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Young Greeks Get Creative In the Face of Economic Turmoil

The news on Greece is looking grim. Every day the prospect of default looms larger. Rumors that Greece will exit the euro zone no longer seem as ridiculous as they once were. Painful austerity measures, rampant unemployment, and a recession that has exceeded all projections weigh heavily on the weary Greek masses.

Despite the ominous predictions and uncertainty, a younger generation of Greeks is demonstrating the sort of innovative drive needed to reverse their fortunes.

Upon a recent trip to Greece, I quickly observed a unique attitude among the youthful crowds. I got the distinct sense that young people have neither faith in, nor concern for, their government, believing that politicians do not have the public’s best interests at heart. Young Greeks also recognize the present economic difficulties and anticipate the struggles ahead. Yet, the general outlook is not fatalistic. Instead, there are determined efforts to forge ahead. Interestingly, Greek youths facing the harsh realities of a jobless recession economy are adapting, thinking outside the box, and pursuing opportunities that require a paradoxical blend of progressive ideas and a return to traditional ways of life.

Older generations of Greeks migrated from rural to urban areas or emigrated to foreign countries in search of work and education. Unlike their elders, this generation — including about one out of every two Athenians — is returning to ancestral villages and traditional vocations, such as fishing and farming. In the past two years, 40,000 individuals have joined farming communities. In doing so, they are impacting and enriching Greece’s farming industry. Young novice farmers are “motivated, good learners, and with their laptops and their e-mail are modernizing rural life,” says a spokesman for the country’s farmers’ association.

Not only are young Greeks determined to stay in Greece and invest in their familial lands, they are no longer looking to the government for opportunities. Per the demands of the European Union, the Greek government is scaling back. As the size of the state shrinks and government-subsidized work becomes scarce, entrepreneurial young Greeks are carving out a place in the market for themselves.

Data released by the Regional Development Ministry reveals that in the first half of this year, 28,603 new businesses were founded, off-setting the number that closed their doors by over 3,000. In June, 4,921 people — many of them young and recently unemployed — began their own start-ups, outpacing the number of companies that closed by 1,633. New projects, particularly those in the remote agrarian areas of Greece, range from quaint bed-and-breakfasts to snail breeding. Such willingness to take risks in new and independent ventures exemplifies the mindset of many young Greeks.

When asked if Greeks have the capacity to adapt and become more like their European neighbors, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos promised, “We will not sell-off what is great about us because this is the core energy that will make us great again.” Adaptability, innovativeness, and determination to build a life in Greece, which are qualities demonstrated by the country’s enterprising youth, are essential to realizing this ideal.

In all fairness, young Greeks and their business ventures, no matter how determined and genuine they may be, will not solve Greece’s big picture problems; however, this doesn’t seem to be a source of concern.

“We just want to live our lives,” is the typical response. Despite the country’s bleak economic forecast, young Greeks remain unrattled and undeterred.

Photo Credit: Toni Kaarttinen

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