[MGSA-L] Thessaloniki's future

June Samaras june.samaras at gmail.com
Mon Jan 30 20:49:20 PST 2012

In the midst of all the "doom and gloom" news items from Greece it is
nice to see SOME stories with optimism and hope for the future

June S

Mayor looking at Thessaloniki's future


By Stavros Tzimas

Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris turned up at our interview
appointment right after meeting with a group of Chinese businessmen.

“Who are they?” I asked him as his visitors left his office.

“Chinese tourism agents from Shanghai,” Boutaris replied. “They were
sent to me by Turkish Airlines, with whom the city has a
collaboration. They came to talk about the possibility of adding
Thessaloniki to their tourist destinations and they seemed very
interested. Imagine what good it could do the city if it was included
in Chinese tourism package deals.”

Boosting tourism is the cornerstone of Boutaris’s policy to bring
money into the city he became mayor of just over a year ago.

“Thessaloniki is a claustrophobic city; it is conservative and
introverted, and has some serious guilt,” explained Boutaris. “It has
an ambivalent relationship toward Turks, Jews and Slavs, even though
visitors from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia [FYROM] are
among our best clients. As a result of our recent overtures, tourism
from Israel has grown 300 percent, while arrivals from Turkey this
year reached 40,000, a number that would have been much greater if
there were no visa restrictions. This is one of the initiatives we are
working on -- creating revenues for the city with zero investment.”

Boutaris’s campaign to promote Thessaloniki as a tourism destination,
meanwhile, is also expanding to other parts of the world apart from
Turkey and Israel, with which the city has historical ties. The mayor
is planning trips to Durres in Albania, and Nis and Belgrade in Serbia
in order to discuss partnerships, to Skopje in FYROM to improve ties,
to Sofia and Odessa on a promotion drive, and to Moscow to meet with
tour operators.

“I always take people from the industry with me on these trips,” said
Boutaris. “The goal is to bring money to the city, because money is
what it’s all about.”

Another area where Boutaris has made headway since becoming mayor is
in improving municipal bureaucracy and making it more friendly toward
citizens. To achieve this, he chose deputies who are in their 40s, who
are professionals and not affiliated with any political parties, and
gave them real jurisdiction with a relatively free rein.

“I don’t try to control everything,” explained Boutaris. “I support
the efforts of each individual deputy and push them toward the goals
that we have decided. Another important thing we achieved with the
administrative reshuffle was creating an organization that actually
makes use of its officials. Until now, one director would pass a task
off to another. There was a rivalry between them and a hostility that
ultimately became the citizens’ problem. I can’t allow it to take two
months for a piece of paper to go from one office to another. Of
course I doubt whether the complete restructuring of the municipality
can be achieved within my four-year tenure. I sometimes wonder whether
I am too romantic hoping that something like this can be achieved in
Greece, but then I tell myself that if I succeed I will have done
something very important. It seems to be working so far. It is not
enough to get me re-elected of course, because it is the sort of thing
that doesn’t really show even though services should get significantly

Boutaris readily admits that he will be running for mayor again come
the next elections. “I am starting to have fun with it and I have also
become quite stubborn about a few things, so why not try again?
Looking at what I’ve achieved so far, I’d give myself a score of six
out of 10. If by the end of my tenure I’ve achieved a score of seven,
then I’ll run again. If I’ve dropped to a five, then I’ll go.”

Atypical city official draws media interest

Never has the election of a mayor in Greece been observed with so much
interest by foreign media as that of Yiannis Boutaris in November

The New York Times, The Observer, ITN, Fortune, Cyprus Mail, The
Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, Maariv, Israeli state television, Hurriyet,
Zaman and Albania’s Panorama are but some of the newspapers and
television stations that have interviewed the Thessaloniki mayor since
his election or written stories on the work he is doing.

What Boutaris has effectively achieved is throwing open the windows of
a city that has for decades struggled under the weight of its history
and gone to great pains to shield its multicultural past. He has also
not hesitated to clash head-on with the conservative elements of the
city and to challenge the stereotypes and biases that have resisted

Boutaris is not just any old mayor; he represents a different breed.
Aged 70 and sporting an earring and a backpack, he walks around the
city and cycles to work, stopping to chat with people on the street or
defend his work. He has traded in his black service limousine for a
small town car and can be seen getting into debates with the public or
sharing a smoke with them, listening to their views and their

“Aren’t you afraid of getting yogurt thrown at you?” I asked him in
reference to a choice of missile popularly aimed at politicians by
disenchanted members of the public in Greece.

“So what? [former leftist leader Alekos] Alavanos took a yogurt to the
face and nothing happened to him,” responded Boutaris.

Boutaris’s greatest charm, however, is his manner of address. He
neither talks down nor up to people; he does not use the stilted
rhetoric of most politicians, whomever he may be addressing, be it
local youths hanging out at a cafe or Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet
Davutoglu during an official visit. His close associates praise him
for his work ethic and tenacity, while some see him as a dangerous
experimentalist and others as a politician worth watching.

Maybe it is this combination of hard work and innovative ideas that
has made Boutaris so popular with the foreign media.

Solving the bane of garbage disposal

For years, Thessaloniki has suffered from garbage collection problems,
with images of trash piling up on the streets of the city appearing
for weeks on end in the local media.

“We hit rock bottom on the garbage issue. It can’t get any worse, so
I’ve decided to change everything,” said Mayor Yiannis Boutaris, who
admits that he has failed in his election promise to get the city
clean within a year.

“We realized that with the lousy and antiquated existing system we
could never have a clean Thessaloniki. What no one dares to mention is
that a study was carried out by the Greek Institute for Local
Authorities which concluded that the city’s garbage disposal should be
completely privatized and that this would cost 50 percent less than it
does today. I am determined to make this happen. The sanitation
situation cannot be improved as things stand now. My idea is to
commission a private company to take over the garbage disposal in one
part of the municipality on a six-month trial basis and if it does in
fact prove to be cheaper and more efficient, then to extend it to the
rest of the city.”

Boutaris is examining methods that have been applied successfully in
other European cities and is speaking with local authorities in
various European municipalities to benefit from their know-how.

“I have spoken to people in Nice, Cologne and Vienna and we will be
visiting these three municipalities within the next few months to see
how they work and then bring some ideas back here. What we can’t
import is the mentality, and that is the toughest nut to crack,” said
Boutaris, who has already come under fire in some Greek media for
working with Hans-Joachim Fuchtel, the German deputy minister
appointed by Chancellor Angela Merkel to oversee the distribution of
European Union funds in Greece.

Boutaris rejects the criticism. “Fuchtel was appointed by Merkel to
coordinate such collaborations between cities,” he said. “We will go
to Cologne, for example, and see how they deal with their waste
disposal and bring that knowledge back here. We will also see how they
work in areas such as public relations, infringements of municipal
regulations and other practical areas of public administration in
which they are very evolved.”
ekathimerini.com , Thursday Jan 19, 2012 (20:29)

June Samaras
2020 Old Station Rd
Canada L5M 2V1
Tel : 905-542-1877
E-mail : june.samaras at gmail.com

More information about the MGSA-L mailing list