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'People need some way out': Bartering takes hold in austerity-wracked Greece

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Artemis Zafiriou at market in Volos, Greece. "I want to use euro but it's very expensive and I believe trade is better," she says.


VOLOS, Greece -- Residents of this town in northeastern Greece are resorting to an age-old solution to deal with a desperate new problem –- using barter instead of cash for essentials.

"I want to use euro but it's very expensive and I believe trade is better," said 30-year-old Artemis Zafiriou, who works at an agency helping immigrant workers but hasn’t been paid in months.

The port town of Volos is like countless other communities in Greece, where millions are strapped for cash amid crushing European Union-imposed austerity measures. A steady flow of people come and go at the unemployment office, but most find no work.

So Zafiriou and her partner Kostas Christou, 40, have joined a small but growing network of people who trade goods and services without cash.   

In Greece, a senior judge is to be put in charge of a caretaker government to run the country until a new General Election on June 17. Questions are growing over whether the country's finances will last that long. Hundreds of millions of euros have been withdrawn from Greek banks in recent days over fears of a departure from the euro - and return to a devalued drachma. Jonathan Rugman, Channel Four Europe reports.

They sell chicken eggs, homemade marmalade and soap at an open-air market in town. Looking like a mix between a flea market and a farmers' market, it is packed with colorful stalls displaying fresh produce, home-baked bread, second-hand clothes and jewelry. 

Members can also go online and buy or sell services like yoga classes and piano lessons. An alternative currency, known as TEMs in Greek, is used. When members sell their goods or services, either online or at the market, these accrue in their online account and can be used to buy from other members. 

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The Volos barter network -- people can join for free online -- started two years ago with only 15 members.  As the Greek economy continued its rapid decline the network mushroomed to 600 active members. About 400 more are registered with the network.

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TEM - an alternative currency in Greece.

"People need some way out, some other way to do things.  I guess also people need to get to know each other," said founding member Christos Papaioannu.

The market is not simply about trading goods -- it is a way for people to reconnect with their community and foment solidarity during difficult times.

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"There is no middleman, everyone exchanges directly -- it makes people happy," Papaioannu said.

Irene Blomy, a school teacher who was at the market to sell her five-year-old son George's puzzles, said bartering gave comfort from daily economic woes.

"Things are getting worse and worse in Greece. There is no future for the next few years there," says Christos Christoglou, a Greek inspection engineer, who moved to Germany to find work.

"It's very nice, I think I don't have stress," she said. "When you have to buy something in euros you're always in stress. But now I'm OK."

The market is not meant to completely replace the euro, Papaioannou said.

"It's a parallel way, but a way where people decide together how to arrange and deal with things. Everything is transparent, and open. Everything is small scale.” 

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Zafiriou, whose first sale was one of her marmalades, said she hopes to accrue enough TEMs to buy feed for the chickens back on the farm.

That may not be enough for her and her partner, Kostas Christou, 40, a contract electrical technician who works for the Greek Army who took a 50 percent cut in his salary 12 months ago. 

Until a few weeks ago very few people had heard of him, but Alexis Tsipras could soon be the next Prime Minister of Greece. His anti-austerity stance won his party second place in the recent election, and the forecasts for next month's run-off suggest they could do even better.

The couple live on the outskirts of town in a small farm started with money borrowed from the local bank. Their chickens, ducks and six goats have so far helped augment their drastically reduced income.

Greece abandons quest to form new government

But now they are struggling to pay the monthly mortgage as well as buy basic supplies, including feed for their goats and chickens. 

"I have debt in the bank, and if I don't manage to pay the bank, the bank will come here and take the field and my home,” Christou said.

"I don't know what to do," he added. 

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