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Athenian youth abandon the city in search of a simpler life

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default Athenian youth abandon the city in search of a simpler life

Post by Adrian on 14th May 2011, 2:11 pm

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Greek crisis forces thousands of Athenians into rural migration

Debt, unemployment and poverty is causing mass unrest and thousands to seek a cheaper lifestyle outside the capital


High in the hills of Arcadia, in a big stone house on the edge of this village overlooking verdant pastures and a valley beyond, a group of young Athenians are busy rebuilding their lives.

Until recently Andritsaina was not much of a prospect for urban Greeks. "But that," said Yiannis Dikiakos, "was before Athens turned into the explosive cauldron that it has become. We woke up one day and thought we've had enough. We want to live the real Greece and we want to live it somewhere else."

Piling his possessions into a Land Rover and trailer, the businessman made the 170-mile journey to Andritsaina last month. As he drove past villages full of derelict buildings and empty homes, along roads that wound their way around rivers and ravines, he did not look back.

"Athens has failed its young people. It has nothing to offer them any more. Our politicians are idiots … they have disappointed us greatly," said Dikiakos, who will soon be joined by 10 friends who have also decided to escape the capital.

They are part of an internal migration, thousands of Greeks seeking solace in rural areas as the debt-stricken country grapples with its gravest economic crisis since the second world war.

"It's a big decision but people are making it," said Giorgos Galos, a teacher in Proti Serron on the great plains of Macedonia, in northern Greece. "We've had two couples come here and I know lots in Thessaloniki [Greece's second biggest city] who want to go back to their villages. The crisis is eating away at them and they're finding it hard to cope. If they had just a little bit of support, a little bit of official encouragement, the stream would turn into a wave because everything is just so much cheaper here."

The trickle into Proti Serron might have gone unnoticed had the village not also been the birthplace of the late Konstantinos Karamanlis who oversaw the nation's entry into the then European Economic Community in 1981. An alabaster white statue of the statesman in the village square is adorned with the words: "I believe that Greece can change shape and its people their fate."

Nearly sixty years after they were uttered, a growing number of Greeks, at least, are beginning to wonder whether the old man was right. The drift towards the bright lights of the big cities were by Karamanlis' own admission one of the great barometers of the country's transition from a primarily agricultural society into an advanced western economy.This week, as the IMF and EU debated ways of trying to re-rescue Greece and observers openly wondered whether the country would have to leave the euro, Greece appeared more adrift than ever, tossed on a high sea of mounting anger and civil disobedience from people who have lost trust in their politicians, and at the mercy of markets that refuse to believe it can pull itself back from the brink of bankruptcy. "The reality is that these people, they are in deep shit," the managing director of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn said recently. "If we had not come they would have fallen into the abyss. Two weeks later the government would not have been able to pay civil servants' wages."

Ironically, it is the medicine doled out under last year's draconian EU-IMF €110bn (£96bn) rescue programme, implemented to modernise a sclerotic economy, that has made their lot worse. Twelve months of sweeping public sector pay and pension cuts, massive job losses, tax increases and galloping inflation have begun to have a brutal effect. GDP is predicted to contract by 3% this year – making Greece's the deepest recession in Europe.

In Athens, home to almost half of Greece's 11 million-strong population, the signs of austerity – and poverty – are everywhere: in the homeless and hungry who forage through municipal rubbish bins late at night; in the cash-strapped pensioners who pick up rejects at the street markets that sell fruit and vegetables; in the shops now boarded and closed and in the thousands of ordinary Greeks who can no longer afford to take family outings or regularly eat meat.

"We've had to give up tavernas, give up buying new clothes and give up eating meat more than once a week," said Vasso Vitalis, a mother-of-two who struggles with her civil servant husband to make ends meet on a joint monthly income of €2,000.

"With all the cuts we estimate we've lost around €450 a month. We're down to the last cent and, still, we're lucky. We've both got jobs. I know people who are unemployed and are going hungry. They ask family and friends for food," she sighed. "What makes us mad is that everybody knew the state was a mess but none of our politicians had the guts to mend it. It was like a ship heading for the rocks and now the rocks are very near."

Greeks also know that with their economy needing another financial lifeline, and few willing to lend to a country in such a parlous state, it will also get much worse before it gets better.

