Struggle of locals in Keratea, & "I won’t pay" Movement

The struggle of locals in the area of Keratea in Attica against the construction of a landfill in their area has been going since December 12, 2010. Near-daily clashes of  the locals with the riot police occupying the site of the planned landfill have took on a new twist last night: 
Riot police, known here in Greece as MAT, stormed the town itself, breaking into private homes, and arrested at least one 30-year resident who, according to the locals, has been entirely uninvolved in the clashes. According to the ex-mayor of Keratea, the 30 year old’s mother had a heart attack after watching her son being arrested.
For more than six hours, more than 1,000 enraged locals were besieged the local police station, hurling stones, sticks and fire bomb cocktails to the police guarding it. A local described the scene as “reminiscent of the civil war”.  
For many Greeks, the ongoing conflict in this small corner of southeastern Attica encapsulates everything that is wrong with the country. On one side there are those who see the fervent, and sometimes violent, resistance of people in Keratea to the construction of the waste management center as being symptomatic of Greeks’ unruly nature: an irrational and immature reaction to the functioning of a democratic country that’s in the same vein as the refusal of many motorists to pay road tolls. On the other hand there are those, mostly the anarchists, who hung the banner included, that claim that Keratea is a shining example of how an irresponsible and corrupt state should be resisted. 
Both opinions have some good points, but in reality both are incorrect. At its essence, the dispute in Keratea, where a section of the main highway leading to the port of Lavrio has been closed for several weeks and resembles a war zone, is about trust, not about a phobia of abiding by laws or taking a principled stance against dirty deals between a shady state and dodgy contractors. The people of Keratea simply do not trust the government when it says it will build a contemporary landfill that will not affect their way of life or the value of their properties.
For the past 20 years the state has failed to inspire any confidence in their handling of the waste management issue. It was decided in 1998 that Keratea and Grammatiko, northeast of Athens, would be the sites for Attica’s new landfills, nonetheless it took several years, and obviously millions of euros in European Union fines as well as the threat of losing additional millions of EU funding for the new projects before any government set the wheels in motion on the aforementioned projects. 
For years, Athens has relied on just one landfill, located in Ano Liosia, but it’s only now it has reached saturation point that any concerted effort is being made to create alternatives. Suddenly, and with no awareness of the irony, the government and many of its “media parrots”  (reporters who take kickbacks to promote government policies) have begun slamming concerned Keratea residents for holding up the process, claiming that it is an absolutely vital project for Attica. 
With the results in hand, one can only come to the conclusion that there has been no effort by the government to make the project a more attractive proposition for locals, besides if you want people’s trust, you have to explain to them why you make certain decisions, but the problem with the present Greek government is that they don’t ask the people anything, they just decide and act…. no consideration for the resident, no consideration for anything. There is actually a Greek phrase for that… “Apofasizoume kai Diatazoume”… We decide and we Dictate…. doesn’t it sound like something from a dictators manual?

It’s hardly a surprise that these people should now return this rejection by the rubbish load. Until a decade ago, Keratea was just one of the sleepy villages dotted around the Mesogeia area southeast of Athens. But the construction of Athens International Airport, the Attiki Odos (the highway linking Athens and the airport) and the metro have changed all that. In a short period of time, this area has seen furious development activity, and has essentially been transformed into a suburb of Athens. 
Given this climate, local people here say that they want reassurances about what else is going to be built in their backyard, and for good reason. I am sure all of us would want to know. Besides, in any democratic country, municiple authorities and/or the state would do just that. They would inform and reassure the residents and most importantly explain to them what, which, where and how… but this is Greece… and unfortunately with our dictator style government, things do not work like that here any more. 
In fact the government has been particularly guarded about exactly what kind of trash facility will operate in Keratea, only fueling anger, concern and suspicion that the whole scheme will just be a big pay day for the contractor and will leave a permanent and ugly scar on Keratea’s  landscape.
A similar breakdown in the transparent communication that should exist between a government and its people has prompted many motorists and residents of Attica, the Peloponnese and central Greece to take matters into their own hands over the increasing number of tollbooths and the rising cost of tolls on the national roads. A new movement called “I Won’t Pay” with members from all walks of life, have inspired many motorists to simply not pay for use of public roads, busses, trains, trams and the metro.
Most expressways in Greece have been financed by toll road companies under toll concessions or public-private partnerships (PPPs) with the national government. Some have a mix of public and private money spent on them. The activists from the “I Won’t Pay Movement” speak of an array of different grievances – against the concession contracts, against announced toll increases, against lack of competing free roads, against fuel taxes plus tolls and against tolls. They are also urging citizens not to pay the recent hikes in bus fares (about 50% hike), and other such public transport.
The most notable moment of this campaign came on January 10 when soap opera actor-turned-Mayor of Stylida Apostolos Gletsos clambered onto a bulldozer and defiantly knocked down the roadside barriers at the Pelasgia tollbooth, allowing motorists to pass for free. His action was a protest against the government’s decision to increase toll charges to 2.60 euros and to remove special passes that allowed some 1,000 Stylida residents to pass the tollbooth for 50 cents. Locals argue that because there are no other roads they can use to go about their daily business, they are forced to pay tolls to use the national road. They point to EU legislation which states that when tollbooths are built, toll-free roads must also be made available to motorists.
Again, the issue is one of trust: The government has failed to live up to its obligations but expects Stylida residents to swallow toll rises without complaint. Trust has also been eroded due to a lack of clarity over the five contracts the previous government handed out to consortia to manage sections of the highway network. Campaigners claim that the successive toll charge rises over the last couple of years and the creation of more toll stations contravenes these agreements. The government, as ever, has remained tight-lipped, which has only stoked protests against the tolls. It’s significant that government sources have said that current talks with the consortia over renewing the expiring contracts are focusing on a reduction in toll charges by up to 25 percent. Gletsos, greeted by hundreds of supporters when he appeared in court for destroying the barriers, has already transformed himself from cringeworthy soap star to fearless road warrior but the slashing of toll charges would be a moral victory for the campaigners and a blow against those who argue that such shows of disobedience have no place in a civilized state.
Gletsos case, the situation in Keratea and the movement “I will not pay” is only the start of the resistance of the people of this nation who have literally been brought to their knees over the past year from the fake economic crises.  My fear is that as long as there are those in power who are constantly dismissive of the people they govern, and as long as they act without transparency, in an “Apofasizoume kai Diatazoume” style, they will always meet with the resistance of the people.

One response to “Struggle of locals in Keratea, & "I won’t pay" Movement

  1. Hmmm… Sounds like your government is being a bit of a bully. The people will never learn to trust unless they are afforded some respect. I don't entirely agree with the behaviour of the people, but I do understand why they are behaving this way. Governments (in a free, democratic society) need to understand that they work for the people, not the other way around. If they bully the people, they should not be surprised if the only thing the people give them in return is resistance. And a whole lot of hostility.

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