On the Greek island of Mykonos, a war is raging between developers and archaeologists seeking to preserve the island’s ancient heritage. Mykonos has long had a reputation as a party island, but an illegal-building frenzy has set cultural custodians on the warpath.
Greece’s centre-right government appears to be on the side of the archaeologists. Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis recently launched a crackdown on illegal construction on Mykonos, describing the island as a “state within a state” which seems to regard itself as beyond the law’s reach.
In the coming days, police officers, financial investigators, and environment and building inspectors are expected to fly in and begin investigations into illegal construction in rural areas on Mykonos and its neighbouring islands in the Augean archipelago. “There is no such thing as an island where some people think they are above the law,” said Mitsotakis [quotes via The Guardian] “This is a situation that will be faced decisively.”
For many, Greece’s community of archaeologists has long been regarded as one of the last remaining defences against avaricious developers looking to transform places like Mykonos into playgrounds for tourists and the super-wealthy.
The tourism industry accounts for 25% of Greece’s GDP, so it’s no wonder investors have so often ignored the concerns of archaeologists. The fines handed out to offenders for building villas, hotels and beach bars close to ancient sites are inconsequential compared to the annual turnover of such lucrative establishments. Recently, development on the island looked to enter a new phase when investors from the Middle East announced plans to build a tourist village capable of mooring superyachts.
Welcoming the crackdown, Despoina Koutsoumpa, Director of the Association of Greek Archaeologists, told The Guardian. “If the government means what it says it will have to start demolishing illegal buildings. Right now it’s Mykonos, but later it will be some other island. The time has come for action and that means bulldozers being sent in. It’s the only language anyone will understand. An example needs to be set, and it needs to be set now.”