Hummingbird weathering the snow

First interview on this site – feels quite special 😉

This interview is with Gayane and Karine Akullian, two sisters from Barcelona, Spain, currently working on their latest book "Lucha" ("Struggle"). I like it a lot for being this fresh, out-of-the-box approach to the Spanish economic crisis: they focus on the personal, mental dimension of the problem and solution, while most everybody else tries to fix it at systems level (and fails, so far).

You can take a detailed look at the Akullian sisters' project at their Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for "Struggle", and if you think their idea deserves some support they'd of course be happy if you send them some bucks. (This way, you can effectively pre-order their book as well!)

When I found out about this book and the authors' insights into the Spanish crisis' social dimension, I recognized the opportunity to get valuable input for setting up an alternative economy portal in Spain. (A project for which I actively seek collaborators for right now, myself providing the software development. The proposal is not online yet, but compare my earlier articles about the quite similar LRIS idea, on time banking currency, on Bitcoin, and experimental thoughts on creating undestructible economy and solving unemployment.)

So here are the interview questions I gave them – and I'm really grateful for their answers, which unveil surprising cultural facts, informing the design of alternative economy software for Spain.

Gayane and Karine – would you tell us a bit about your upcoming book  "Struggle"? How did you collect all the real-life content you will integrate in the storyline? What inspired you personally to explore the "psychologic dimension" of the Spanish crisis and the mental ways of coping with it?

Well, "STRUGGLE" pretends to be a psychological approach to the financial crisis Spain is living in. Spanish population is facing tough financial conditions and individuals find different ways to overcome the situation: some decide to struggle and think of a solution while others just give up, blame everyone except from themselves and reach extreme actions. This way, "STRUGGLE" will tell the traces of the crisis from its beginning up to now on 4 lives and how they manage to psychologically cope with it.

Working at a place where daily contact with hundreds of different people is a must, we’ve had the privilege to be front-line witnesses of the financial crisis consequences on Spanish population. Experiences, complaints, advices….anything we've been listening to as part of our routine for quite a long time immensely helped us, so we thought it could be useful to others as well. There are many people struggling to overcome this financially critical situation and others who just want to know a little bit more the insides of Spanish crisis. By writing down everything we’ve learned we have the intention to provide the information these people could be looking for.

By facing difficulties ourselves we came to realize that psychics and emotions are two of the most potential drivers on our lives and this is no different: in this case too, both are motors for us to move forward or stagnate where we are. You may think, what’s there so difficult to understand? Of course the sentence itself is easy, but to actually feel it is way more difficult and serious as it can change the course of events. That's the reason why we've decided to give a psychological approach to the issue.

What is your own mental approach to master the challenges that this crisis set before you? Or more specifically, what's the next step you want to learn on that way?

Only death has no remedy: I wouldn’t say we managed to be immune to the worldwide financial crisis, but it’s true we greatly eased our ways. We understood that if you’re falling into a deep and dark hole, you can stop the downfall holding on to something and then it’ll be in your hands to decide if going back up or keep going down. If you’ve already fallen to the bottom your only and obvious way will be going up. As we see it, nothing of this will be possible without the correct psychological approach.

From the impressions you have from talking with Spanish people about the crisis: Which people are generally open in their minds to try radical and new ideas for the economy and for making ends meet? Like cooperatives, consumption groups, emigrating? Which people are not, and what kind of thoughts, attitudes and circumstances hold them back?

I believe any person is open to radical changes and ideas depending on the seriousness of his or her situation. I can’t say Spain is any different from other countries around the globe: be it they have nothing to lose or a lot to invest, anyone who understands the value of a penny will be open to radical ideas, but there’s no average profile for people making the ends meet nor common ways to do so. It’s easier to say that if they are not against, then they are in favor of trying something new.

Maybe those who are against are a huge point to Spanish economic crisis; Spanish people are way too comfortable and this lifestyle stagnates Spanish economy compared to other countries. On the whole, I’d lie if I said Spanish population is characterized by the entrepreneur vibe.  The amount of young people, even up to their forties, whose only aspiration in life is to have a 1000€ per month salary working in a responsibility-free job or those that don’t recognize as work anything but what’s related to their careers or interests is alarming. What’s even more alarming is the amount of people in their late twenties that have yet to discover what a job is. This young comfortable generation is slowing down Spanish economic recovery as they are, in a great percentage, against radical ideas or changes no matter how harsh their financial situation could be. I myself can list acquaintances or friends that, having finished their careers and even majors, are offered work abroad in countries like the States or United Kingdom but reject those offers because it means a great effort to them to leave behind their lifestyles.

