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In a country ravaged by recession, Soula Alevridou stands out, in more ways than one. Where other Greek entrepreneurs have fallen on hard times, her business is booming — so much so that she has been forced to open new premises to meet demand. With success has come largesse, but in a nation where few can afford to give — or are too busy stashing their ill-gotten gains abroad — her generosity has touched a nerve. Alevridou, owner of two brothels in the central Greek town of Larissa, is at the centre of a furore after local officials insisted that a primary school return her donation to cover the costs of textbooks and a photocopier.
This is not her first brush with notoriety: she recently bailed out her local football team, and players now proudly — if awkwardly — wear bright pink jerseys advertising Soula's House of History and Villa Erotica, the two brothels that have made her rich. It seemed only natural, then, that when a primary school in the western port city of Patras became insolvent — with bankrupt local authorities making clear they were in no position to provide books or even a photocopier for the school — the self-styled philanthropist would come to the rescue again.
At first the school was grateful. Local municipalities are in charge of their finances and there's no money, not even to buy aspirin for the kids," he said. Many of them can't afford to buy textbooks for their children. The gesture would have been a footnote in the economic crisis bedevilling the debt-stricken country had news of it not got out. As soon as local media ran with the story, Alevridou found herself at the centre of a furious row over the propriety of a brothel madam stepping into a gap created by fiscal recklessness and state profligacy.
Although prostitution is legal in Greece — where in its ability to spur economic activity prompted the government to revise its GDP calculations on the basis of tax earnings from the profession — it is frowned upon.
Authorities have been quick to denounce Alevridou for using philanthropy to promote her establishments. But we must not forget that primary school teaches new members of our society, it dictates their value system and stance towards life," said Giorgos Panayiotopoulos, the provincial director of education in western Greece. Alevridou admits that her brothels — run out of pastel coloured bungalows in Larissa — have fared better than most, but vehemently rejects accusations that her latest act of goodwill is aimed at self-promotion.