Tuesday 2 March 2010
The Worst of all Possible Worlds
The current problem with Greece and the euro has opened up some nasty old wounds not helped by an article in a recent issue of the German magazine Focus. This was introduced under the provocative heading Betrüger in der Euro-Familie - Frauds in the Euro-Family – with a front cover showing the Venus de Milo with her right arm restored making an obscene finger gesture, widely known as flipping the bird! The story itself accused the Greeks of being “cheats”, and that they should bear the burden of allowing their debt-ridden country to reach the point of bankruptcy.
The Greek response has been robust, with headlines like Economic Nazism threatens Europe, a story illustrated with a depiction of the Goddess Victoria on top of her Berlin column holding out a swastika. Another paper lashed out at the “racist frenzy and calumny against Greece.”
Theodore Pangalos, the Greek deputy prime minister, has weighed in here, recalling the worst of all possible worlds. “We don’t want to open the chapter of the Second World War”, he said in an interview with the BBC, and then immediately opened it, recalling the bleak passage of Greece through the occupation of 1941 to 1944. And it was indeed a bleak passage; the country was plundered, the economy destroyed, some 300,000 people allowed to die of starvation and another 100,000 killed in reprisals against acts of resistance. Almost all of Greece’s Jewish community was sent to the death camps.
Panaglos, though popular with his fellow Greeks, is perhaps not the best man to pass comment here, having previously been beastly to the Germans, referring to the country in 1993 as “a bestial giant with a child’s brain.” Yes, the Focus feature was unnecessarily provocative, but Panaglos seems to have conveniently forgotten that Germany has already paid over $22 billon in reparations for the depredations of the occupation, and German tourists make an important contribution to the Greek economy. It’s such an easy thing to do, bury present troubles under past woes. It’s not the Germans who are responsible for the present mess; it’s the Greeks.
No, that’s not quite right: it’s the European Union, it’s the lies, half-truths and dissimulation upon which the European Union was built, particularly the euro zone, which allowed strong economies, like that of Germany, to bed down with weak economies, like that of Greece. The euro might have been a political ideal but without rigid central control, without abandoning national sovereignty altogether, it never made any economic sense.
The whole concept might so easily have taken its motto from original Dr Pangloss- Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes. Keep repeating this optimistic mantra often enough then it might come true, that was the hope. But it’s not true; in the euro zone all is for the worst in the worst of all possible worlds. For Greece more loans will only mean more austerity, and more austerity will mean more hatred of the Germans. History is not fooled, and the past is never forgotten.