Decentralization an imperative

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We all know that the problem of arson and land-grabbing will resurface next summer, i.e. with the next forest fires, but it's worth summarizing what led to the latest disaster.

Building a large, centralized state after the civil war was a political decision. Any decentralized structures (such as local administration) risked falling into the hands of the left so the elite chose to control the entire country from Athens. A large and centralized state needs considerable manpower and, given the technology of the time (telephone lines did not cover the whole country), these employees had to be concentrated in a single region.

A large group of people inevitably need food, accommodation and infrastructure, which means that even more people must be available to provide these services. Businesses too will then be lured to the biggest market. It made no sense, for example, to transport one's goods from distant Kalamata, when a factory could easily be set up on Pireos Street. As more jobs were created in the Attica basin, more people started coming to the capital. The growth of the population pushed demand for land which naturally spread to the outskirts of Athens, the nice and the not-so-nice ones.

So, instead of each year lamenting the forests lost in the flames, instead of blasting the arsonists who only prepare the ground for the next generation of land-grabbers, we must take a look at the black hole at the center of the country's political, social and economic system which swallows everything: the big, centralized state that has attracted half the Greek population to the capital.

The post-civil war model has reached an impasse at all levels: the economy, society, even town planning. We need to initiate a program of decentralization so that people will gradually move out from the capital. Web-based technologies are on our side in this. All we need is a plan and political will. But the government never had the former, so it could not possibly have the latter. Or was it the other way round?

«Kathimerini» English Edition, 28.8.2009