The Odyssey: After Austerity Greeks are Returning to the Land to Survive
At the end of another year of painful austerity and mouting debts, Greece’s battered economy is seeing over 1,000 workers lose their jobs every day.
On the surface, many cities still looks prosperous, but the nation’s deep crisis is clearly reflected in the windows of hundreds of empty shops.
More than one million Greeks are unemployed, which is one-quarter of the workforce, and the country is facing a youth unemployment rate of 58 percent.
But while many are struggling to survive in this harsh financial climate, others are returning to the land from the towns and cities that onced promised so much.
Up until a month ago, Kostas Bozas was a city banker. Now he is unemployed and has moved to his father’s house in a village outside Thessaloniki, going back to his roots in search of a future.
“I come a from a steady job, and now at the age of 50 it’s the right opportunity to become a farmer … my father will teach me the things he knows from his father.”
Thousands have taken the road back to farming in recent years – while the rest of the economy is in free fall, the farming sector is actually adding jobs.
“The work is labour work, it was very difficult for me. I’m a girl, I was raised in Athens, I was having everything done for me. And now I have to dig. I feel like Scarlett O’Hara – the land is my strength, I think that when you have the land you can feed yourself, you can produce anything, you can be happy …. We can’t expect anything from the government, they have proven so many years that they are useless, so we have to do it ourselves,” says Alexandra Tricha, a former scientist. When she left the city to start a company growing gourmet snails everybody thought she was crazy, but now business is booming.
Not everyone fleeing the cities is doing it willingly. Some are making a strategic retreat, taking refuge in family villages just to get by – hoping that one day they will return to urban careers.
Christos Kozakis always thought he would return to his mother’s house one day, but when his business selling luxury cars in Athens collapsed, he and his wife felt they had no choice but to move back.
“You feel connected, you feel that you have roots here, that’s one of the good things …. The only thing that makes me bitter is that somebody else decided that for me, I was forced to come here earlier …. Don’t get me wrong, work is not a problem, I would wash cars, I don’t care, just let me do it, just let me make a living to support my wife and my kid. It’s breaking my heart …. This is my country, we are not thieves, we are not people who don’t pay their taxes, and we are not lazy.”
The steady shift to the farms and villages appears to be an unstoppable force fuelled by desperation in the cities, inspired by hope for a better, less anxious life. Some will flourish, others may fail. But all have taken a bold decision not to wait for the government or anyone else – their futures are now in their own hands.
So, as Greeks are trying to turn their loss into a new way of life, is economic salvation to be found in Greece’s rich and fertile soil?
© 2012 Al-Jazeera