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Why is the economy of Western Thrace undeveloped?13 September 2018

When we were heatedly discussing the Greek economy recently, my colleague asked: "Why the economy of Western Thrace is undeveloped?" I thought carefully about this unexpected question a little. The answer became more complicated as I think.

Yunus Onbaşı | Journalist-Economist

There are precisely many key things which have overly complicated our critical topic. For sure, one of them may be the most important one was the situation of Western Thrace which is a special region for the state. Compared to other local regions, Greece's regional policies including economic policies have always been dissimilar in Western Thrace where Muslim Turkish Minority lives and has been differed by social structure. But the unfavourable effects of general policies on the local society have also caused negative economic results.

Indeed, when we ignore the exceptional circumstances mentioned above for Western Thrace, we can easily say that there is no fundamental obstacle in front of the economic development of the region, unlikely it is advantageous in this respect because of the geographical position, arable land and strategic position. But why Western Thrace is economically Greece's least developed region?

Let's go to the answer to the problem which I touched on earlier at the beginning of my writing, without further delay.

We have already mentioned that Western Thrace is a specific region for the Greek State. There is no doubt that the reason for this is the Muslim Turkish Minority living in Western Thrace. In this context, we should also take a look at Greece's policy on the Minority. Remember, the Military Coup which took place in 1967, I guess, I would not be much wrong to define it as the start of the hard days for the Turkish Minority in Western Thrace. This anti-democratic incident signalled the beginning of the period in which the oppression against the Minority was increased, and the ethnic identity of the Turks began to be denied. The government has clearly shown with this anti-democratic policy that it does not tolerate the Minority and does not want the people in the region.

What was the reaction of the longtime locals to that? The people who live here invested in Turkey instead of investing in their own region, in Western Thrace. For example, as a result of the intensive oppression of Greece, people turned their faces to the neighbouring country, and Turkey obtained quite a lot of real estate investments from the Turkish Minority in Western Thrace.  In this way, Western Thrace could not receive natural investments from its habitats.

Another of Greece's Minority policies was preventing the Muslim Turks living here from enriching and developing economically. For this reason, as well as obstructing investment initiatives that could develop the region, it has also restricted state investments. I think I can clearly explain what I'm talking about with a simple example. As it is known, there is only one airport in the Western Thrace region. Another nearby airport is in Kavala. Both of the two local airports do not work effectively. While one of them (Kavala) works only in the summer months, on the other one, there are only Athens-Alexandroupolis routes. Due to the fact that the existing airports are not easily accessible, there is low demand for the airline.

What if an airport had been built in Komotini, instead of operating two airports on both sides of Western Thrace? More specifically, an airport linked directly to the highway in the southern part of the city? In that case, the region would have a much more efficient airport. With the increase of international flights, the airport would remain an alternative route for the citizens of Turkey and Bulgaria who live close to Komotini.

The Thessalonian port is a critically important port for Balkan area. Because most of the Balkan countries, which do not have a sea coast, take their goods from the port of Thessaloniki. Furthermore, it is a very practical port because it is close to sizable cities like Skopje, Sofia and Plovdiv. If a port with similar qualities was built in Komotini, it would reduce the traffic of the Port of Thessaloniki and provide significant employment in the region.

If the university hospital was also built in Komotini (Gümülcine), which is a central place, the population of the city would have been much higher than today. Undoubtedly the economic size of the city would amount to much more than 1 billion Euros, which is the current GDP of the city. All these logical projects would contribute to the development of the regional economy, however, would positively affect the Greek GDP.

Of course, the fact that all this would make Komotini (Gümülcine) one of the important cities of Greece and a significant economic centre, disturbed some people so that none of them occurred.

One of the key factors of being an economically underdeveloped region is the mistaken economic policies of the state, but we must always accept our personal failures and take our lessons. Obviously, as locals, we have not done much to bring in an advanced economic level.

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