By: Anna Chrysopoulou
Κοινωνική ευημερία: collective wellbeing(sounds like /kee-no-nee-kee/ /e-vee-me-ree-ah/)
Οικονομία της ευτυχίας: Wellbeing Economy(sounds like /oy-kon-o-me-ah/ /tis/ / ef-tee-hee-ahs/)
Greece is a country with several linguistic terms to define the concept of ‘wellbeing’: ευημερία (e-vee-me-ree-ah), ευ ζην (ev zeen), and ευδαιμονία (ev-de-mo-nee-ah).
The latter, especially, appears extensively in Greek ethics and political philosophy from ancient times, through the work of the philosophers Plato and Aristotle. Yet, thousands of years later, it seems that the idea of collective wellbeing has lost its centrality in determining politics and social norms in Greece, at least until recently.
After the 2008 Financial Crisis, economic terms such as growth, national debt, and interest rates, began to appear daily in our national media and everyday conversations. We were suddenly bombarded with questions around,
‘What is driving the economy? What is good for our GDP? How can we accelerate economic growth?’
In the meantime, income inequalities were growing, with the middle- and low-income households being massively affected by tax increases and deep wage cuts. At the same time, an increasing number of people were living under the poverty line, and environmental degradation was being justified as an unavoidable way to bring investments back into the country.
However, during these years of austerity and instability, examples of communities and initiatives have served as inspiration when envisioning a Wellbeing Economy in Greece.
There are myriad ways of describing what a Wellbeing Economy might look like in my country, but here are some first thoughts on where we could start.
1. Put wellbeing back into the heart of politics
We use the term Wellbeing Economy to describe an economy that serves people and communities, first and foremost. Since the Financial Crisis, the narrative around what the economy means for Greece has changed significantly (and deliberately, if I dare say). We started focusing on economic growth as being the ultimate goal that we ought to achieve, if we want to improve our living standards. It was all about growth per se. The idea of the economy became utterly disconnected from what really matters: the people. Instead of bringing back economic growth, why don’t we make the shift, and bring collective wellbeing back in our daily conversations, our society, and our politics?
2. Embrace togetherness
Greece is a country that has suffered from division throughout our history. Yet, we have recently experienced an encouraging rise of community groups, collectives, and movements focusing on helping those in need and, most importantly, caring about others. From local communities in the islands supporting refugees (with the limited means they had) to food collectives* helping the homeless and people who were affected by the Financial Crisis, there has been a change in getting together to look after each other. If we want to transition towards a Wellbeing Economy, we need to start by recognising that we can have different perspectives, and still respect and care about others in our communities.
* A food collective is an initiative in which groups of people gather in public spaces (even on the street) to cook and offer food (and always company!) to those in need: usually the homeless, the unemployed, refugees etc. In some cases, they even deliver cooked meals. It is always a hot cooked meal, so this is not the same as food banks. It is an act of solidarity with those that often cannot afford food. Find out more about the work of grassroots groups, such as the Mano Aperta, here.
3. Protect our natural spaces
It is certainly not the first time that you will have read about the country’s natural beauty, with its crystal-clear waters and sandy beaches. Our seas and natural environment have attracted attention and resulted in the tourism sector growing over the last decades. It is time, however, to change our perception of our natural resources. In a Wellbeing Economy, we will respect and protect our nature by divesting from fossil fuels, not allowing oil drilling in areas with vulnerable species, and taking preventative measures against forest fires, to mention a few.
4. Take action against racism
Greece is a country where, in 2012, a neo-fascist group, Golden Dawn, was democratically elected and won 18 parliamentary seats. Thankfully, Greece is also the country that last month, sentenced the group’s lawmakers for operating a criminal organisation under the guise of a political party, with thousands on the streets celebrating this decision. Being non-racist is not enough in a Wellbeing Economy. We need to ensure that we will not allow these ideas and actions to find fertile ground again. If we want to move towards a Wellbeing Economy, we need to reflect on how we must be actively anti-racist.
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new”Socrates
We might still be quite far away from having a Wellbeing Economy in Greece. However, the vision – and the hope – for one is being built in communities and small groups who dare to challenge the way things are currently, and who work towards an economy that is all about social justice on a healthy planet.
Anna is the Advocacy Coordinator in the WEAll global amplification team, and also coordinates operations and projects for WEAll Scotland. She is passionate about political ecology and practices that place people and the environment ahead of profit.