BERLIN, Germany — When I decided to write a commentary on the Greek debt crisis, I requested some time to think it over.
I know little about finance and I certainly don’t want to play expert on a topic that I am not very familiar with just for the sake of defending my country. This fact, I assumed, would reinforce the general point of view: Germans, due to their relative power and economy, behave in an overbearing manner.
The debt crisis and Greece’s exit from the eurozone, I feel, is more than just a financial issue. I'm writing about what I experience in conversations about Greece, and what I see and hear in the media.
Germany may be pictured as the relentless, stern European debt-collector, a role that goes perfectly with the general prejudices, and it’s true that Germany has largely benefited from the euro, but behind the scenes, the dominant feeling in Germany is fear.
My grandparents and their generation have experienced the complete depreciation of the national currency as children. They grew up in a country with no infrastructure and no financial backgrounds whatsoever. They have experienced living through the 50s and 60s, when austerity, hard work and a general feeling of “hanging on” were predominant and when everything had to be built from scratch.
Since the 2000s, Germany itself has undergone severe austerity measures by choice. Social welfare benefits, pensions and expenses for education and health were cut. People here are scared and anxious because of the public debt, too. They worry about the future they leave for their children.
David Altheide, an American sociologist and Emeritus Regents’ Professor in the School of Justice and Social Inquiry at Arizona State University, explains that “fear defines a cultural space that is shaped with experiences, interpretations, and narratives, by storytellers like my parents, journalists, and others who uncannily connect something new(s) with something old.”
Fear has always been there and populist media and parties (both in Greece and in Germany) are happy to use it for their own benefits.
What leaves a sour taste for me as a German citizen is not only the public behavior of some of the Greek politicians (to be clear, some of the German politicians are no better), but ever since the austerity measures, Greek cartoons and demonstration banners have depicted German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a Nazi.
The Associated Press reported in March that the radical left-led Greek government insisted that Greece has never been fully compensated by Germany for its brutal World War II Nazi occupation.
The Greek government also linked this issue with its ongoing fraught bailout negotiations with the “Troika”, a tripartite committee led by the European Commission with the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund to organize loans to the governments of Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Cyprus.
I am not against the reparations in general – whether it is for Greece or any other country, but the timing is bad.
These reparation payments shouldn't have anything to do with the bailout. This link makes it hard for politicians to justify helping Greece, whether that means paying the reparations or extending the bailout.
I fear that the ongoing accusations from both the German and the Greek sides are making it so much harder to see what the eurozone as well as the European Union are really about: securing peace, support and shared values – in good times and bad.
cartoon credit: Scoop.co.nz website/Latuff