"In the past, the future always implied hope for Greeks but now it implies fear," said Nikos Filis, editor of the leftwing Avgi newspaper. "Until this week people thought that with all the measures the crisis would be over in a year or two. Now with the prospect of yet more austerity for more aid, they can't see an end in sight."

With unemployment officially nudging 790,000 – although believed to be far bigger with the closure of some 150,000 small and medium-sized businesses over the past year – there are fears that Greece, the country at the centre of Europe's worst financial debacle in decades, is slipping inexorably into political and social crisis, too. Rising racist tensions and lawlessness on the streets this week spurred the softly spoken mayor of Athens, Giorgos Kaminis, to describe the city as "beginning to resemble Beirut".

Yannis Caloghirou, an economics professor at the National Technical University of Athens, said: "Greece has become a battleground, at the EU level where policymakers have made the crisis worse with their lack of strategy and piecemeal approach, and among its own people who no longer have trust in institutions and the ability of the political system to solve the situation. My concern is that the country is slipping into ungovernability, that ultra-right groups and others will grab the moment."

Nineteen months into office the ruling socialists, riven by dissent and increasingly disgust over policies that ideologically many oppose, are likewise beginning to show the strain of containing the crisis, with the prime minister, George Papandreou, being forced publicly to whip truculent ministers into line.

A mass exodus of the nation's brightest and best has added to fears that in addition to failing one or perhaps two generations, near-bankrupt Greece stands as never before to lose its intellectual class. "Nobody is speaking openly about this but the prospects for the Greek economy are going to get much worse as the brain drain accelerates and the country loses its best minds," said Professor Lois Lambrianidis, who teaches regional economics at the University of Macedonia.

"Around 135,000, or 9% of tertiary educated Greeks, were living abroad and that was before the crisis began. They simply cannot find jobs in a service-oriented economy that depends on low-paid cheap labour."

Just as in Arcadia where the young are choosing to start anew, Greece, he says, needs to rebuild itself if it is to survive its worst crisis in modern times.


Greece in numbers


GDP forecast: 3% in 2011 (worst in Europe)

GDP: €230bn

Debts: €340bn

Annual government revenue: €40bn

Debts per person: €30,000

Unemployment: 16%

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Adrian
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default Re: Athenian youth abandon the city in search of a simpler life

Post by Adrian on 14th May 2011, 2:14 pm

Fascinated to read this today, rural Greece was a second choice for us if things didn't work out for us here in Canada. The last time we were there we saw hundreds of abandoned farms and houses, all in fertile and stunning land and begging for new people to live there...

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default Re: Athenian youth abandon the city in search of a simpler life

Post by Chilli-head on 16th May 2011, 12:11 pm

I love the Greek countryside and feel for its people, but this surely has its up side - something like 40% of Greeks lived in Athens and the islands and villages were surffering from the drain of young people off to Athens to live a less rustic life, as Badger notes. Personally I can think of worse options than being forced to live a down-shifted life in the Greek backwoods, to be honest ! I'm sure there must be a strong market for some of those fine Greek artisan products - honey, cheeses, wine. I could easily talk myself into it ...
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default Re: Athenian youth abandon the city in search of a simpler life

Post by Adrian on 16th May 2011, 12:18 pm

We once spent a very happy and peaceful vacation in a tiny village called Pefkos on Rhodes. It took an extreme effort of will to climb into the taxi to get to the airport and go home after two weeks, the place was bliss and the locals so very welcoming. Sadly it seems that other people thought so too and now it is massively over developed and the property costs are on par with the UKs Crying or Very sad

I think that it is quite positive that young people are prepared to up sticks from the city, join together to form new communities and live simpler lives, I can only hope that the property developers don't get involved as well..

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default Re: Athenian youth abandon the city in search of a simpler life

Post by Chilli-head on 16th May 2011, 12:29 pm

I have spent a fair amount of time in Greece; some of it exploring on foot. It has to be said the march of the buldozers, in part supported by the EU, have contributed to its despoilment. The property developers are a problem too - there have been allegations that some of the forest fires around Athens were maybe deliberate "clearances". Rhodes now feels very cosmopolitan - last time I was there it had joined the rest of Europe in having Polish bar staff !

I still have my favourite unspoiled areas of Greece - but I'm not telling where !
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