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Greeks turn to barter networks

Volos network is one of several such groups cropping up around the country, as Greeks squeezed by large wage cuts, tax increases and growing fears about whether they will continue to use the euro have looked for creative ways to cope with a radically changing economic landscape.

business Updated: Oct 02, 2011 23:12 IST

The first time he bought eggs, milk and jam at an outdoor market using not euros but an informal barter currency, Theodoros Mavridis, an unemployed electrician, was thrilled.

"I felt liberated, I felt free for the first time," said Mavridis in a recent interview at a cafe in this port city in central Greece.

Mavridis is a co-founder of a growing network here in Volos that uses a so-called local alternative unit, or TEM in Greek, to exchange goods and services - language classes, baby-sitting, computer support, home-cooked meals.

Part alternative currency, part barter system, part open-air market, the Volos network has grown exponentially in the past year, from 50 to 400 members.

It is one of several such groups cropping up around the country, as Greeks squeezed by large wage cuts, tax increases and growing fears about whether they will continue to use the euro have looked for creative ways to cope with a radically changing economic landscape.

"Ever since the crisis there's been a boom in such networks all over Greece," said George Stathakis, a professor of political economy and vice chancellor of the University of Crete.

In spite of the large public sector in Greece, which employs one in five workers, the country's social services often are not up to the task of helping people in need, he added.

"There are so many huge gaps that have to be filled by new kinds of networks," he said.

Even the government is taking notice.

Last week, Parliament passed a law sponsored by the labour ministry to encourage the creation of "alternative forms of entrepreneurship and local development," including networks based on an exchange of goods and services.

The law for the first time fills in a regulatory gray area, giving such groups nonprofit status.

Here in Volos, the group's founders are adamant that they work in parallel to the regular economy, inspired more by a need for solidarity in rough times than a political push for Greece to leave the euro zone and return to the drachma.