Friday 8 October 2010

There’s a sucker born every minute

There’s a sucker born every minute, as the saying goes, and the sucker writing this post was born over 20.5 million minutes ago.

A little while earlier today I received a telephone call from the legal representative of a major family foundation—one of the best-known families in Greece, complete with its own museum. This foundation wanted to know whether I was organising a cleaning of the Schinias forest on October 10th.

I was, in fact, organising this cleanup: it’s the fifth iteration of a purely voluntary activity. Our group, the “Friends of Schinias”, has cleaned tonnes of garbage since 2008.

But was I not aware that this foundation owned 411 stremmata of the forest in question, and that another foundation owned the remaining 519 stremmata, and that as such, I had to ask their permission to clean first? And, in fact, should I not receive their permission, that on Sunday I would be served with an εξώδικο, or legal order, presumably to stop cleaning?

In fact, I was not aware of this.

All this time, I had thought that the National Forest of Schinias-Marathon was exactly that – a National Forest, owned by the state. No, I was informed: the foundation had title deeds going back to 1888.

“And what about the million visitors who visited Schinias this summer, spreading their garbage everywhere, and even lighting fires in the forest?” I asked. “Did they receive permission too?”

“This is a terrible situation, and a matter for the police, who refuse to enforce the law.” She responded.

The conversation then took a different turn, and I was asked whether I was aware that riding bicycles in the forest did severe damage to the root systems of trees. Riding of bicycles in the forest could not be allowed under any circumstances.

I mentioned again whether they were aware of the tens of thousands of cars that visit the forest each summer, and which do immeasurably worse damage to the root systems. I was told (again) this was also a matter for the police.

To make a long story short, I agreed to write a letter asking permission to clean the forest. Permission was granted. So this Sunday, we can clean with the official permission of the owners. As long as we don’t ride bicycles.

Which brings me back to the pervasive feeling of bitterness which has seized hold of me since the series of telephone calls this afternoon. What else could I have done? Should I have refused to ask for permission, gotten the legal summons, and then gone to the television channels to ridicule the whole affair?

Should I stop working entirely on cleaning Schinias? After all, it’s apparently private land—let the foundation clean it. They certainly have much more money than I do, and judging by the priorities of their legal department, much more time.

How is it that the Greek government has declared a National Park of Schinias, but doesn’t actually own it, and apparently can’t make legal decisions concerning it?

How is it that the few people who are actually trying to do something beneficial for a public area are forced under legal threat to ask for permission, while those that break both the law and civilised behaviour on a daily basis do so without any permission or any consequences whatsoever?

Is it worth trying to do anything in this country, or am I just a sucker?

For anyone who would like to spend a fantastic Sunday morning out at Schinias, we will be cleaning litter from 10:00 – 13:00. Legally. Please join us: we need all the help we can get. Directions are on our website:


  1. Alexander W. Ammerman8 October 2010 at 17:36

    This is politically satirical and horrible, and reminds me of my experience earlier this summer regarding the Greek Army--and other things that we've experienced over the years. I think the only solace you can take is the notion that a better kind of person reads your blog (no self-congratulation intended) than the real suckers on which you wasted your afternoon.

  2. Perhaps you would best serve Greece by having the Friends of Schinias collect the human litter at the foundation's legal department before heading to the seaside.

  3. since it's private, protecting it and keeping it clean is their responsibility.

    this is like my giving someone permission to please come clean my house.

  4. This is almost enough to make one cry. My God, to have to ask permission to clean up the trash left by others on "private" property known as a National Park.

    Greece is simply amazing

  5. One thing for sure: we must not stop caring about the last remains of Attica. This is utter nonsense, sounds like we are living a Kafka like bad dream, in which you are accused of doing right and were it is permissible to do all wonder amongst the trees with your car and dump your garbage there.
    Philip, if you are a sucker, we are all proud to be suckers with you.

  6. The owner of such property should have fenced it a long time ago; since it has been open to the public for more than 30 years, it is reasonable to consider it public land. The thousands of bathers who use it all summer long consider it as such - so do those who put garbage cans here and there. Bicycles harming the trees? Give me a break!

  7. The "Foundation" most probably wanted a letter from you recognizing its ownership and claim on the property. By asking them permission to clean the premises, you do so explicitly. They 'll say: "Look, even the "Friends of Schinias" recognize our claim and ask our permission".

    My guess is that they wanted this letter either to build their claim on the property if it's flimsy, or - if their claim is good - to solidify it.

    I'm not a lawyer, but I think that beach fronts are still public property. If your cleaning efforts were restricted to beach fronts alone, they probably had no right to ask from you anything.