologist, but a person who seeks a balance between technological progress, business and life. He is also interested in creating a park to save Greek breeds of domestic animals, is furthering a scheme for the Greek sheep dog, and not only accepts the objections by the Ornithological Society to any disturbance to the golden eagles on some land he has at Amyntaio, but suggests setting up an observatory there. You are one of Time’s «heroes.» Once again, recognition comes from abroad. I’m not quite sure how it happened. I believe the people chosen for that list don’t fit into the established meaning of «personalities.» Perhaps Arcturus played a part and also my public exposure over alcohol. For manufacturing it or fighting it? Producing it was a matter of course. I’m known for my business activities and the label. My beating the alcohol habit was a surprise for many, but making it public was an important move. In the program I belong to, if you are well-known, you’ve overcome a problem and have reached a certain stage of maturity, it is worth publicizing it so you can set an example. How can you produce alcohol and fight it at the same time? Alcohol is a magical substance which gives you a feeling of euphoria, but when you overdo it, you have to go back to the golden mean. That’s has always been known. The first drink brings joy, the second sleep and the third rage, in Homer’s famous account. After a certain point, alcohol works in reverse. I’m fighting the deviation, not the consumption. Did the bears play a part in this award? After 11 years, has Arcturus achieved its aims? What most people don’t know is that the number of bears in Greece has grown. I can’t say for sure whether that is solely the result of Arcturus’s efforts; but now more and more people telephone Arcturus about how issues concerning bears should be resolved. Recently, someone from Olympia called to say a bear had attacked his two pigs. He didn’t ask for compensation; he just wanted to know how to protect himself. We sent him some electrified fencing. We’ve given out endless amounts of that over the years. The Arcturus experiment succeeded because the local community became aware. I notice there is more concern for the environment in the countryside. Like other organizations, Arcturus helped farmers understand why they don’t see any birds on their farms any more. City-dwellers may not notice because they don’t know the importance of environmental indicators. But the great gain was that by documenting bear populations in the Pindus and Rhodope ranges, Greece managed to get some honorable mentions, while with the Egnatia Highway, we managed to show the importance of a substantial environmental study in constructing a project that will not destroy the environment. The clash over the Egnatia Highway and the bears caused delays and increased expense. That’s not true, because the changes and the new plan were made for another purpose (other road specifications from the EU) and not specially for the poor bears. The Environment and Public Works Ministry loved that excuse for the delay because they could blame Arcturus. Have you ever wondered why the project has not progressed, on the Nestos, for example?