Paradise for sale: Bankrupt Greece sells islands, palaces to stay afloat
Last week the Greek finance minister completed tortuous negotiations with the European Union to secure the latest $10billion tranche of bailout funding the country needs to stay afloat.
But the money has come at a massive, possibly irreversible, price in terms of culture and pride.
One of the main conditions that the European Union – mainly driven by demands of its most powerful nation, Germany – has imposed on Greece in return for the cash is a huge program of privatization.
The Greek government is in the process of selling off 70,000 lots of state assets – everything from ancient palaces, to stretches of coastline, to the state gambling company to entire idyllic islands, are up for grabs to the highest bidder.
The gorgeous island of Rhodes is unusual in that more than a third of its land is government owned – and is now being sold.
The world famous Mandraki Marina in Rhodes town – the location legend has it, of the Colossus of Rhodes – is among the land for sale.
Other stretches of the Rhodes coast – mile after mile of pristine beach on the turquoise waters of the Aegean Sea – are also up for grabs. They include a large tranche of land ear the resort at Afandou, popular with hundreds of thousands of tourists each year.
The peninsula of Prasinisi, one of the best wind surfing venues in Europe is also among the lots.
Elsewhere in Greece the royal palace where Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain was born, will be sold. The billionaire emir of Qatar has just finalized the purchase of six Greek islands and a Russian oligarch bought the island of Skorpios for $100m, as a birthday present for his daughter.
The sell-off has caused fury among sections of the Greek public and its opposition parties, who say more private-public partnerships should have been entered in to, to prevent the loss of so much of Greece’s territory and ancient culture.
But in Rhodes, local politicians say the deal to sell off the land is inevitable, given the parlous state of Greek national finances. They said they’d be working to ensure the best possible economic and cultural outcome for the island.
Greece’s economy has been severely damaged by the financial crisis, the collapse of a property bubble, what northern European economists say is the country’s relaxed attitude towards paying and collecting taxes, and a bloated public sector.
Unemployment runs at more than 25 per cent and is double that among the under 25s in some parts of the country. Salaries have been slashed and the Greek government forced to deliver a package of austerity measures by the so-called Troika of the European Union.
In effect Greek national finances are being dictated by bankers from Brussels, with the influence of the German government detected and resented by many in Greece. Public demonstrations across the country recently have featured images of German Chancellor Angela Merkel portrayed as the new Adolf Hitler – a reference to the German occupation of parts of Greece during World War 2.
The Greek government was forced, as part of the bailout conditions, to cut nearly $10bn from public spending in 2013
Another condition was a fire sale of assets worth $50 billion to reduce Greek’s debt pile
Greek public sector pay rose 50 per cent from 1997-2010
The government also ran up debts paying for the 2004 Olympics