Striking a balance

The truth is that Greece can be a magical place, but sometimes it takes an outsider to remind us how fortunate we are to live in a country that is so blessed by natural beauty and cultural riches.

Given the importance of the natural landscape, especially to our precious tourism industry, it is extremely important that we managed to spare large parts of our land from disaster.

To be sure, Greece is no stranger to legal violations and ugly, ostentatious constructions that spoil otherwise beautiful parts of the country. But we nevertheless succeeded in protecting a significant number of traditional villages while sparing the Greek coastline from the kind of overdevelopment that has destroyed parts of Spain.

This is quite astonishing an achievement given the wave of petit bourgeois populism that swept away every sense of aesthetics and good taste in this country.

For example, the mayor of Ithaca, a small and very special island in the Ionian Sea, was telling me the other day that back in the 1980s the majority of the inhabitants decided in a public vote that their villages should not be awarded protected status as traditional settlements. They preferred to be given freedom to develop their island at will for the sake of tourism.

Thankfully, the ministry at the time ignored the verdict, which is why the island was not marred by the dodgy construction and overdevelopment witnessed in other popular tourist destinations.

We are often irked at the oversensitivity of culture aficionados or the inflexibility of the Greek Archaeological Service who create obstacles that prevent certain events or developments. But the truth is that a large part of Greece’s natural beauty and tradition has survived thanks to the passion and efforts of individuals and organizations that date back decades. If it were not for their sensitivity and the love they have for their work, Greece today would be a whole different country.

To be sure, I believe that the efforts of some nongovernmental organizations to safeguard the habitat of some rare bird or other are sometimes over the top or even frivolous, especially when they prevent serious development.

It is time that we struck a balance between development and skepticism over every investment. At the same time, we must also acknowledge the significant contribution of a number of forward-thinking people who helped this land maintain its unique attractions and traditions.