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Reviewed by:
  • History, Time, and Economic Crisis in Central Greece by Daniel M. Knight
  • Margaret Kenna (bio)
Daniel M. Knight, History, Time, and Economic Crisis in Central Greece. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2015. Pp. xvii + 210. 5 illustrations, 3 maps. Cloth $100.

This account of local modes of understanding and explaining contemporary conditions of austerity and perpetual crisis after nearly three decades of prosperity is very timely. It is based on research in the town of Trikala, western Thessaly, Central Greece, and in surrounding smaller towns and villages; the town is a four-hour drive from Athens and three from Thessaloniki. It is an urban center that used to act as an important hub for the agricultural villages around it, many of which are now in decline. Daniel Knight first visited the town in 2003, carried out fieldwork for 18 months from November 2007 to April 2009 based in a village four kilometers outside of the town, and visited again in 2012. He has thus seen the town and its townspeople in prosperous times with a seemingly buoyant economy and then, as the economic collapse began and worsened, under conditions of crisis—unemployment, job losses and redundancies, stringently reduced pensions and other social benefits, and financial austerity.

Knight draws particularly on the ideas of Michel Serres, his “theoretical muse” (96), to illuminate the role which some parts of the past play as local people try to explain their present circumstances. “Culturally proximate” (3) events are spoken of as contemporarily relevant; that is, in particular places, certain happenings—famine during the Occupation years 1941–1943, the conditions of life for local people under the late Ottoman-era landlords of large estates—are perceived as resonating with the current situation. Not only do these events parallel the present; they are felt emotionally to be almost the same, as if historical time was folded, as on a piece of cloth, so as to press against contemporary life.

However, Knight found that in other places, for example, in a Pindos mountain village not far from Trikala, there were other past events that were culturally proximate, particularly the Greek Civil War, which followed soon after the Occupation. While the Civil War period was regularly referred to there (for reasons which are not entirely clear), it was not mentioned in Trikala itself as relevant for understanding the current crisis.

Some of these historical events are well known from being taught in school, as well as from the knowledge about them passed down through a family from the personal experience of a member. However, what is taught in school, Knight comments, [End Page 427] is usually the “Athens experience” (72), which is then recalled as the “national experience,” that is, people dying in the streets of the capital from hunger in the winter of 1941. Trikala itself was not so overwhelmingly affected, as it was the headquarters of the resistance forces. But the accounts of the Great Famine inform the actions of people today, who make sure that they have ample supplies in their cupboards, as well as providing a reference point for their experiences of current conditions of economic deprivation. A vivid example is combative behavior and acrimonious altercations in a long queue for fuel at a petrol station in a time of shortage. Some people waited for over fifteen hours, some of the time in intense July heat. The significance of famine in a country where embezzlement is vividly described as “eat[ing] money” (16, 79) has all the more resonance as the shortage of vital commodities, and of cash to pay for them, becomes more acute.

The absence of references to the Civil War in the discourse of the people of Trikala could possibly be explained by the highly sensitive nature of this historical period in Greece. This gave rise to rightist and leftist versions of events so diametrically opposed that the mainstream version today, avoiding confrontations, is that the two sections of Greek society were set against each other by external political powers (91). The only aspect of the period which is mentioned in Trikala itself are stories of relocation from left-wing dominated mountain areas to the shantytowns housing people in ramshackle...