OPINION

Elliniko, in every way

The desolate plain of Athens’s old international airport at Elliniko is an apt metaphor for how this country continues to squander its opportunities, money and time. Elliniko stands as both a description and a physical manifestation of a problem – in terms of mind-set and behavior – that leads the country from one defeat to the next. Over 10 years, since the new airport opened on the Mesogeia plain, parts of the site of the old airport and military base have been used as the venue for Olympic installations, an exhibition center and immigrant detention facility. The rest is a wasteland of weeds, derelict buildings and huge disused runways. There has never been a shortage of plans for Elliniko nor any lack of ambitions. As in many other major projects, huge amounts of time and effort go into drawing up plans that are announced with great fanfare and then abandoned, until the next one. The prevalent idea is for the creation of «the biggest metropolitan park in Europe,» with all 500 hectares of the site being covered in trees, ponds and fields. Consider that Manhattan’s Central Park is a mere 340 hectares and you get an idea of the size of Greeks’ ambitions. Once again, we see that our expectations are unrealistic, that they exceed our capabilities by far. We have neither the money nor the water to create and maintain such a park. But that has never stopped us from dreaming. This brings us to our next point: We prefer to live with the results of neglect than to take a realistic decision that will force us to abide by its result. This applies to our waste management – when we prefer to live with the toxic results of illegal dumps all over the country rather than agree to the establishment of modern and legal installations; it applies also to our political, economic and social behavior, when we accept the results of illegal activity as if it is natural – and protest loudly when efforts are made to clean up the mess. So, as we cannot make all of Elliniko into one great park, we seem quite content to have an off-limits wasteland in its stead. And who is to decide the site’s fate? Is it the central government? If so, which ministry or ministries? Or is it the responsibility of local mayors, many of whom are claiming the site as their own fiefdom? In any case, it is this confusion of authority, along with the tangle of laws and regulations, that keeps anything from being done and prevents anyone from being held accountable for such inactivity. Elliniko, like all of Greece, is also a collection of relics from the past – both good and bad. The runways, the run-down buildings, the Olympic venues, the former US and Greek military base, all narrate part of the past century’s story. They reflect our uneasy relationship with our past – the fact that we do not exploit the opportunities presented in terms of history and venues, do not renew or adapt them to new needs, leaves us always with decrepit installations and unrealistic plans for great new ventures. This wastes not only our time – all the money that has been invested in the past (and for which we are in many cases still paying the loans and interest) does not become something that we can build upon. We keep borrowing for grand new projects, never ending the cycle of debt. Instead of allowing the Olympic venues to rust behind padlocks, we should have opened them up to public use and even added new facilities that would draw life to the area, such as, perhaps, a major naval museum, an aquarium and so on. Shooting for the absolute, we do nothing with what we have. We are still unsure where we are headed. What is certain is that we are not thinking originally or productively. Former minister Stefanos Manos, for example, has gone hoarse preaching that part of Elliniko should be developed and the ensuing money spent on creating parks in the most densely populated parts of the capital, instead of creating a huge park right next to the beachfront, where it is least needed. It is an idea worth investigating. Watching Elliniko we will see how our country will work to dig its way out of the current mess – or how it can do nothing to break its institutionalized inertia.