Rosemary and thyme against Greece’s economic torpor

- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, DERVÉNI (Greece)

Jun 24, 2019-

High on the cliff-tops overlooking the Gulf of Corinth, Areti Zaharopoulou has managed to scrape together a modest living for the past six years growing herbs such as sage, thyme and rosemary.

The mother-of-four was an accountant in Athens when she suddenly found herself out of a job in 2013 at the age of 57, when the company she had been working for decided to downsize.

So, like thousands of other Greeks, and with 10 years still to go before she would be entitled to draw a pension, Zaharopoulou felt compelled to roll up her sleeves and re-train in agriculture.

She took a course in botany, quit Athens in 2014 and found an abandoned field in Pyrgos on the Pelopponese peninsula, which she leased to grow aromatic herbs. “I’m a typical example of the crisis,” she says.

While she says she is fulfilling a long-cherished dream, she only makes just enough to get by—saving on distribution costs by doing it herself.

But Zaharopoulou grits her teeth and tries to keep smiling.

“Like everyone who works the fields, I hope I’ll be able to survive this difficult period,” she says. Nevertheless, with three weeks to go before the Greek elections, there is no doubt in her mind as to who is to blame for the economic torpor still gripping the country, years after the financial crisis that nearly saw Greece crash out of the eurozone—the political classes.

Yannis Nissotakis, a former banker who now owns a small cafe-bar in the coastal village of Derveni, agrees.

“There’s no hope in Greece and it’s our fault,” he says.

With nepotism still deeply ingrained in the Greek political system, “nothing is going to change,” he complains.

Nissotakis used to work for Societe Generale in Athens before the French bank shut up shop in Greece at the start of the crisis in 2010.

For the next two years, he worked in a Greek bank, but then decided to throw in the towel and come to Derveni to open his cafe-bar.

“Nobody wants to work in the fields. Lemons from Argentina cost only a euro per kilogramme. That destroys the competition,” he says.

Even though the Greek economy has shown a timid recovery since 2017, 23 percent of the population still lives in poverty.

“What has happened in Europe over several decades has been brutal in Greece in recent years—private debt has increased and part-time work has risen to 27 percent from five percent before the crisis,” said Ioannis Kouzis, professor of Social Policy at the University Pantion of Athens.

“The closure of 270,000 small and medium-sized enterprises after 2010, the drastic restriction of the liberal professions and the reduction of income have plunged the country into a stagnation that creates new classes of poor,” he said.

Public disaffection has become widespread. And in local elections at the beginning of June, nearly 60 percent of voters stayed away from the polls in some regions.

For Kouzis, Greece is “caught in a Catch-22,” because its massive debt mountain leaves no room for manoeuvre for policymakers to draw up “a new model of production.”

“This leads to a climate of resignation and fatalism in society, which could, in turn, lead to a new crisis,” the academic warns.

Published: 24-06-2019 09:33

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