A few years ago, the Women’s Association of Mani –  Kalamata Chapter had invited one of the most respected experts on civil law and eminent academic, Apostolos Georgiades, Professsor at the Law School of the University of Athens, to speak about forestry issues in Mani.

That was five years ago, a time of euphoria in Mani about a recent law that was passed by the Parliament, according to which in (cases of) legal processes between a citizen and the Forestry Department, both parties have the same rights in supporting their claims, i.e. the State will not have the presumption of ownership. In his speech, the distinguished professor stressed that this law is favourable for the Maniot landowners, however, it does not solve the existing problem. Professor Georgiades was right, because the recent compilation and display of (the?) forestry maps at administrative departments and the pending validation of these maps has only compounded the problem and has aggravated the conflict between Maniot landowners and the Forestry Department. The law that was passed five years ago strengthened the ownership claims of the Maniots on some lots that seemed to wrongly belong to the state, but did nothing to determine whether an area was forest or not. This law also did nothing to improve the previous 1979 law regarding the status of forests and forest expanses.

At that time, our newspaper, MANIOT SOLIDARITY, fully supported the stance taken by Professor Georgiades and urged our compatriots to mobiblise so that the recent law also included the properties which turned into forests because the owners had stopped cultivating them. We supported the same line of thought in editorials and in detailed analyses in our issues after the publication of the forest maps in January 2017. Now that it seems that no extension will be given beyond the end of this month for landowners to repeal the labelling of their propery as forest land on the official forest maps, we feel the need to suggest the following solid proposal, which in our opinion might provide a way out of the current impasse. We also want to outline the conditions under which we might have a favourable evolution of the present deadlock situation.

In the two paragraphs below we are presenting an excerpt from Professor Georgiades’ speech, which contains the prosposal that we are putting forth (we have deliberately ommitted some information of secondary importance):

“1. A similar problem arose in 2003, as preparations were made for the compilation of the National Land Registry. In order to deal with problems relating to properties outside urban planning zones, the Minister of the Environment, Regional Planning and Public Works at that time convened a committee consisting of experts from different political parties, which after many meetings, it(?)developed and submitted to the Ministry a bill, which was proposing solutions similar to those for properties within urban planning zones. This bill outlines the following: concerning real estate which is outside urban planning zones or an agglomeration which existed before 1923 or an agglomeration under 2000 people which has been properly defined, its “possessor” has the presumption of ownership, as long as before the applicability of this last law: a) he/she has been using this property in good faith and continuously for the past ten (10) years, having a legitimate deed of property or disposal/acquisition for a value in his name or in the name of a licensor; this deed of property needs to have been acquired and registered in a land registry after the applicability of the Civil Code or b) the “possessor” has been using this property in good faith and without interruption for thirty (30) continuous years.

  1. Unfortunately, this bill was never brought to the parliament and did not become a state law; this created many serious problems for properties outside urban planning zones, problems which remain unresloved today, and have hindered the completion of the National Land Registry, which still remains unfinished. These problems are particularly acute in Mani, because many Maniots do not have deeds of property for the lands that they own and use. A way out of this impasse for Maniot landowners would be the following: they should be given the right to sell / gift / transfer to their children a particular property, as long as they can provide two papers: a) a certificate from the mayor that the licensor/owner has been using the land for over 20 years and b) a certificate from the Forestry Department that according to the aerial photographs of 1945 or 1960 the land was at that time cultivated and unforested”.

It goes without saying that putting forth this proposal, which also includes reclaiming the forest expanses that used to be cultivated by our ancestors, needs strong political intervention. The only way for the few Maniots in our area to achieve this, is solidarity and unity. Unfortunately, until now, in our mobilisation efforts towards this goal, we have not been successful in displaying these two values. Maybe Professor Georgiades’ well-supported proposal, which we are presenting in this editorial, will give us the chance to display them. Only in this way, by internalising and displaying  great unity and solidarity, can we achieve favourable results regarding the current issues regarding the forestry laws.