RE­VIVED Tough treat­ment of Greece strikes global nerve

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - WORLD - By An­thony Faiola and Stephanie Kirch­ner

BER­LIN — A di­vided Ger­many rose from the ashes of the Nazi de­feat, weath­er­ing the Cold War to trans­form into one of the good guys. Mod­ern Ger­many quickly moulded it­self into the stan­dard-bearer of global paci­fism, a hot­bed of youth cul­ture and the tree-hug­ging Lo­rax of na­tions in the fight against cli­mate change.

But, just like that, the im­age of the “cruel Ger­man” is back.

Ger­many — more specif­i­cally, its chan­cel­lor, An­gela Merkel — has faced years of de­ri­sion for driv­ing a hard bar­gain with fi­nan­cially bro­ken Greece, which has re­ceived bil­lions in bailouts since 2010. But for both Ger­many and Merkel, the pound of flesh ex­tracted this week to open fresh res­cue talks with Athens ap­pears to have struck a global nerve. By in­sist­ing on years more of tough cuts and mak­ing other de­mands crit­ics have billed as hu­mil­i­at­ing, Ber­lin is wip­ing out decades of hard-won good­will.

In the af­ter­math of the deal, the hash­tag #Boy­cottger­many — call­ing on users not to buy Ger­man prod­ucts — has started trend­ing on Twit­ter. Ref­er­enc­ing Hannibal Lecter, the cannibal killer from Si­lence of the Lambs, Euro­peans are shar­ing car­i­ca­tures de­pict­ing Merkel as a Greece-eat­ing “An­gela Lecter.” A car­toon de­pict­ing Wolf­gang Schäu­ble — Merkel’s hard­line fi­nance min­is­ter — as a knife-wield­ing ex­e­cu­tioner from the Is­lamic State has gone vi­ral.

Ger­many was one of more than a dozen na­tions that in­sisted on a tough deal with Greece. But Bri­tain’s Daily Mail sin­gled out Ger­many, say­ing Greece had sur­ren­dered to aus­ter­ity “with a Ger­man gun at his head.”

In the United States, New York Times colum­nist Paul Krug­man last week noted the hate mail he had re­ceived from Ger­many for re­peat­edly crit­i­ciz­ing its tough line on fis­cal re­forms. The Ger­mans, he wrote, had sug­gested that as a Jew, he should know “the dan­gers of de­mo­niz­ing a peo­ple.” To that, Krug­man sar­cas­ti­cally re­sponded: “Be­cause crit­i­ciz­ing a na­tion’s eco­nomic ide­ol­ogy is just like declar­ing its peo­ple sub­hu­man.”

In Greece, those ac­tively sup­port­ing the aus­ter­ity deal are be­ing heck­led by their coun­try­men as “Nazi col­lab­o­ra­tors.” Another im­age mak­ing the rounds on so­cial media shows a doc­tored ver­sion of the Euro­pean Union flag, its cir­cle of gold stars against a blue back­ground re­shaped into a swastika.

France’s Le Fi­garo de­clared “con­di­tions were im­posed on a small mem­ber state that would have pre­vi­ously re­quired arms.” In a com­men­tary that sneered at Merkel’s “half-smile” af­ter hu­mil­i­at­ing the Greeks, Bri­tain’s Guardian ar­gued rather than be­ing cruel to be kind, the deal was sim­ply “cruel to be cruel.” In its online edi­tion, even Ger­many’s own Der Spiegel de­cried the Ber­lin-led de­mands as “the cat­a­logue of cru­el­ties.”

In a coun­try that can be highly sen­si­tive about its bru­tal past, some Ger­mans are be­side them­selves.

“Merkel, Schäu­ble and (Vice- Chan­cel­lor Sig­mar) Gabriel in 2½ days burnt the trust that had been built over 25 years,” Rein­hard Bütikofer, a Ger­man politi­cian from the Green Party, de­clared dur­ing a highly emo­tional out­burst on lo­cal tele­vi­sion. “The heart­less, dic­ta­to­rial and ugly Ger­many again has a face, and that is Schäu­ble.”

He fin­ished by say­ing, “I am up­set, as you can see, very up­set.”

But much of this na­tion seems to be tak­ing the latest round of Ger­man-bash­ing in stride.

In­deed, many here see it as sim­ply fur­ther ev­i­dence no mat­ter what they do, theirs is al­ways go­ing to be the coun­try that oth­ers love to hate. This is a na­tion where rules will not be bro­ken, where pedes­tri­ans wait for a green sig­nal at empty in­ter­sec­tions be­fore they walk. And that is the way the Ger­mans like it.

That mind­set, many here in­sist, has helped Ger­many re­build into an ef­fi­cient, com­pet­i­tive and mod­ern econ­omy that is the envy of all Europe to­day. As the largest econ­omy and de facto leader of the 19-mem­ber eu­ro­zone, many here be­lieve its rules must be re­spected. They find it dis­turb­ing, even in­sult­ing, some would equate Ger­man calls for fis­cal re­straint with the in­hu­man­ity of the Nazis.

If some Ger­mans have chided Merkel and Schäu­ble, even more have ex­pressed sup­port.

“Now we are say­ing No,” de­clared the con­ser­va­tive Ger­man tabloid Bild, ref­er­enc­ing the re­cent Greek ref­er­en­dum on aus­ter­ity.

One Ger­man user on Twit­ter dared the rest of the world to boy­cott Ger­man prod­ucts: “Go ahead. Boy­cott all Ger­man goods. Cars, aspirin, beer, chip cards, printed media and an­tibi­otics. Have fun.”

Some here sub­mit Ger­many’s firm stance on Greek debt will ac­tu­ally work in its favour. Chris­tian Rieck, a pro­fes­sor of eco­nomic the­ory at the Frank­furt Univer­sity of Ap­plied Sciences, said the tough pos­ture will help be­cause it shows Ger­many’s “abil­ity to fol­low through.”

And, per­haps most im­por­tant for the chan­cel­lor, Merkel is get­ting pats on the back from Ger­man vot­ers. Wal­ter Dom­brovski, a 51-year old graphic de­signer in Ber­lin, said, “We have to stay tough.”

“There are rules,” he said. “No­body pays any taxes in Greece. Not just the rich, also the lit­tle peo­ple don’t pay taxes. And they carry a bun­dle of cash in their pocket at all times. Cor­rup­tion is a part of ev­ery­day life there.”

But oth­ers here be­lieve Ger­many is be­ing short­sighted and head­ing down a dan­ger­ous path of dis­unity with the rest of the con­ti­nent.

Martin Glaser, a 51-year- old Ber­liner who works in public re­la­tions, said, “I think it is a scan­dal. To hu­mil­i­ate a coun­try in this way is not ac­cept­able.”

“Even though the polls show that there is wide­spread sup­port for Merkel and Schäu­ble, I think that many Ger­mans would say that they don’t want this kind of Europe,” he said. “A Europe which is ruled by Ger­many in this way is not the demo­cratic Europe that I would like to have.”

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