Have we celebrated locality too much?

I am not in the mood of participating in another street party today.

Cyprus is facing a record youth unemployment level since the bail-in Eurogroup decision (March 2013) that more or less destroyed the Cypriot (ugly and unsustainable) banking model. Right after the destruction it was impressive to see young people’s initiatives. A lot of parallel discussions about developing local economies emerged: organic economies of bartering at the level of neighborhood etc.

NOW, 10 months later, here’s what I see happening (and this is based on my personal intuition, which may be false: numbers may prove the opposite, in which case my argument will not stand, but until we have a study measuring these things I’ll say what I think is the case). The predominant “industry” of local “entrepreneurship” [for lack of a better word] is entertainment: many cafes, pubs and restaurants have opened and are still opening, everywhere [in Nicosia].

I think this is bad. Firstly, it shows a lack of imagination, perhaps a tacit, implicit, laziness. The velocity (a vector that accounts for both speed as well as direction) of economic movement is determined by inertia: it’s just an introverted tendency that maintains the velocity we acquired right after the bail-in. Secondly, we must see the upcoming result: this velocity does not and will not subvert or create anything. We already have too many cafes in relation to the population. Is this what we meant 8-10 months ago when we were talking about localized economies? Each neighborhood corner with its own cafe and bar? Surely not. Cafes and pubs do not subvert anything by themselves. They maintain and reproduce the traditional model of entrepreneurship: unproductive industries, introverted, without much usage of technology. This is not leading anywhere. And hence: this introversion only makes the participants irrelevant and allows the big fish to reorganize the Cypriot economy in the way that they wish. Like hedgehogs we curl up to protect ourselves, but precisely it is this defense mechanism that kills the hedgehog: they curl up in the middle of the road and the big car crushes them.

Granted: a shift towards locality would be best achieved if it also came with a celebration of locality. Perhaps even the latter is the precondition of the former. And entertainment is a good way to do it. But I am afraid that we may have celebrated locality too much. To the extent that it becomes impotent and complicit to the status quo. One could argue that this is a good form of resistance; and I would agree, but only if this takes place for a limited amount of time and in parallel to other activities! And this does not seem to be the case. This looks more like an unsustainable habit leading nowhere. Things have to move on, become more systematic in localized production and bartering, beyond the episodic nature of spontaneous parties.

I am not in the mood of participating in another street party today.

P.S. I have been thinking about this problem for some time now. But yes, the publication of this open letter coincides with an event that friends and relatives will attend. You know me: this is not personal, and I have nothing but love and respect towards my friends and relatives and people who do things. But it’s one thing to love and respect, and another to reflect and speak out. Rather: precisely because I love you, I must say what I think.


About Christos Hadjioannou

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