While Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and European leaders are sweating over amounts in the billions of euros in Athens, Berlin, and Paris, life could not be more different in the northern part of the Greek island of Euboea, the second largest after Crete.
Far away from politicians and debt collectors, and even cut off from the national power grid, 10 full-time volunteers are currently working at the Telaithrion Project. The group is seeking an off-the-grid solution to the country’s economic woes. The project is named after the nearby mountain in the scenic countryside of the island.
Life on the grid in Athens finds unrelenting pressure on the Greek government under Samaras. The Greek prime minister will have separate meetings with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande, and Eurogroup chairman Jean-Claude Juncker this week to discuss Greece’s progress.
On Monday, the country just barely managed to scrape together 3.2 billion euros (US$3.94 billion) to repay maturing bonds held at the European Central Bank, and Samaras will ask for a delay in delivering promised budget cuts of 11.5 billion euros (US$14.19 billion). The cuts were initially supposed to be implemented by 2014, but Samaras reportedly will ask for two more years to accomplish these austerity measures.
Principles Aim for Ecological Self-Sufficiency
The Telaithrion Project was founded by Apostolos Sianos—a Web-designer by trade—and three friends in 2010 after the crisis started in Greece. “We believe the necessities of life should be available to anyone and everyone,” says the project’s website.
In an emailed statement, Sianos says that the founders “combined [their] recourses [sic] and prioritized in what needs to be purchased and of course the land was in the top of that list,” referring to the 3 acres of land they bought at the foot of the mountain.
“Free and Real” is what the community calls itself, and it stands for Freedom of Resources for Everyone, Respect, Equality, Awareness, and Learning. After buying the land, they set out to construct an ecological shelter and started organic farming, which satisfies about 80 percent of their food needs. As for the rest, Sianos is banking on the principle of what comes around goes around: “We never actually barter, we just give away our surplus and at some point this comes back to us.” He also admits that for some bigger projects—such as the construction of a central dome—they still need support from the outside in the form of contribution of know-how, manpower, and donations.
Basic sustenance, however, is just the beginning. The group is exploring goals in other areas that will provide a complete way of living disconnected from the current economic woes and pitfalls of modern civilization. Free and Real aims to provide economic stability, an education system, medical care, a clean environment, energy-efficient housing, essential goods and services, recreational facilities, and access to all amenities for everybody. To achieve these goals, members leave behind concepts of nationality, race, and gender, and will reduce environmental stress and abandon the traditional fiat money system, according to the group’s website.
Project Not Intended as Panacea
Recently, interest in the project has skyrocketed, and Free and Real helps answer many questions from people who are considering moving from the cities to the countryside or general questions about a sustainable lifestyle, according to a BBC interview with Sianos.
It is not easy because what we [are] doing is not for ourselves and usually it’s hard for people to make that decision.
—Apostolos Sianos, The Telaithrion Project
The community also welcomes over 100 part-time members every year, but Sianos says that there is no elaborate screening process for new members: “The actual decision falls always to the one that wants to join. It is not easy because what we [are] doing is not for ourselves and usually it’s hard for people to make that decision.”
When asked whether the Free and Real model could help Greeks through the crisis, Sianos indicated his willingness to help but also said that the project should not be seen as a panacea: “Maybe it could, maybe not, we are not here for that, the goal is to establish a school of sustainability, if people follow our example we will be more than willing to help.” As the economic crisis churns on in Athens, it is unclear if Prime Minister Samaras has noticed the growing sustainability movement on Euboea.
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