Touring a country on its last economic legs

Greeks are notoriously suspicious of central government, and their national identity even today is a work in progress.

By JONATHAN BECK
February 11, 2012 22:10
1 minute read.
Mill on the bank of the Agrafiotis

MILL on the bank of the Agrafiotis 390. (photo credit: OFIR ADANI)

 
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The Greeks are notoriously suspicious of central government, and their national identity even today is a work in progress.

Athens, which just last month defaulted on its debt, is trying hard to develop international tourism in the mainland. Tourism is a large part of the Greek GDP and Tourism Minister Pavlos Geroulanos is aware of the untapped potential of the country.

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The government has a problem, though.

Greeks’ aptitude for misusing state subsidies – which were par for the course in an economy which was quasi-socialist for decades – makes Israeli cunning with taxes seem tame by comparison.

And so the government tiptoes when reaching out to the folk who are ultimately the service providers of its inland tourism industry. It offers guidance and assistance, but as a brief conversation with Geroulanos shows, is wary of heavy-handed intervention.

Thakis’s restaurant in Agrafa is a case in point. Born to a family of millers, Thakis nearly went bankrupt when emigration to the major cities caused the village’s population to dwindle. Additionally, his profession became obsolete, since Agrafans no longer needed to stock ground wheat in their sheds.

Enter the government – and its will to preserve the old flour mill as a building of historic significance – in the role of Thakis’s own deus ex machina. The middleaged miller participated in a program encouraging countryside tourism, during which he was led step by step in converting the mill into a restaurant.

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The restaurant gave birth to other jobs in the village, including the supply of fresh produce, waiters, and villagers opening their own guest houses. The slowly dying village was reborn and started quietly flourishing.

It’s easy, and perhaps pointless, to try to determine which government, or successive governments, are to blame for Greece’s financial meltdown. Maybe it’s even the particular mindset of the entire population and not the government’s fault at all. But from a purely human perspective, it’s quite a pleasure to be welcomed by the miller-cumrestaurateur.

And after dining at the windmill, it’s satisfying to see that at least in this case, the plan came together.

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