Farm Ireland

Friday 23 February 2018

'I sometimes pray that we will go totally broke'

Ioannis Latpidis
Ioannis Latpidis

Ioannis Iatpidis and his wife Argyro Felesaki run an eight-bedroom guesthouse in the beautiful mountain town of Nympheo in the Florani region of Greek Macedonia.

The neat stone built houses and the cobbled streets are testament to a prosperous past and a time when the town was an important trading post on the road to Istanbul. It was renowned for its tradesmen silversmiths and goldsmiths. It fell into decline after the crash of 1929 and was deserted after World War II and the civil war.

Ioannis and Argyro are survivors of the most recent crash. In the good times he managed 35 car dealerships across Greece with a workforce of 350 and an annual turnover of €200m. When the economic collapse hit Greece the motor industry collapsed and Ioannis and Argyro moved with their two sons from Thessaloniki to their weekend house in Nympheo.

"We were lucky we had this property and I was able to take a small loan from the bank to turn it into a guesthouse," Ioannis explains.

"We make enough to repay the loan and live. We also have something to leave to our sons."

Ever the entrepreneur, Ioannis has developed two shops in the village, a mini market and a wine shop. His sons, both in their 20s, run the shops.

"They tell me it wasn't in their dreams to be running a mini market in a mountain village but the options are limited."

Ioannis sees no improvement in Greece after five years of austerity, and he blames the lack of public sector reform.

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"I sometimes pray that we will go totally broke. It is only then we will start again. At the moment we are looking around to see where we will get a billion for next Monday's deadline, and for the following Monday and on it goes," he says.

"Our problem is not the EU, it is ourselves. However, the EU is acting like a banker - that is not their role. There is no solidarity. Two or three strong countries in the north are trying to control everything."

While Ioannis and Argyro have turned to rural Greece to rebuild their lives, he believes the young people will have to leave the country and come back with new ideas.

"The future for our children is dark and bleak but if there is a future it is in the land. In Greece we have lovely land and lovely weather. We could be the garden of Europe and supply it with quality biological production."

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