Opposite extremes in every sector

The municipality of Nestorio, in the northern Greek prefecture of Kastoria, is a typical example of an area that is slowly being deserted by its inhabitants. Its mayor, Christos Gosliopoulos, makes no bones about the fact that the local authority’s sole aim is to keep its citizens from leaving. The population dropped to 600 from 6,000 a few decades ago, a result of the decline in the local fur industry. «Our hopes now rest in alternative tourism. Some hostels have already been built and some investments made, but will it be enough?» asked the mayor. According to Koutsopoulos, in five out of the country’s 10 geographical regions, deaths outnumber births. «Our country’s demographic reservoir, the countryside, has dried up,» he said. Crete is one of the few exceptions. In 2006, 7,399 children were born on the island, and 5,633 deaths were recorded. «We now number 3,200 souls. Our population has increased by 15 percent within the last four years,» said Mayor Leonidas Limantzakis of Vamos, in the prefecture of Hania. «There are 420 pending applications for building permits. In 2008, an entire village is expected to be built. They are even coming to us from the town of Hania. We have four tavernas and they aren’t enough.» Aging population The media often talk about Greece as an aging country, where the percentage of those over 65 years of age is almost 17 percent of the population. That could shoot to 33 percent by 2050. The trend is most evident in the Peloponnese and the eastern Aegean islands, but the highest (25) percentage of over-65s is on Lefkada. «Unfortunately, there are many villages where there are only old people,» said Prefect Constantinos Aravanis. Tourists sitting in cafes overflowing with young people by the lake of Ioannina, northern Greece, wouldn’t know it, but according to Mayor Nikos Gondas, if it weren’t for the 22,500 students at the university and technical college, the town would be lifeless. Although four times smaller than Athens, Thessaloniki is one of three cities in Europe most polluted by airborne particles, with levels over the acceptable 50 milligrams per square meter on over half the days of the year. Its district of Evosmos is polluted by heavy industry. Air pollution Further south on the island of Schinousa, pollution is an unknown word. «When we go to Athens, the smog hits us even before we approach the port,» said the local mayor, Theodosios Skarlatos. «For us, however, the biggest problem is getting to Athens. Transport depends on the whims of the weather.» Town and country Over 600 factories are situated in and around the town of Oinofyta, north of Athens, one of the country’s largest industrial zones. «Industry brings growth. Don’t forget that most of our residents earn their living from the factories, but they also bring problems,» said Mayor Giorgos Theodoropoulos. On the plain of Thessaly, the silence is only broken by the hiss of irrigation pipes. Vassilis Katsaras, the mayor of Sofades, Karditsa, said 62 percent of the local population is involved in the local primary industry – cotton, tobacco, wheat and corn. «Here the problem is the pollution of the water table by nitrates. We need subsidies for organic farming, that’s the only way to save our environment,» said Katsaras. Cold vs heat In the mountains of Florina, in the far north, winter temperatures drop to -25 Celsius (-13 Fahrenheit); the average temperature in January is never more than 4 Celsius (39F). But on the island of Rhodes, even in January the temperature is often as high as 20C (68F), and heat waves are now the rule in summer. The way local communities have accepted immigrants in their midst varies widely. According to the Institute for Migration Policy, the areas with the largest percentages of migrants (13-15 percent) are on the islands (Myconos, Kea, Skiathos, Zakynthos), Athens and the northwestern parts of the country. The lowest percentage (0-1.7 percent) is around Alexandroupolis. Immigrant children comprise up to half of the pupils in classrooms on the island of Kea. According to the local mayor, Nikolaos Demenagas, there are plenty of jobs because of the local building boom. «Many of the immigrants have bought homes and have assimilated completely,» he said. In the smaller communities of Rhodope, however, there are no jobs for immigrant workers. In Neo Sidirohori, for example, only 10 residents’ permits have been issued to migrants. Lately, however, there has been an influx of poor Bulgarians, according to the local municipalities, but these are not officially immigrants, but tourists. Rich vs poor Astakos in the prefecture of Aitoloacarnania is just three hours from Athens by car, but it could be on a different planet. Attica is the richest region in the country with a per capital gross domestic product (GDP) of 27,389 euros, nearly 15,000 euros more than in Western Greece, the poorest region in the land. Farming policy «Until recently, the main income was from growing tobacco,» said Mayor Panayiotis Staikos. «Now everything has changed with the new farming policy.» He believes the only hope is to develop the private port of Platyiali. «Now there are plans to build a coal-fired power plant there. That will be the end of us,» he said. Such problems are unknown to the residents of Athens’s up-market green-belt suburb of Kifissia. «Living standards are high here, but we also have considerable contrasts,» said Mayor Nikos Hiotakis. «About 5,000 of our 60,000 residents live in worker housing. We are a microcosm of the contrasts that is Greece.» North vs south According to Eurostat, in 2006 the highest unemployment rates were in Western Macedonia (14.2), the Ionian Islands (11.2), Eastern Macedonia and Thrace (11), the lowest in Crete (7), the Peloponnese (7.7), Thessaly (8.2) and Attica (8.3). Every year, the prefecture of Xanthi has the highest unemployment rate as businesses move north of the border. Xanthi Prefect Giorgos Pavlidis predicts worse to come. Yet Hania’s Deputy Prefect Manolis Archontakis says there is no unemployment. «Here we have a thousand job opportunities. It’s simply that many of our young people don’t want to work.» Despite a deteriorating environment and missed opportunities, tourism remains a major money earner, with over 17 million visitors a year, 1.5 million of them going to Santorini. Thera’s Mayor Angelos Roussos said, however, that the industry has altered the nature of local society. «We are adopting foreign ways,» he said. Short of visitors Over in Agrinion, in the west of Greece, tourists are an exotic species. Mayor Pavlos Moscholios said that the only way to attract them would be with agritourism or spas, which could be developed around the area’s system of lakes.

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