Yves here. As Greece’s struggles to secure relief from impossible-to-pay-debt that served to prop up otherwise insolvent French and German banks, and to be permitted to implement measures to reduce distress and restore growth, more and more observers are recognizing that this is really a struggle over democratic self-control versus rule by an unaccountable technocracy with inflexible rules, using finance as their enforcement weapon. This speech in the European Parliament today by UKIP leader Neil Farage (hat tip Chuck L) echoes some of the themes of Mathew Rose’s post. Rose also explains how the many Germans justify the counterproductive destruction of a society that they have turned into a vassal state.
By Mathew D. Rose, a freelance journalist in Berlin
I fear most people have become so fixated on the Greek debt and the fate of the Euro, that they have completely ignored the political dimensions of the current conflict in Europe, shich are no less dramatic. The ongoing dispute between the German and Greek governments is nothing less than a democratic revolution against German hegemony and the attempt of the Germans and their paladins in the EU to dictate Greek domestic policy. It is a struggle by the Greeks to re-establish national sovereignty. What is more, this is the first time in the history of the EU that a political party with true leftist credentials has led a member nation. For reactionary Germany, with its neoliberal agenda, that is intolerable. This conflict is profound, if not existential, and thus could well be intractable.
The Greek people have made a decision to liberate themselves from a repressive regime of austerity and its incumbent humanitarian disaster. The Germans on the other hand refer to the developments of the past five years in Greece as a success. Yes, it has been a success in the sense that the Germans and French were able to rescue their banks and leave the Greek people to foot the bill. It was even more successful in that Greece was stripped of its political and economic autonomy – with the assistance of the quislings Antonis Samaras and Evangelos Venizelos.
The German government has never wanted democratic reform in Greece, leaving the perpetrators of the Greek financial crisis, the political and financial elites unscathed. Success has meant Greece being reduced to a vassal state, raising the market above all other values, where multinational corporations, including German companies, could take over profitable state assets cheaply and German tourists could enjoy cut-rate holidays or buy holiday homes at bargain prices. What occurred in Greece with the bailout is an occupation, not with troops and panzers, but by financial means.
Following the recent elections in Greece, Germany and its EU compradors are making it clear who is in charge. The Germans are currently not offering any compromise, but iterate the same blunt demand: Greece has to accept what is being dictated; in other words, capitulate or be annihilated. This time it will not be the Wehrmacht und Luftwaffe that are to force the Greek nation into submission, but a weapon just as lethal: national bankruptcy.
What has been a true disgrace is the role of the German people, who sincerely believe that they are the “Good Guys”, championing democracy and justice wherever they tread. There is a saying in German that should not to be underestimated: “Am deutschen Wesen mag die Welt genesen” (The German character will heal the world). In Germany, where the banks are held in awe, the government is dictated by vested interests and the Germans lay claim to a very high social morality, the true reasons for the so called Greek bailout – saving German banks – would not do.
Thus the government, assisted by the media, utilised old political tools: nationalism and racism. The financial crisis in Europe and Greece was no longer a narrative of profligate, lying, cheating, corrupt private banks, but of profligate, lying, cheating, corrupt Southern Europeans. It is surprising, if not shocking, how prepared the Germans, many of whom normally possess a very high political acumen, were prepared to embrace this discourse. A climdown by the German government in what has become such an emotionally laden issue will be difficult.
Add to this, that no nation has profited more from the Euro crisis than Germany, catapulting it to its new hegemonic role in the EU. According to the Bundesbank the German government had by the conclusion of 2014 saved 152.4 billion Euros in debt payment due to the low interest rates it pays for credit since the crisis began. The depressed value of the Euro, also a product of the crisis, has been a boon for Germany’s export oriented economy and returns from overseas investments. Thus the Germans have ignored the humanitarian crisis developing at its doorstep.
Unfortunately nationalism begets nationalism and this may well become the fulcrum of future developments. Whereas banks and the EU are rather elusive opponents, Germany is not. Europeans, like their German counterparts, are well versed in nationalism. Thus being able to concentrate their ire upon Germany – and the current intransigence of the German government towards Greece is augmenting this mood – there is a potential political backlash developing.
Greece has played its political hand brilliantly. They have presented a humanitarian and democratic programme, gaining the moral high ground, then going on to offer compromises and plans to put these into action. They have exhibited the true spirit of the European Union. The Euro Group, led conspicuously by Germany, demands a perpetuation of their imposed austerity programme.
The problem is that Syriza is not a Social Democratic party that has no scruple about selling its voters down the river. They appear to be sincerely committed to democracy and reform – and prepared to fight for it. Despite the current Greek government having not named the German government as the problem, which the media does anyway, the perception of many Europeans is of the return of the Ugly German on the political stage.
This may well have a decisive role in the negotiations in the upcoming weeks. Should Germany come down too hard on Greece or even drive it into bankruptcy and out of the Euro, this will give all the anti-austerity political parties in Southern Europe a fillip. They, as Germany before them, will be able to convert an economic conflict into a nationalistic one, simply from the opposite perspective: the repressive, greedy, power hungry Germans once again plundering Europe as they did seventy-five years ago. This will be utilised by the left as well as the right. Soon Germany may not only have to deal with the Greek government, but the Spanish, Italian, French and Portugese as well.
As a historian I know better than to speculate upon history repeating itself, but there is something eerily disturbing concerning the current situation. Whoever I speak with and in most Anglo-Saxon media, everyone analyses the situation with Game Theory, apparently rather modish these days. According to them, the Greeks and Germans will pull up at the brink, anything else would be madness. 101 years ago, this was the same thing being said in Europe concerning the Germans with regard to the conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia.
Then World War I broke out.