Germany has played nice since the end of World War II, trying to expiate its guilt by pushing for the European Union, sacrificing the solid Deutschmark for the ups and downs of the Euro, and using its strong economy to bail out other European countries. But what is happening in Greece is causing Germans to say, “enough.” So reports Anne Applebaum:
“Sell your islands, you bankrupt Greeks — and the Acropolis too!”
— headline, Bild newspaper, March 4
Sometimes they cut to the essence of the story, those tabloid-headline writers, even when they haven’t got the quotation exactly right. What the German politician quoted in the Bild article cited above actually said was: “A bankrupt party must use everything he has to make money and serve his creditors. . . . Greece owns buildings, companies and several uninhabited islands, which can now be used to repay debt.”
What the politician meant, though, was more accurately reflected in that Bild headline: The Germans are fed up with paying the bills of everybody in Europe, they don’t want to bail out the feckless Greeks with their flagrantly inaccurate official statistics, they resent being Europe’s banker of last resort, they object to the universal demand that they plug the vast holes in the Greek deficit in the name of “European unity” — and for the first time in a long time they are saying this out loud. Not only are tabloids demanding the sale of the Acropolis; Germany’s deeply serious paper of record, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, has pointed out that while the Greeks are out protesting having to raise their pension eligibility age from 61 to 63, Germany recently raised its pension age from 65 to 67: “Does that mean that the Germans should in future extend the working age from 67 to 69, so that Greeks can enjoy their retirement?”
With an unerringly poor sense of timing, the Greeks have, in response, chosen this moment to flaunt their own resentments. One Greek minister complained to the BBC that the Nazis “took away the Greek gold that was in the Bank of Greece, they took away the Greek money and they never gave it back.” The mayor of Athens has demanded 70 billion euros (about $95 billion) for the damage the Nazis left behind after the war. The Greek consumer organization, not exactly thankful for the German bailout or Europe’s demands for Greek budget cuts, has called for a boycott of German products. Officially, the Germans have described these comments as “not helpful.” Unofficially, the German press is foaming at the mouth (see above), for once accurately reflecting the views of German politicians and German voters.