Take charge, Athens!

As Greece sinks into the gloom of the economic crisis – with people wondering how this will all end – it is of the greatest importance that everyone in a position of authority should work toward creating conditions that will help the country weather the storm. With unemployment set to rise, the need for adequate benefits, vocational training and small loans for setting up businesses becomes more urgent; as consumer spending and business investments dry up, the state has to find the resources for investments and for money to get to the street; major sectors of the economy, such as tourism, construction and shipping, have to take stock and see what can be done to make them more profitable. The whole country has to look at what it has been doing so far – what is right and what needs to be corrected. The fiscal crisis has made clear to everyone what a few commentators and the governor of the Bank of Greece had been saying for years: We produce far less than we consume and what we produce is at too high a cost to be competitive in the globalized world. Greece does not have the resources of Argentina and Russia to pull itself out of the crisis by increasing its exports. The only solution is to improve what it has already been selling – its natural beauty and its cultural heritage. Unfortunately, officials have reacted to the crisis by looking for ways to cut the costs incurred by the Culture and Tourism Ministry, instead of looking at this sector as the country’s most significant resource. As Athens Plus has reported in the past, many museums are not staffed sufficiently to allow them to remain open throughout the day; ancient sites remain closed (and often unprotected) because of a lack of funding. At the same time, the country remains heavily littered, its roads in disrepair, its services haphazard. This is where Athens has to come into its own. The capital can become a powerhouse of economic recovery if those in authority, and those who live here, decide to work toward its renaissance. The year of the Olympics – 2004 – showed what Athens could be: a city that was a wonder to visit and a pleasure to live in. Unfortunately, the effort that went into achieving this was allowed to dissipate in the usual neglect and mismanagement. Now Athens is facing one of the greatest challenges in its very long history, as its center faces collapse in a cloud of urban blight. Crime, prostitution, narcotics, homelessness – the combined plagues of our time – are chasing away customers and businesses. In addition to world-renowned treasures, such as the Acropolis, the Acropolis Museum, the National Archaeological Museum and Philopappou Hill, Athens also has many, many hidden treasures, as the comments by Athens Plus journalists on pages 4 and 5 point out so well. For the sake of the city and its residents, but also for the good of the whole country, Athens’s attractions (especially the relatively unknown ones) have to be protected and projected to the world. Athens has to become a destination of choice, not a necessary evil for those planning to spend time in other parts of Greece. It must be cleaned up (in the sense of the law being imposed where now it is not, rather than «sweeping away» migrants and others) and presented to the world as a place where talented people get to do their own thing, whether this be opening up an alternative cafe or keeping alive a music store that still sells rare vinyl LPs. And then the hardy individuals who decide to live and work in the center of Athens must be protected in every way – from crime and the brutality of uncaring governments (local and national) that have done nothing to make Athens great. An Athenian renaissance could be the single biggest investment in the country’s future – with guaranteed returns.

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