Greece, the birthplace of democracy where every man has a voice, the right to air his views and to be heard.
In time honoured tradition, Skiathos found her voice this morning when much of the local population, congregated on the port to march in protest; an event that was the work of Aleka Varvitsiotis…. (who, with her husband Dimitri, runs the silver jewelery store on Papadiamanti Street called ‘The Blue Dolphin”).
Supported by several non-Greek residents including members International Womens Group carrying placards and wearing orange life vests.
Their mission? To take part in a demonstration and vent their anger (peacefully!) at being ‘held to ransom’ by the companies that presently hold the monopoly over the vital role of connecting Skiathos to mainland Greece, by sea and air.
Skiathos is a relatively small island with a local and immigrant population of approximately 6, 000 but in the tourist season this number can reach as much as 100,000 on any particular day. While many tourists arrive directly from their countries of origin on charter flights (run by multi national tour operators) a large majority, of visitors, small business-owners and local residents in need of medical attention (that the small local health centre cannot accommodate) depend solely on this life-line, the shipping link to the mainland. The local business community simply could not survive here without it; container loads of retail stock, food for the restaurants and supermarkets and building materials, all essential for the island’s survival, development and commercial viability, arrive daily, with only one resource to rely on.
With the ever-escalating cost of fares and an increasingly unreliable and irregular service, many Skiathites have simply had enough and are no longer prepared to just sit by and idly accept the exploitation of their situation, without taking some action to make their feelings of resentment known. The major issue is that their calls for 1) a lower, more realistic tariff for islanders, and 2) a regular, reliable service (that is not dependent on the number of users) fall on deaf ears and are continually ignored.
Today’s demonstration was timed to coincide with the arrival of a ferry and a small victory was achieved when the crowds managed to disrupt it’s normally quick turnaround and delay it’s departure for more than half an hour.
Sadly though, the turn-out was disappointing; there were just as many (notable by their absence) islanders who feel a demonstration is unlikely to actually institute any immediate changes. Those who chose not to offer support today that I spoke to held the view that until there was either healthy competition or a mass boycott (neither of which is likely to happen in the forseeable future) turning up was generally considered a futile exersise; a waste of time and a loss of a valuable working day. Their typically Greek ‘shrug of the shoulders’ complacency and despondent air of resignation left me thinking they may well have a point, yet at the same time I’m aware that, rightly or wrongly, stubbornly clinging to that point of view would ultimately change nothing.
What was heartening and an indication of a more hopeful future, however, was the sheer volume of young teenagers who joined in the protest, personally invited and spurred on by the local business community secretary, Costas Zembekis.
They were passionate and motivated in both their enthusiastic marches and eloquent speeches that roused the crowds and resulted in overwhelming applause. So, perhaps, after all it will fall to the next generation to carry the voice of change – and find a way to instigate it.
Congratulations and Thanks to Aleka Varvitsiotis for doing something about Skiathos’ failing transportation system and for organising the whole event.