FEATURE: Debt crisis forces young Greeks to run for the hills
ATHENS, Oct 31, 2011 (Menafn - dpa - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --Stock broker Giannis Pantoulis never imagined himself crouching in the dirt tending to grapevines in a small town in central Greece.
But that, he says, was before the financial crisis caused unemployment to spiral and major cities such as Athens to descend into chaos with daily protests and increased violence.
"I could foresee that the massive bubble of fake growth, prosperity and wealth would one day burst and I wanted to get out before it happened," said Pantoulis, 40.
Two years ago, he packed his wife, their two children and all their possessions into a truck and made the 50-kilometre trip from the northern port city of Thessaloniki to Katerini.
Looking down at his wine-stained hands, Pantoulis admits the journey has not been easy and the business will take years to become profitable. But he does not regret the move.
"Initially everyone thought I was crazy to move back to my father's town and take up winemaking, but now they too are seeing that the big cities have nothing to offer," said Pantoulis.
"Our politicians have failed us," he said. "I am not the only one who has had enough -- others are also looking to leave."
Pantoulis is part of a growing number of Greeks returning to their ancestral villages to take up farming, as the country struggles with its most serious economic crisis since World War II.
The government's efforts to reduce Greece's massive debt and qualify for international bailout loans have been met with anger and disappointment as Greeks endure cuts to salaries, pensions and benefits amid rising costs.
"As more and more people lose their jobs they are looking for a stable line of work and cheaper lifestyle ... something which will put food on the table, and farming offers this," said Dimitris Michaelidis from the Young Farmers Association of Greece.
"We are having a hard time keeping up with all the requests for information from people asking about what crops grow the best in a given area," he said.
Evi Papadimitriou, 30, is among the estimated 60,000 Greeks who have joined the farming community in the past two years, reversing the trend of migration to the cities.
Papadimitriou struggled to make ends meet after studying marketing in Athens, working at odd jobs unrelated to her field, before deciding to return to her parent's town of Arta, in north-western Greece, to start her own snail farm business.
"I could no longer afford to stay in Athens ... so I took the risk -- if I make just enough to cover what I need to live on I will be happy," said Papadimitriou.
She believes the economic crisis may turn out to be a good thing as more and more young people will be forced to move to the countryside, bringing abandoned villages and towns back to life.
Many educated, young Greeks are now also seeking to emigrate to the United States, Australia, other parts of the Europe or the Middle East.
More than five decades ago, hundreds of thousands of poor farmers and blue-collar workers left Greece to seek a better life abroad, most of them working in factories or restaurants.
During the prosperous 1980s and 1990s, a large number opted to return. Others were lured back by Greece's economic success after joining the euro and jobs opening up as Athens prepared to host the 2004 Olympic Games.
According to Europass, which provides employers and employment agencies with resumes of mainly young people from all over Europe, 13,300 Greeks sent in their resumes in September, compared to 2,200 the same month in 2008. More than 63 per cent where under the age of 30.
"I could not get a job here and I just do not see things getting any better for several more years to come," said biologist Evgenia Tsakili, 27, who found work as a laboratory researcher on the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus.
An October seminar on Australia's migration policy and visa procedures organized by its embassy in Athens caused its website to be backlogged with thousands of applications.
In Frankfurt, officials at the World Council of Hellenes Abroad, a group that represents and assists the Greek diaspora, said they have been swamped with requests for information on employment in Germany.
"Every day we get calls, the majority of which are young professional people between 30-35 years old who are unemployed, seeking our advice and help about working in Germany," Giorgos Amarantidis from the council said in a phone interview.
He estimates that 4,000 people have emigrated to Germany in the last three months, the majority without finding work.
"Greek doctors are being lured to the United Kingdom and Germany is asking for technical professionals such as engineers," said Amarantidis, who emigrated to Germany in the mid-1980s.
"Young Greek people are coming here terrorized by the state that Greece is in and for their future," he said. "They tell us that they have no trust in the country's system and that they will not go back."
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