Book stalls to return

Earlier this week, the Central Archaeological Council (KAS) in a surprise move decided to allow the 33rd Book Fair to be held on Dionyssiou Areopagitou Street, the pedestrian precinct below the Acropolis, in September. Although the issue was presumed closed after strong protests during last year’s festival, when the paving on the newly surfaced road was damaged by the booths’ construction, as well as the aesthetics of the booths themselves, the Association of Booksellers and Publishers (SEB) managed to take advantage of the authorities’ inability to protect the loveliest street in Athens. The widespread demand to keep the street free of commercial or any other activity was not based on a desire to keep public spaces completely ‘sterile,’ but a response to residents’ demands (and right) to have a few hundred meters of space that is aesthetically pleasing. The publishers’ desire for the space is understandable. Moving the Book Fair from the Pedion tou Areos Park to Dionyssiou Areopagitou last year raised sales, turnover and profits. The general feeling last year, right after the festival, was that the new venue drew a different public, who either read more or at least bought more books. It is clear that the responsibility, which is political in nature, lies with the Culture Ministry. Dora Galani, director of the Unification of Athens Archaeological Sites Organization, was not even briefed on the issue, while the Athens Municipality appears not to be involved this year. Right after the problems with last year’s festivals (the Book Fair and that held by the New Democracy youth group, ONNED, just a few days later), a circular did the rounds of the Culture Ministry stating that Dionyssiou Areopagitou would only be made available in exceptional circumstances, such as the Olympic Games. Obviously the circular was in no means binding, given last week’s decision. Use of the pedestrian zone has been granted, as last year, on certain conditions. This year’s are supposedly stricter – publishers have to set up their booths in the middle of the zone, they must be of a light construction and not screwed into the pavement. No cultural events are to be allowed, nor street vendors. Disagreement Even these few conditions have annoyed publishers. Titos Mylonopoulos, of Odysseas Publications, a member of the association’s board, said the number of restrictions meant a reduction in the number of booths. «Otherwise, we will have to consider alternative (sites) such as Zappeion, for example,» he said. Mylonopoulos thinks the ban on screwing the booths’s frames to the ground is not practicable. «How else are they supposed to be supported?» he asked. SEB’s General Secretary Effi Vassilakou reserved comment as she had not been officially informed of KAS’s decision. However, she did refer to a letter from the First Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities noting the archaeologists’ satisfaction that damage had been repaired. «Have you visited Dionyssiou Areopagitou recently? It is in good condition!» she said.