Sobering up at Faliraki resort

FALIRAKI – Everything about this stretch of sand screams excess: «fishbowl» cocktails, clubs that rock until dawn and special hangover potions to keep the tourists – mostly young and British – partying. The summer is always wild and wicked in Faliraki, a former serene strip of seaside on the island of Rhodes that has become one of Europe’s top beach-and-booze citadels. But this year the no-limits atmosphere may have finally crossed the line. Authorities on Wednesday moved ahead with steps to possibly strip the license from one of Faliraki’s best-known spots, Club Q, where a British teenager was slashed to death with a broken bottle earlier this month. It’s just the latest salvo in a showdown pitting outraged Greeks and outrageous British tourists. Greek police have expanded patrols at many of the freewheeling resorts around Greece, led by Faliraki’s neon strip of pubs, amusement parks and tattoo parlors that draws up to 500,000 people a year, or nearly 4 percent of Greece’s 14 million tourists. The crackdown – for the moment at least – changes the traditional pact between Greek authorities and those making money off the youthful passions: keep the hard-drinking intensity to isolated areas and the law will generally look the other way. This summer, however, the outcry in Greece has been too loud as the list of disturbing events has piled up at the resorts: beatings, sexual assaults, burning Greek flags, trafficking of the club drug Ecstasy and even an outdoor oral sex contest on the island of Corfu. On August 12, a 17-year-old Briton died after being stabbed in the neck with a broken beer bottle during a melee at Club Q in Faliraki. Police said the brawl started when two men bumped each other on the dance floor. A 20-year-old British man has been jailed pending trial for murder and seven others, aged between 19 and 34, face charges of complicity and have been released on bail. Earlier this month, a 30-year-old British man died after being run over by a garbage truck following an apparent bet with friends to crawl under the vehicle. An 18-year-old British woman was convicted Tuesday of indecency for an impromptu barroom striptease during a bikini contest. «It’s been a good time… but the atmosphere is so aggressive. You constantly have to be on guard,» said Scott Burns, a 19-year-old from Edinburgh, Scotland. Faliraki, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) southeast of Athens, is just the latest point of friction between authorities and rowdy foreigners in the sun-drenched Mediterranean. At least four stabbings have been reported this summer in the Cypriot resort of Ayia Napa between British tourists apparently quarreling over favorite bands. Portuguese and British police are working together to combat British soccer hooligans at the Euro 2004 soccer tournament in Portugal. In 1998, the British vice consul on the Spanish island of Ibiza – a favorite of British and German youth – resigned over the «degenerate» behavior of the holidaymakers. «The English start drinking very early and by midnight many people cannot control themselves,» said police chief Themos Kalamatas, whose thinly manned precinct covers Faliraki. «They are generally not bad people who come here or criminal types, but they believe they can have fun without limits.» Britain’s Foreign Office has warned its citizens heading to Greece that «indecent behavior… is not tolerated.» A commentary in Monday’s edition of Britain’s Daily Mirror tabloid laid scorn on British thrill-seekers in Faliraki for «turning a quiet fishing village into a sordid dump.» «The bitter irony is that some of the ugliest citizens in our nation are now despoiling some of the most beautiful parts of Europe,» said another column in the Daily Mail. At her souvenir shop, Tasia Kosta wiped the dust off ceramic plates and postcards boasting Rhodes’s beauty and rich heritage: medieval walls of Rhodes Town and the 2,500-year-old Temple of Athena at Lindos. «They don’t buy anything from Rhodes any more… just calendars with nude women and silly games,» she said. «I don’t think these people know where they are. They just sleep and drink.» Across the street, KGB Bar offered four cocktails for the price of one. «We love the English. They are our livelihood,» said bar owner Maria, who did not give her last name. «But what kind of a mind can someone have with 30 drinks in his stomach?» The most common complaint is leveled against highly competitive British tour operators, which offer weeklong holidays to Faliraki for as little as $150 in the hope of making money by selling tickets for so-called «pub crawl» drinking binges, parties and other outings billed as opportunities to have sex. On the home page of its website, the youth-oriented Club 18-30 shows a young woman with her arms around two naked men with their backs to the camera on the beach. A spokesman for the company, David Smithson, said the accusations are unfair. «The behavior of British holidaymakers is a problem for the industry as a whole, not just youth tour operators,» he said. Faliraki Mayor Yiannis Iatridis, who rents his beachfront property to a McDonald’s restaurant, says the resort’s violent reputation is highly exaggerated. «At any one time, there are 35,000 tourists here, and this population is changing every week… So of course there are some people among them who will cause trouble.»