Five years ago, one man, Yiannis Katehis, returned to his father’s island, and step by step, his vision was put into practice by 21 members of the KIPPKO association. What do they do? As an independent group with a lot of followers, they are taking over the island, investing their own time and money: the port, water, waste, clearing old walking trails, promoting sustainable agriculture, everything connected with tourism … All of this is already happening here. According to Yannis, the only threat for the future of the island is the ongoing occupation of Greece, which is targeting the oil basin that lies beneath the Othonoi part of the Ionian sea.
At our first meeting, Yiannis explained the origin of the name of the island, its history and mythology, of Phoenicians and their Palestinian origin, and of the recent history in one blow. Click on "AUDIO" below to listen to his story!
Yiannis: "I do not live off the island and I do care for the island. The others, they make money from the island, but they forget about the things ... They disregard the problems. You know, if they would go and tell him not to fish with oxygen bottle, he could leave ... So for that reason, the board members [of KIPPKO association for environment and cultural heritage that Yiannis started] are those who already have sources to live, and that is why I did not choose shop owners or people like that. I choose people that are independent."
Yiannis: "The vision of KIPPKO organisation is being implemented, because people are fed up of promises, and I think it is the right time for changes to happen worldwide, it is a time for people to win the liberation back ... Not with war, but with ideas. Our governments are already backing up a bit. It is the right time to start demanding correct life. We want to be on the island and manage our island. We live here and we will tell you what to do here. You want to collect your taxes, but this is it! You do not know what we need. We see the problems, we should manage them, I would even change the flag if you want, I know what is best for the place … It is an independent Greek Island … My fears are big ones! I know we have a huge deposit of petroleum here, there are three 'hot spots' around this island . My fear is that this oil will come out, because the Arab oil will run out and the Americans will want to take the oil. Well, they already took the oil ... How? They put Greece in crises just to take this oil. People do not realize what happened, we are siting on a huge oil wealth here ... I know this since 1985, because you can see on satellite images where the oil deposits around the world are, the red spots. When you have a treasure, everybody wants to steal it. I know how international politics work. I am afraid that if they will start to drill for oil here, they will spoil everything ... Oil refinery platform – there goes you tourism ... bye-bye. I think we need Greenpeace here. There will be accidents, oil spills ... They already signed the contract and it will all probably begin to unfold in the next year or so."
Yiannis: "I would like an island where a traveler who would stop by accident would find everything that he needs, but only what he needs ... I envision the island as an oasis in the middle of the desert, an oasis that would be a resting place, a place for recreation, not over touristic, just enough to support business to prosper here. I would not like to see frozen fish to be served, but locally made fresh vegetable, fresh fish, chicken ... In order for young families to come, we need to extend the season, so a few more businesses will be able to open. It is a hard land ... Well, you can collect oil, but for this, you need young people, and they need motive, they need to have a doctor, good port, water, electricity ... I want the correct balance between going forward and sustaining our tradition, lets fix and restore what we have, clean the island, and ... make it livable. Computer is a tool to find and see things easier, and to communicate. That is why I can live here now, and work with flight simulators, and send it to the end of the world. We have WI-FI here, fine, but you do not want to copy a city. If you copy a city, you will have night clubs here ... Instead, I can imagine a small, simple piano bar, for everybody, where people would come in their everyday clothes ... Where people would come together to be one big company and sing together, that is what I would like to see."
UPDATE ! MAY 2018: After one year, we land on this divine island once again. And the first one we met that morning was Yiannis. We embraced like we really feel, like being good friends. I asked him, "what are the news for this past year," and in the next 10 minutes, I was already recording his really great achievements in challenging his biggest fear, oil. Summary below!
In 1997, the government slowly started to talk about the possibility of extracting oil from the Greek land, without giving any further information to its people. In 2010, when the economic crisis was at its highest, Greek government really got into this new logic: sell Greece for oil. It appeared that the way to give back the loaned money was to use the country as a “collateral”: that means that the financers (European & international banka) could sell the land (together with oil) to refund the debt. Othonoi was in the middle of this strategy because the island lies above huge oil reserves.
By seeing and understanding this strategy, undisclosed to the general public, Yiannis and other environmental activists of the region decided to react. Because it was about the environment, but also about tourism and development.
The Greek part of the Ionian Sea is a seismic area, and the extraction itself creates small earthquakes. People won’t spend time in an area full of wells and oil extraction machines. Moreover, if an accident occurs, the area will be contaminated for the next 200 years, and Greek people are the ones who will suffer from it.
Yannis created the association KIPPKO that unites many regional environmental associations to protect the environment against any enemy. First, they worked through petitions and signatures. But since the government didn’t answer their requests, they started sending more detailed letters to different ministries. The questions were the following: How are you going to extract the oil? What technology are you going to use? What are the guarantee for the security of people and of the earth? How will the oil be transported? What about seismology? What will Greece gain with it, and what will people from the area directly gain with it?
The first conference happened in Corfu, with ministries, oil companies and non-governmental representatives. The result? The government couldn’t answer to any of these questions. The answer was: no answer. The government was completely unqualified to sell this land and had no idea of the consequences it could have – except for the money. A second conference took place, demanded by the supreme court. Once again, the government was totally unable to answer KIPPKO questions. Right now, the government has stopped the plans for drilling. And the idea of KIPPKO association is clear: postpone this oil extraction as much as they can, for the clean energy to replace petrol in the meantime.
Yiannis: "The next big problem is lack of water! Weather changes, growing population ..." Now, owing to the initiative and hard work by KIPPKO, fresh drinking water from the stream will be available on the island soon!
Bojan Brecelj/Proja.org-MED Land project