53% youth unemployment is a sad number in Spain. How do the young ones affected by unemployment cope with it, mentally and practically? They will use several approaches of course, but maybe you see a major approach / group attitude too?

Nowadays’ youth, used to the society our parents and grandparents built for us, is looking for the “perfect job” with the “perfect conditions” that “perfectly” meet its profession, which is obviously an almost non-existent situation. Used to the pre-crisis ways, youth finds it difficult to take on nowadays situation and in fact, many don’t even realize the seriousness of it. As I see it, many young people, employed and unemployed, have a distorted view of what this crisis really means due to the influence of media. This makes them take the wrong ways that in the long run cause them pessimistic perspectives in life. Some decide to stay home and live from their parents and unemployment benefits while others decide to take the streets and shout out their opinions and pleas. I believe that if even a small percentage of this youth decided to take another way, to open their minds to wider and more ambitious perspectives, to give up their conformist and comfortable lives for some time, to venture and look for ideas, the Spanish crisis would have a turning point.

What's the state of e-commerce / Internet shops in the Spanish culture? That is, how common is it to buy and sell there (for the young ones, for the older ones)? What are the issues that keep this from being more common (like trust issues maybe, or preferring to buy locally and from a real person)?

E-commerce full integration in Spain is just a matter of time. Buyers and sellers are realizing the lower costs that e-commerce is generating and therefore the great amount of money they are able to save without losing the comfort in their lives. The fact that Spanish people are rather traditional and at some point quite distrustful slows down fast e-commerce integration, but it doesn’t keep it from facing a remarkable presence in Spanish commercial interactions. Most of youth is getting used day by day to sell or buy what they need and want using e-commerce, while older people are still reluctant to do so.

Let's assume a "big new webshop portal" pops up in Spain where you can buy and offer goods for basic needs, all without Euro currency. Instead people would pay with a worktime-based currency, so that everybody can participate by investing time. But learning to use the site and new currency would need an effort, maybe somewhat more difficult than learning to use eBay and PayPal. What part of the Spanish population would use such a platform in the current economic situation?

Well, that’s a difficult question. It’s a great idea, so it would easily find followers, those who are not afraid of new ideas. Still, being this traditional, Spanish people usually find it difficult to change ways they already are used to, even if it would be beneficial for them. As an easy example would be Facebook; the integration of the huge social network in Spain took a much longer time compared to other countries as people here were already used to different sites with social interactions. While it’s true that if the idea is good then it will generate a users’ base for sure, it’s also a fact that Spanish people are used to take things slow and cool.

What regions in Spain would you consider the most promising ones for such an "alternative economy marketplace" on the Internet to gather a large user base in the population? And, do you think it would rather work in cities or in the countryside, or both?

With no doubt, northern regions, as well as Catalonia and Madrid, are the ones that have what it takes to be immersed in an alternative economy marketplace as we’re talking about the economic motors of Spain. In regard to the second question, it would rather work in cities as the countryside has a low percentage of youth and Internet users in general.

What is the Spanish culture about mutual credit between friends, family members or long-term business partners? Esp., how do young people deal with this? For example, can it be o.k. to owe a sum of money / worktime etc. to a friend, or do Spaniards try hard to avoid formalizing / quantifying such things and rather just want it to be considered a favor for a friend?
(Note: The question's background is that debt between mutually trusting people is a requirement for some alternative currency systems, which are based on "IOU" notes ("I owe you"). Also I know I'm generalizing a lot here … there is of course not an average mindset or culture but a lot of diversity.)

You’re right; it’s difficult to make a generalization on an average mindset regarding this issue. The tendency is rather a taboo and people are very discrete about it. As far as I’ve seen, Spanish people are reluctant to lend money even if it’s to family or friends but when they do, they never take it as a favor and the tendency is rather to constantly remind that there’s a debt between the parties. But, as I said before, Spanish people are very discrete about everything that has to do with money and even more if it’s related to lending money so it’s really hard to say an average mindset.

My heartfelt thanks for this interview, you two! Wish you the best of success and a good time for finishing "Struggle".

Hummingbird image licenced CC-BY-SA 2.0, based on image by Darcys which was published on Flickr under CC-BY-SA 2.0.
Flower image licenced CC-BY, based on image by Nanagyei which was published on Flickr under CC-BY.

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