We are sick and tired of hearing why two historic cinemas in downtown Athens – the Apollon and the Attikon – have not been put back into operation five years after the buildings (not the cinemas themselves) were torched in a riot. We are sick and tired of hearing that the National Museum of Contemporary Art in the former Fix brewery is about to be inaugurated. We are disappointed every time because of some new and “unexpected” bureaucratic obstacle. Not to mention the National Gallery, which is under construction even though its expansion was supposed to be finished by end-2016 or early 2017.
Anyone who keeps abreast of the news in the cultural sphere knows that the delays are a matter of choice. Not some legal impediment, not insurmountable controversy between opposing sides – just choice.
The people in power have a choice between shouldering the political cost of becoming involved in conflict and the solution that may then arise, or doing nothing by producing an endless stream of obstacles and excuses – and damn the sense of inertia and hopelessness this brings. The interests that stand on the side of conservatism will impose their own agenda.
For example, two institutions locked in a legal battle have been allowed to keep hostage two movie theaters that are symbols of Greece’s entrance to the modern age. Their reopening would be a breath of fresh air for the city center, helping it transform its current image of dejectedness. One significant donation to this end has already been lost because of the legal wrangling. The subject comes back to the fore ever so often, the municipal authority steps in to quieten things down and then a few days later we return to the silence of the scorched buildings: two skeletons in the heart of a European capital, standing there for more than five years now.
At another key junction, between Syngrou Avenue and Kallirois, the National Museum of Contemporary Art continues to wait for its big opening day. It’s been three years. Two months ago, the problem was that the culture minister hadn’t signed a paper determining the museum’s future. What’s the problem now?
The “bureaucratic snag” is an invaluable tool for the political system to argue away its delays or hopelessness. It is the oxygen for its survival. So what if the city dies a little bit more every day? So what if investments are lost? So what if destruction is allowed to hinge on a single minister’s signature? So what if all of this is determined by certain interests?
Inertia is the politician’s best friend and society’s biggest enemy. It’s a choice.