If only trees could vote

Downtown Athens, Omirou Street (between Skoufa and Solonos). A wild cherry tree, planted by God or man many, many years ago, had climbed to a height of 5 meters. Squeezed into a tiny pavement, between the paving stones, the cement and the asphalt, it sucked at the juices of Lycabettus and stretched toward the sun. Thankfully, in front and behind it, two three-story buildings from the interwar years allowed it to get some light. And the tree grew. Its pink blossoms made us dream of faraway places, all of us who would gaze upon it from our balconies. Among the grey of the buildings, the snarl of electrical cables, television aerials, rusty drainpipes and ugly air-conditioning units, the blossoms of the wild cherry tree gave us hope that some day something may change. That Nature is strong and will survive man. But, more than anything else, the wild cherry tree gave us its fruit and fed the blackbirds of Lycabettus. Every morning in June we would hear the blackbirds singing as they pecked at the wild cherries and hopped from branch to branch. They muted the constant sound of traffic. This was their annual gala picnic and they, in turn, gave us a sense of peace. A few days ago the City of Athens cut down the cherry tree to its roots. All that’s left where the tree once stood is sawdust. The blackbirds won’t be around this year. After the bitter orange trees of Kanari Street, uprooted by workmen of the City of Athens while still in bloom, the wild cherry tree of Omirou came next. And obviously this arbitrary destruction will see no end. How can we protect ourselves from the City of Athens? How can we safeguard the few remaining oases of beauty? What right have they got to impose their will about things that belong to all of us? Things that do not belong to them? In many other European countries, the cutting down of a tree in a city, even when it’s on private property, requires special procedures, a decision by specialists, a permit from a special authority. What about here? What about in Athens, which was named after a goddess who offered the city a tree? If Athena knew how the municipal authorities are behaving toward trees today, she would probably take the name back. What we are experiencing, with great sadness and indignation, is the continuing arbitrariness of a municipal authority that constantly violates our rights in the environment in which we live. If only trees could vote. *Giorgos Mentis is a lecturer at Athens Law School.