I grew up in Thessaloniki but always had a deep want to travel, see and live in other places. Which I did. My sporadic encounters with my native Greece always brought to mind the lyrics from a famous Greek song which I shall badly try to translate here:
“Oh Hellas I love you,
and I thank you deeply,
for you taught me and I know
how to breathe wherever I find myself,
how to die with every step I take
and how to just not be able to stand you”
These words are the preface for my MBA thesis for which I had to interact with Greek officials -and hence got a first hand experience of the stagnant and chaotic ways of its bureaucracy.
Greece is a place of extreme and diverse beauty, almost 1/3 is under Natura protection. Within such a small geographical place there is a dose of everything (apart maybe from glaciers): snowy mountaintops for skiing, desert-like dunes, volcanic islands, prehistoric forests and countless hot springs! It feeds your soul with joy, light and clarity and you see why the term philosophy was coined up here. On the other hand, interaction with the system and the people can drive you mad in nanoseconds.
In late 2010, I had been on the road for the best part of a year, not keeping track of politics and news and had missed the handing over of the country to the IMF and the banksters. One day I heard someone say: ‘Oh you’re Greek! My condolences: your country has gone bankrupt and is in tatters’…(!)… So, I thought I’d check back a bit and see what goes on.
Especially after the 2004 Olympics every time I was back I felt ‘like a fly in a glass of milk’ as we say in Greek, like I do not fit in. It was as if they’d all undergone mass hypnosis; everything was new, shiny, posh and expensive; credit cards arriving in the mail without having applied for one; people, euphoric and dull-eyed, going on constant shopping sprees. I felt like I was in a twilight zone surrounded by consumerist zombies!
When I went back a few weeks later, two things happened: a. the country was not in ruins as I was led to believe: people were out shopping and had food on their table, public transport was regular, water and electricity were still there, as were public hospitals (none of which is the same nowadays). But something was brewing, brooding even. Which leads us to b. something was different… I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it, but something was a-changing.
The proof came in May 2011 and the infamous ‘indignation’ or ‘occupy the squares’ movement. I was there from the very first day, and although it was very amateuristic and problematic in various levels (and has been widely exploited for political gain) still, it was a strong, life-changing experience for most of us involved. I had never before (except from history books) seen Greeks come together in such ways and with such plurality and diversity. God-fearing pensioners working alongside young budding anarchists; apolitical housewives and disillusioned political-party members, all stepping out and taking initiative, organising, sharing openly their feelings and their food, showing solidarity, standing hand-in-hand to face the teargas and police brutality… The zombies had a heart!
The next cornerstone came in August 2011 when I was fortunate enough to be part of the Greek delegation for the first Nyeleni Forum on European Food Sovereignty. That was it for me. I decided to stay. And help. With all my strength. Since then, I dedicated myself and all my resources to bringing about change -and what a ride it’s been! I can honestly say that I have never before worked as hard and with such persistence -even when I was working for a paycheck! Of course that meant many sacrifices on my part and a complete change of lifestyle as I immersed myself in the gift economy and found out how it is to have your needs met without money being the first resort.
Since then I got involved with and instigated the creation of various groups, collectives, anti-privatisation initiatives etc. In October 2011 I co-organised the first Greek meeting on Food Sovereignty. In 2014 I organised the Permaculture Caravan -roaming the country for six weeks with Permaculturist Peter Cow spreading the ideas of autonomy and self sustainability and creating a new hype for Permaculture around the country. I joined ‘Neighbourhoods In Action’ -a group of eco-activists that managed to get elected in local government council of Thessaloniki -and played an important role in our municipality signing the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact for the creation of Food Policy Councils. I am currently trying to put our municipality in the European Network for Cities for Agroecology, and I am the focal point for Greece -ie contact person, for the European Food Sovereignty Movement and URGENCI -the Community Supported Agriculture Movement.
I am interested in creating a new agricultural production model, focusing on agroecology and self-sufficiency and I believe we need to pursue the transition to a new way of thinking and living. We live in a time of confluence where the old and the new are still co-existing and that creates a very challenging atmosphere, so people need support, tools and skills to make it through.
We need to get involved with things like Community Supported Agriculture (CSA); sharing risks, responsibilities and rewards between growers and eaters of food, creating a new concept of human relationships, and new kinds of communities. Out of the ten million inhabitants of Greece almost half live in the area around Athens and one in Thessaloniki. There are whole regions -especially in the mountainous parts of the country, filled with ghost towns. The cities are dying due to the continuous austerity packs that suffocate entrepreneurship and chances of finding work. We need to revive rural areas by promoting small-scale agriculture, empowering farmers and inspiring rural lifestyle, by combining traditions and technology, and promote an economy based on social solidarity and alternative currencies.
This is also, in its heart, a political issue: we need to emancipate ourselves as political beings, as citizens and as consumers and we need to create a new way for governing and caring for our societies and be responsible custodians of the abundance of nature for ourselves and all other species and for the generations to come.
If you are unaware of what Food Sovereignty is all about you can watch this.
So if all of this sounds interesting, if you feel the urge to get involved, or if you have information and contacts that can help, please contact me to join forces
To see what I am currently involved in and all the exciting things we are creating at present in Greece and around Europe, please follow this link
The production of this article was supported by Op3n Fellowships - an ongoing program for community contributors during May - November 2016.