Tuesday, 25 June 2019

In Greece, an organic rebel farm goes against the grain

 A Greek family’s quest for seeds, sustainability and independence

This article was published by Al Jazeera International 
 
Yiorgos (L) and Antonis Antonopoulos on a hill overlooking Dilofo.

DILOFO, Thessaly - On the Greek government’s list of certified organic farmers, Antonis Antonopoulos has the serial number one.

What really makes Antonis and his brother, Yiorgos, a singular phenomenon, though, is not that their model farm pioneered organic methods in Greece; it’s that they were among the first to realise that organically grown, local varieties of wheat and barley other farmers had cast aside could be a commercial hit.

The Antonopouloi have branded and shipped their organic flours made from indigenous grains to specialty shops and bakeries for years. Two years ago, their branded Zea flour, derived from a double-kerneled wheat bred in their town of Dilofo, became the key ingredient in an eponymous sliced bread that is distributed nationwide. Although sales figures are a closely guarded secret, it is clear that Zea’s commercial success has brought an ancient grain back from the brink of extinction.

“Demand is growing,” says Yiorgos Antonopoulos, who won’t divulge his annual turnover or how many hectares he cultivates. “Suffice it to say that I’m better off than anyone else in the area.”

This success is important because Greece is a natural gene bank. Its archipelago, varied terrain and microclimates favoured so many divergent evolutionary paths that today it has the highest plant biodiversity in Europe, with approximately 6,000 wild plant species or subspecies, and thousands of cultivated plants. Should this vast genetic vocabulary be lost, scientists and farmers could lose a vital resource in the fight to keep feeding the planet in a rapidly-changing climate.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Kyriakos Velopoulos: From TV salesman to European Parliament

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.
 
Kyriakow Velopoulos denies he sold "letters written by Christ" in a television appearance on 15 May 2018.
Athens, Greece - Famous in Greece for selling "letters written by Jesus" on television, Kyriakos Velopoulos, a ranting far-right populist and telepersona, managed to pull off one of the biggest surprises of last week's European Parliament elections.



His party, Greek Solution, was an unheard-of party to most Greek voters until May 27. Its capture of 4.2 percent of the national vote in European Parliament elections that day caught the country off-guard.



It also puts the party in place to take more than a dozen seats in the 300-seat national parliament when Greece holds a national election  on July 7.  



Kyriakos Velopoulos, its rags-to-riches founder, a former journalist, attributed the party's popularity to the fact that he met many of his voters personally.



"I crossed the country three times, door to door," he said in a television interview the day after the election. "Politicians today are too far from the people. If everyone had done their jobs, we might not be here today."


Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Greek conservative party well placed ahead of snap election

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis greets supporters in Thessaloniki, on his final campaign speech for the European party election on May 24.


ATHENS - Greek voters punished the ruling Syriza for broken promises in Sunday’s European Parliament election. Conservative New Democracy’s nine-point lead over Syriza was so devastating, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced that he will call a snap general election at the end of June, four months early. “The result… is not up to par with our expectations,” Tsipras said.

Tsipras was referring to more than a billion dollars’ worth of handouts he had announced three weeks before, in the form of a halving of sales tax in supermarkets and restaurants, and a bonus pension. Voters were not taken in.

“Tsipras’ handouts acted as a boomerang,” says Nikolaos Nikolaidis, a lawyer with good connections inside the conservative party. “If you look at how pensioners voted, the bonus pension was more of an annoyance. It reminded them of all that had been taken away in previous years. It was also announced just before the election and was clearly connected to it.”

Iran tension highlights EU’s subordinate role

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.


US-Iranian tensions have revived concern over the European Union’s difficulty in speaking with authority on the world stage.



“I don’t see that there’s greater unity in Europe than there was in 2003,” says Thanos Dokos, Director of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, referring to European divisions over the Second Gulf War. “If anything, there is less.”



In the runup to European Parliament elections this month, Iran threatened to depart from a deal struck in 2015 with US President Obama, that lifted trade sanctions against Tehran in return for a vastly scaled down nuclear programme.


Friday, 17 May 2019

Syriza unnerves creditors as it reaches for voters

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

Greece’s Syriza government on Wednesday approved a slate of tax sweeteners and handouts worth well over a billion euros, as it tried to boost its popularity days ahead of European Parliament elections.

Opposition parties joined Syriza in voting for a measure that allows tax debtors to schedule their arrears in 120 instalments.

They also supported the government in lowering sales tax on food and restaurants from 24 percent to 13 percent.

More controversial was the government’s handout of a 13th monthly pension to 2.5 million retirees.

Syriza has promised further fiscal relaxation ahead of a general election due by October.

“We have a brand and we have recognition value in Europe. It is a left wing brand and we shall contest the next election as the left and win it as the left,” finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos told parliament.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Second Tree picks up the challenge of refugee integration

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

Students in Second Tree’s English class near Katsikas camp

Sarah hands out slips of paper to her class, each with a verb in the present tense. Her 13 students must come up to the whiteboard and write the appropriate past tense for their verb, and then pronounce it.

Reza, from Afghanistan, correctly writes “tried”, but he produces peals of laughter from Riat, a Somali, when he says, “I cried to learn.” Riat is clearly the star of the class. She whispers everybody’s answer correctly to herself; but even she doesn’t understand how the aorist of leave can be “left”. Nor does anyone else. “Left, right?” asks one student.

Sarah is an English teacher for Second Tree, an aid group made entirely of volunteers. Her wards are adult refugees from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They assemble every weekday morning in a 25sqm schoolhouse of unfinished lumber hammered together by volunteers. It sits in the parking lot of a defunct furniture factory across the street from Katsikas refugee camp, near Ioannina in northwest Greece.

Friday, 12 April 2019

How refugees die

This article was published by The Sewanee Review and Longreads.


I met Doa Shukrizan at the harbormaster’s office in the port of
Chania, in western Crete. She sat with her back to a balcony
 overlooking the street, and the strong morning light enveloped
 her delicate figure, so that there appeared to be even
less of her than there was after her ordeal with the sea. Doa’s face 
had peeled from extreme sunburn; she spoke softly. Between the
cavernous ceiling and polished concrete floor, the only furnishings
 were tables, chairs and ring binders, so that voices, however slender,
 resounded. There were no secrets in this room. During the hour
 that we spoke, three coastguard officers sat at their desks not doing
 any work, transfixed by what she said.



Doa and her fiancé had been among some five hundred people
 who boarded a fishing trawler at the port of Damietta in the Nile
Delta on September 6, 2014. Many, like Doa, were Syrian. Others
 were Palestinian or Sudanese. All were fleeing war and had paid
 smugglers to ferry them, illegally, to Italy.



Doa’s family had fled their native town of Daraa soon after the
Syrian uprising began there in March 2011, when Doa was just sixteen. They spent more than two years in an unofficial refugee camp
 in Egypt, and pooled enough money to pay Doa’s and her fiancé’s 
passage, so they could start their lives in Europe.