The original text in English. It was translated by the newspaper «Makedonia» to be published today, Sunday, September 9, 2007.
THE GENTRIFICATION OF GREECE
Dr. Nikolaos A. Stavrou
Observing the systematic destruction of Greece from a distance is an exercise in unmitigated anguish for every human being, but above all for every Greek anywhere in the world. For some of us, this writer included, it is more than anguish; it is confirmation of the still unfolding scenario, part and parcel of the destabilization of the Balkans, that was set in motion by the deliberate, systematic, sinister, and profitable dismantling of Yugoslavia.
Greece has been targeted for “gentrification” beginning with the1990s and since then, political leaders with blind folders, assorted deal makers, and shady peddlers of “development” have continued to facilitate the process. Gentrification is relatively new sociological/ political term that is constantly being refined by “market forces” for global application. Etymologically, it means the introduction of the gentry (as in landed gentry) into a city or a country with the objective of “civilizing it” under the pretext of “development.” Re-introduction of the gentry also implies that the “serfs” who lived there prior to its arrival would either have to move somewhere else or resign themselves to serving those who come to “develop” them.
Historically, gentrification traces its origins in the calamity of the U.S. urban riots during the late sixties and seventies and refers to the recycling of population from rural to urban to suburban and back to urban. As a process, gentrification goes through four predictable phases: destruction, devaluation, acquisition, and [re]development.
During that sad period of American history, cities from Detroit to New York to Washington and San Francisco that had been the destination of an avalanche of people escaping Southern racism after World War II, were reduced to battle grounds of civil strife and burning during the sixties. The result was a massive transformation of urban life twice in less than thirty years. Major cities were gutted. The wealthy fled to the suburbs where land values skyrocketed, the merchants fled to shopping centers that were already built and were waiting for them, the poor were left behind, and the “mom and pop” shops were swallowed up by conglomerates with fictional addresses and by ghost financiers. A similar process now unfolds on a global scale and instead of cities, it affects countries.
Nations are now being targeted and reduced to shambles either by war as in the case of Yugoslavia and Iraq or via financial manipulations, ethnic fragmentation, and political correctness as it seems to be the case of Greece. I presume the readers still remember the assault on the value of the Greek currency by a global charlatan who arrogantly declared his intention to “teach the Greeks a lesson” for their position on FYROM. It should surprise no one to know that the very people who were in the forefront in the destruction of Yugoslavia and masterminded the assault against Greek interests in the 1990s, were the first to show up within days after the seventy eight days bombardment to “invest” in the rubbles of Serbia.
A pre-requisite to gentrification is destruction or devaluation of what exits, be it land or industries, followed by inducements and incentives for dislocated populations to sell, move, or resign themselves to poverty. The ultimate goal is abandonment of land, traditions, roots and a way of life. But as the rural population vanishes into the anonymity of urban jungles it leaves behind gutted villages, empty homes, and old people praying to patron saints to bring their grand children back for a Christmas visit. The systematic and, in my opinion, deliberate orgy of arsonists has caused more damage to Greece than NATO’s bombardment of Serbia. The perpetrators left behind a gutted land that potentially offers new opportunities to the “industrial –security” complex to make a buck on Greek backs as it did during the Olympics. But this is the land that has nurtured the backbone of a Greek nation where the stubborn Greek farmer has refused until now to trade pride for profit; and that is precisely the problem that the Hedge Fund and black money managers see with Greece. It does not fit the globalization models as long as the family farmer refuses to succumb to the agricultural conglomerates or the “masterminds” that see every Greek mountain and every Greek beach as the ideal location to build summer resorts and gated communities for the leisure classes.
This author has warned in unsuspecting times about the risks to Greece emanating from the destruction of Yugoslavia. Greece was not supposed to be spared from the Balkan wars of the 1990s, but it somehow managed to evade what was planned for her. Yet, the country has not been spared the onslaught of gentrification. The farmers who lost their olive groves to the fires can hardly wait ten years to see their green leaves sprout again. If their land happened to be close to the sea–and closeness is a relative term—the “developers” and the global gentry will no doubt appear eager to “help” while insecurity prevails. Land has become the key commodity in a game that no more nor less, has the de-Hellenization of Greece as its ultimate goal. Nobody needs to take my word for it: just follow the money and the projects that will sprout in the next ten years. For the short term one needs only to follow the patterns of land acquisitions.
Dr. Nikolaos A. Stavrou is Professor of International Affairs (Emeritus) at Howard University.