Many Greeks own farmland that went fallow after their parents and grandparents moved from the countryside to cities during the nation’s post-World War II economic boom. Now, after years of crushing austerity, ever more are turning to their agrarian roots as a backup plan.
“The best thing is that if you’re at the bottom, there’s nothing worse,” said Konstantina Kardoulia, 30, a graphic artist who has been unemployed for a year and a half but has a patch of land near Athens. “We have rabbits, chickens, cabbages, carrots. Enough to cover our needs.”
For years, planning even a month in advance in Greece has seemed foolhardy, with euro-denominated nest eggs threatening to evaporate if the country were pushed out of the currency zone. Even when the country’s squabbling politicians banded together to legislate the harsh economic measures demanded by the International Monetary Fund and creditor countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, the laws frequently failed to turn into action. And even though Greek leaders say that the situation is easing, unemployment is at 27 percent and the government barely has the money to keep hospitals, schools and other basic services going.
A year after a fragile coalition government came to power, an unfamiliar stability had settled over Greece until Prime Minister Antonis Samaras this month ordered the closure of ERT, the public broadcaster, in an effort to strike 2,500 jobs from government payrolls. The smallest of three coalition partners pulled out of the government to protest the move, leading to fresh turmoil this past week.
‘We have to do something’
The unrest barely touched a pastoral estate in northern Athens that belonged to the first queen of Greece, Amalia of Oldenburg. Students in the agriculture class were calm, saying that they had finally found a path that depended little on their leaders. With olive trees taking a prominent role in Greek myths, the advertising copy for farming here was written thousands of years of ago.
Most of the 96 students have professional degrees ranging from dentistry to civil engineering. All are unemployed, and most have given up finding a job in their area of expertise anytime soon. So they have turned to farming as a business. Some plan to move out of expensive Athens and into the countryside, reversing the migration of their ancestors decades ago.