Greece is facing another currency crisis but this time the currency in question is space on the island nation’s beaches, which some businesses are illegally privatising.
Businesses on seashores on Paros and Naxos, among the Cyclades Islands in the central Aegean, have staked out territory on the shoreline with pay-per-use sunbeds. They are legitimately renting areas for customers to relax in but are then taking more space than they are entitled to and, in some cases, leaving no room for non-paying locals and visitors to the beach.
Nicholas Stephanou, 70, a long-term Paros inhabitant and web designer, used mapping overlays to show the New York Times how bad the situation has become. While Paros is supposed to have 7,000 square metres of beach legally licensed out, the reality on the ground is that concession holders are hogging over two and a half times that amount.
The Independent has also reported on Save Paros Beaches group’s crusade against the beach-hoarding practice. Recalling recent reports of eateries overcharging tourists for simple services, an image shared by the group on Facebook reveals a €60-a-day ($64) rental price for an umbrella and two sunbeds, while a so-called “VIP area”, cost twice that.
According to the OECD, the average salary in Greece is 1466 euros ($1584 dollars) a month, or just under 50 euros a day.
However, the issue goes deeper than just the cost of the beach rental. Access to the shore and the water is an existential matter for Greeks, reminiscent of Spanish feelings about being able to go nude on the beach.
Beaches are not only classed as public space in Greece but are considered part of the heritage and even DNA of the Hellenic Republic, which boasts around 6000 islands and islets and 13,676 km (8498 miles) of shoreline. The Greek relationship with the sea has been mythologised in stories that have become famous all over the world, from the myth of Poseidon, god of the sea, to the figure of Odysseus and his epic 20-year overseas journey to Troy and home again.
The idea that a Greek person cannot freely visit the beach and enjoy the liberty and space it offers is unthinkable. Yet this is exactly what is happening on some resort islands, a development being met with consternation and fierce campaigning.
3. “Towel Movement”
The so-called “Towel Movement” has resulted in protest demonstrations and sit-ins with hundreds of “people marching along Greek beaches protesting the pay-per-use sunbeds taking over public sands, with many holding signs decrying the situation,” says The Independent.
In words that echo anti-tourist and anti-capitalist sentiment seen on Mallorca, Save the Paros Beaches told Metro: “We claim our right to public space, our right to enjoy our beaches that are encroached upon by greedy, socially irresponsible businessmen who occupy beaches in their entirety or exceed their limits by up to 100 times the area they legally lease.”
The movement has reached from Paros to neighbouring Naxos whose own Save the Beaches of Naxos group now has over 5,000 followers. Where the quest for beach space goes next, remains to be seen.