Seashores are one of the clearest manifestations of what is generally considered to constitute “the commons”: a place where access is free and the gratification of being present can be the same for all, irrespective of the size of their paycheck. Unfortunately, in real life this is not always the case. A seashore undisturbed by humans represents for many (even unknowingly) a utopian vision of what society can be in that grey area which is neither private nor state-owned.
However, actions such as those by Greek Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras, who recently proposed a bill threatening the right of access to the country’s beaches, are a burning reminder that the seashore — just like the square — is no longer a common space. Rather, it is a space that the government donates to the people by concession, until the opportunity arises to enclose and subsequently monetize and valorize the former common property. The Greek bill for the privatization of the seashore, besides proposing restrictions on the public’s longstanding constitutional right of free access to the coastline, also proposes to grant developers the right to appropriate the seashore and to provide amnesty to existing structures built in breach of current legislation.
There was an immediate public outcry in opposition to the bill. With the help of a group called ‘Save the Greek Seashore: A Citizens’ Initiative’ — a grassroots, nonpartisan mobilization that aims to “safeguard Greece’s unique and irreplaceable shoreline as part of humanity’s commonwealth” — the news about the bill spread fast through social media. The opposition was strong: more than 122,000 signatures were collected in a petition demanding the bill to be scrapped. Spearheaded by the people and with the support of environmental NGOs, the movement created such a storm that even members of the ruling parties are now jumping ship.
On Tuesday, May 13, 2014, the Greek government unexpectedly announced that the bill would be halted and reconsidered with potential amendments after the European elections, which took place on May 25. Even though this delay constituted a small victory for the movement, the coastline is far from safe yet, even more so because attempts to privatize beaches in Greece are nothing new.
Maria Hadjimichael is a researcher in the governance of common resources, with a focus on marine issues, at Aalborg University in Denmark.