OPINION

Gift to lawbreakers

Greece’s postwar development model has caused untold damage to the environment. The most fundamental principles concerning the protection of this vital good have been trampled on. Substantial ecological disaster has been wreaked on all levels. We all experience the dramatic consequences, but a posteriori measures are too costly or practically impossible. The destructive policies of the early postwar decades were usually justified on the pretext that Greece was facing poverty and had pressing housing needs. But a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. Both the State and the public have learned from their mistakes and they must not repeat them. This is especially true today as past pretexts are no longer grounded. True, in some cases, some unfortunate past experiences resulted in extreme situations, especially as regards the designation of forestland. This, however, should not be fodder for an argument that would open the path to a second wave of disaster. On the contrary, the State should have already updated legislation, regulated the rights on land and examined all outstanding claims by the various real estate cooperatives. But unfortunately, the government of Costas Simitis has dragged its feet, prolonging an ambiguous legal status that leaves room for nefarious dealings. The latest constitutional reform should have updated the procedures but nothing was done – perhaps because the requisite political courage was missing or because of the high political cost that such a decision would entail. Facts seem to back this second explanation. It is not merely that the definition of forestland is becoming looser. Worse, a scandalous amendment allows people who have illegally build homes in forests to put off paying their fines until forest areas are established. The measure essentially defers such fines indefinitely, thus rewarding the most vulgar and anti-social manifestation of illegal house construction. Simitis’s government is sacrificing vital goods on the altar of pre-election expediency. True, because of extended corruption and shortcomings in the monitoring system, strict legislation has in recent years fallen short of averting the wrongdoing by organized and private interests. From a political and moral perspective, it would be far worse should environmental catastrophe be the outgrowth of government decisions, particularly if these decisions are not the result of bad reasoning but of political cynicism. Unfortunately, the Simitis government’s record on this is getting worse by the day.