ANN CAHILL: Greeks throw caution to the wind in ‘mentioning the war’

THE advice not to “mention the war” has been ignored by the Greeks in the past week when, with true Mediterranean passion, they have thrown caution to the wind and reminded Germany of how they suffered at their hands.

It is true, of course. They did suffer and horribly so. Not just when their country was taken over by the Nazi regime, but when a hundred thousand starved to death in Athens as the invaders stole all food.

The aftermath was horrible too as the victors worked to ensure Greece did not turn communist and so ended up with dictatorships whose effects are still felt in a country that has not succeeded in finding peace within itself.

It takes two to really conflate a diplomatic incident of course.

The ever reasonable Germans have an unfortunate ability to take issues too seriously and go further than is sensible. For them truth justifies their stance.

So when it was revealed that Greece has been living beyond its means for the past decade and cooking the books to hide the extent of their indebtedness, Germany was furious with such lack of discipline.

As the richest and one of the best managed eurozone economies, Germany is the country looked to to bail out Greece and save them from the worst effects of their profligacy.

But watching Greek workers leaving their jobs to take to the streets in protest was too much for Germany, especially when it emerged their public service has got 30% pay rises over the past few years, and has the lowest retirement age in the EU at 61 years.

A Berlin news magazine illustrated how the Germans perceive the Greek attitude towards them and the eurozone with a statue of the famous Greek Venus de Milo giving the finger to the world while the headline proclaimed the Greeks to be cheats.

It has all proved too much for the excitable Greeks who crossed a carefully observed line in making the German national accountable for what is normally assigned to the Nazis by saying Germany had not paid enough for the damage to their country over 60 years ago.

The whole list of ills was launched by a veteran of those times who having subsequently spent decades in jail thanks to the right-wing administration in his country, has many reasons to continue to be resentful.

Others, including the mayor of Athens, have fearlessly taken up the point while the prime minister ahead of his meeting with the German Chancellor next week tries to cool it.

So far there has been little mention of the massive reparations and €50 billion EU aid, most of it courtesy of Germany, or of the millions of dollars under the post-war Marshall Plan given to Greece.

There is a lot of work going on behind the scenes on raising up to €25bn to help Greece towards raising the €53bn it needs this year to keep the country afloat.

As they lose credibility, the price they must pay for borrowing increases, adding to their woes and further threatening the euro.

Economists expect that an EU organised bail-out of Greece will go ahead, but nobody expects that to solve the country’s problem.

They are instead expected to use it to ease the pain on their citizens of the ever higher tax and lower spending being demanded by the eurozone and the IMF.

But the crisis, and the national tantrums of the past week, might be just what is needed to encourage the eurozone to the next stage of creating a treasury that will more closely bind the euro currency countries, and be a step towards better stewardship and less cheating in the future.


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