On Friday, March 30, European finance ministers are meeting to discuss increasing the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), the rescue fund for nations that have needed bailouts on finding themselves unable to pay massive debts, all while their economies have imploded. Those countries include Spain, which is on a general strike about labor reforms today, Ireland, Portugal and Greece, where austerity measures have crippled an economy in its fifth year of recession.
With unemployment at 21 percent and salary and wage cuts rampant — many Greeks are making at least 30 percent less than they did before the economic crisis — 1 in 11 people in Athens has been standing in line at a soup kitchen, says the Guardian. Merchants are responding to the reality of customers with considerably less cash by lowering their prices and staying open 24 hours. The Greek daily Kathimerini reports that more than a few neighborhood shops and cafés in Athens have begun to charge one euro (about $1.32) or half or less a euro for coffee and tea and a hot dog. That may not sound like the hugest bargain but prices are more in the range of 3 or 4 euros (about $4 – 5.30) for a cup of coffee at other places.
To the north in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, people have been buying potatoes and other staples directly from farmers. This producer-to-consumer system has become so popular that it has spread across Greece, with farmers selling onions, rice, flour, olives and (so far) more than 4,000 Easter lambs. Indeed, town halls, says the Guardian, announce the sales and farmers, after learning how much people will buy, appear with 25-ton trucks. Christos Kamenides, professor of agricultural marketing at Thessaloniki University, says that such a “unified co-operative” will help to bring bring consumers and producers together and could eventually serve as an ecomomic model:
A couple of hours south, in the port of Volos, an alternative economic model is already up and running. More than 800 townsfolk have signed up for a local currency scheme called TEMs. Teachers, doctors, babysitters, a bookkeeper, farmers and smallholders, a decorator, hairdresser, seamstress and a lawyer are among the members. In the past couple of weeks Theodoros Mavridis, a local electrician, has not had to pay a euro for his eggs, tsipourou (the local brandy), fruit, olives, olive oil, jam, soap, and help in filling out his tax return.
The Guardian also describes the National Theatre of Northern Greece’s plans to offer a season of plays that will be paid for with food which will then to be distributed to charities and welfare groups in Thessaloniki. People in Athens have set up groups to offer free tutoring to help students including those with disabilities like dyslexia and to help distribute discarded bread from restaurants and bakeries to welfare groups.
As Maria Choupis, a founding member of the TEM in Volos, says, after intense outrage at politicians, Greek citizens are “moving beyond anger” and coming together.
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