‘Legalization of authors’

‘Legalization of authors’

“FORESTRY-KTIMATOLOGY-LEGALIZATION OF AUTHORS.” Every time I see this sign on a country road I go down sometimes I try stepping into the shoes of a foreigner and wonder what they might make of it. For those of us who live in Greece, we understand that it’s obviously advertising a property management office that can check whether a plot of land is classified as forestland, manage land registry issues and of course legalize the deeds (this last part is what the wonderful phrase “legalization of authors” is supposed to mean).

But this sign also explains why land is still relatively cheap. It is because when you buy land, you’re also buying uncertainty – lots of it. Both before and after your purchase: before, because you have to make sure that the property is not forestland, that no streams pass through it, that it does not have any buried antiquities, and of course you need to gather, along with the seller, an unimaginable number of documents for which the “digital revolution” of Minister Kyriakos Pierrakakis cannot yet do anything about. This is why there is a huge difference in the price of a plot of land with a secured building permit and one without. It is this premium of certainty that one pays the extra for.

For outsiders, all this is a huge mystery, a black box. Many years ago I was on an island with some friends and we were talking with some foreign friends who were showing us a property they wanted to buy. Someone told them that the land was considered a forest and then a conversation started in English where the Greeks said things like, “You can get someone to burn the trees,” or “No problem, you pay something and the deeds are cleared.” I desperately motioned for them to stop talking, so as not to drag our country through the mud, but it was too late.

A lot has changed since then but not enough. And those foreigners who really wanted to buy some property discovered the “tricks” themselves and bought it.

But there is more martyrdom after the purchase. It is less severe for those who can find their way around the rules, but it can be hopelessly destructive for those who want to follow the letter of the law. There are so many stories of foreigners, and obviously Greeks, that get tangled up in a never-ending bureaucratic quagmire. The problem for them is not that they do not want to “get their hands dirty;” it is the ubiquitous government officials who hide their obsessions, inaction or inadequacy under the cloak of “defending the public interest.” In such cases, property owners do not stand a chance – even if the patriarch or the prime minister himself gets involved.

So what can one do? If you’re lucky, you will see the sign on the side of the road and you will call the office of “FORESTRY-KTIMATOLOGY-LEGALIZATION OF AUTHORS.”

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