Fthiotida Metropolis claiming two-thirds of land in Peristeri municipality

The framework for most monastic holdings involves a complex network of drawn-out legal battles, claims suits, legal trickery, confused terms of wills, questionable contracts, and claims on properties that seem to multiply by the year. State land is «rebaptized» private, and its classification is then changed before being built upon. Here are some of the most typical examples: Peristeri. According to Mayor Andreas Pahatouridis, the Church of the Virgin that comes under the jurisdiction of Fthiotida Metropolis claims to own two-thirds of municipal land (750 of a total 1,100 hectares). The first suit against the municipality was lodged in 1930, for 60 hectares. The first court hearing took place in 1970. By 1981, the land claimed had burgeoned to 350 hectares, both open and built-up areas as well as 35 public squares. The case continues. Thousands of homeowners are being held hostage by this dispute. Pahatouridis said many of them had reached an out-of-court settlement and agreed to compensate the Church financially for the transfer of ownership. Aghia Varvara. Another dispute is under way here over 6 hectares surrounding the church of the same name, which belongs to the Church of Greece’s Apostolic Ministry. The site also houses a boarding house and auxiliary buildings. According to the municipality, in 1986 the ministry applied for a permit to build a printing press on the site. The permit was granted but the building constructed was eventually rented out as a supermarket. In 1995, the municipality and the State School Buildings Organization made an offer to buy 0.3 hectares from the Church to build a school. Agreement was reached on a price of 90 million drachmas. Five years later, after continuing negotiations and raising the price, the property was finally bought for 280 million drachmas. A few months ago, in September 2004, the Apostolic Ministry applied to the municipality for a permit to build a paper warehouse. The municipality came back with a counterproposal to grant the use of old warehouses, so as not to destroy more green space. In November, the municipal council rejected the application. In December, the ministry reapplied, this time for the construction of homes for rent. A further application for the same purpose was submitted in January Vyronas. The story in the municipality of Vyronas is slightly different. Here the Church is refusing to grant to the municipality an unused plot of 2.4 hectares in the Mt Hymettus Zone II for recreational use. At the same time, the Church is claiming a 2.7-hectare area on the slopes of the mountain for a building «for its own needs.» Vouliagmeni. The Church is seeking ownership of 23.8 hectares of one of the most expensive areas in Greece. Pendeli. The most typical example of all in the Church land dispute. Two things are happening here. First of all, large areas of state land are methodically and steadily being eaten away, the Church either tolerating it or being directly involved. Secondly, the Church is actively discouraging useful moves such as the restoration of old quarries, a process begun four years ago at the initiative of the Organization of Athens. The Pendeli Monastery, in an out-of-court action, threatened the organization with «all legal means at its disposal» because the organization had begun a program to restore these inactive quarries within forestland on Mt Pendeli. Land-grabbing On the other hand, cases are emerging in courts whereby land-grabbers are attempting to legitimize their claims to state land with the help of monastery authorities who present proof of ownership to back these transactions. Then, there is the case of the Petraki Monastery, which – fortunately unsuccessfully – tried to sell 378 hectares in Mt Pendeli’s Kokkinara forest for «development,» a move thwarted at the last minute by the Council of State.

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