Archive for May 13th, 2011

The Greek rural migration

My favorite progressive newspaper, The Guardian, has an article about Greeks migrating back to rural places. And I’m saying “back”, because before the 1960s, Athens was a pretty small city, not the ~5 million headcount behemoth it is today (that’s almost half of the whole Greek population). Suddenly, it had a population explosion after the vast majority of people from mountainous villages left their livestock, fields, and homes for Athens or abroad (mostly Germany), in hopes of a better [easier] life.

A few months ago I read another article by a Greek politician urging people to go back to their villages. Many took that remark pretty bad, but I must have been among the few who thought that this is the only good workable idea for both citizens, and the country. See, most of these Athenian people already are property owners elsewhere. There are very few “true” Athenians that have been there for many generations. The rest usually still have a property stake back at their old village. It’s just that no one wants to go back there.

Skiadas, my village. My father’s old house is visible in the pic.

My own village used to have over 400 inhabitants when my dad was a kid in the early ’60s. An extremely lively place. Today, there are no more than 40 or 50 people living there, mostly old people and returning retirees. My own generation in the ’80s was the last to see the school operating in the village. If all their descendants, that still have a stake or property at the village, were to come back from Athens or abroad, we’re looking for at least 1000 people! Thank God for the Summer or Easter, where the village comes alive again when these compatriots arrive for vacations. The community is still strong among all these people, since everyone knows everybody else, even if they don’t all live at the same place anymore. See, we don’t forget who we are: we’re Souliotes.

I spent my early years in Athens (I was born there), and then we moved to the city of Preveza. When my family got into debt in the early ’80s (long story), my father took us all and went back to Skiadas, his village (where he already had built a house all by himself in the ’70s). In the beginning, adjusting to the mountain life was difficult. Every other kid there was like a mountain goat, running faster than me and without fear in the dangerous terrain. Sometimes without shoes. The school sucked too. We were 25 kids in all 6 primary school grades, in a single room, with a single teacher. The teacher had no time to spend more than 15-20 minutes per day on each grade. And it was cold (no heating to speak about, in a place that ices/snows in the winter).

But I managed my way through all this. My family did too. We picked ourselves up financially, and 3 years later we left the village for the nearby town of Louros, that had a high school and more work for my father (he used to be a house builder). The point is, my family is living proof that taking a step back can help you stand on your feet again and then leap forward. If only more people saw it this way (at least anyone who doesn’t have children that need to go to school, since most schools are closed there now). Instead, the whole department of Epirus is full of abandoned villages. The land is not seeing any new crops, there are fewer sheep & goat flocks than what they used to be, and the houses are falling apart.

And their owners? The owners are still drunk with the city life. The easy life. But what’s the price to pay for this easier life? Themselves into debt or misery, the country into debt, and a Mega City becoming more dirty and more dangerous with every passing night.