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James' Philosophical Agora’ is an on-line archive for various pieces of personal writing on mostly fairly serious subjects; yet hopefully with a few amusing or curious items and anecdotes along the way as well. Many pieces were primarily written to share with individual friends, but are made available here for any others who might find the points discussed interesting or helpful, or who are 'treading the same path' and may wish to comment or add to them.

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Greece Thinks It's Germany Who Owes The Debt.....

DISTIMO and The Greek Debt Crisis....

‘….. On the morning of June 10, 1944, a company of SS troopers hunting Greek partisans entered the mountain village of Distomo, near Delphi.  When the Red Cross arrived nine days later, they found 218 bodies of murdered villagers, the oldest 86, the youngest a baby of two months.  Most of the village had been burned to the ground.’  

‘….. In 1941, Manolis Glezos, a young resistance fighter, scaled the Acropolis and pulled down the Nazi swastika.  At the age of 89, he is mounting a fresh resistance campaign, demanding reparations and insisting that it is not Greece whose debts remain unpaid, but Germany.’
The full articel is below:



Tue 13 December 2011, The Times Newspaper (UK)

Greece thinks it’s Germany that owes the debt…
By Ben MacIntyre

The Distomo massacre in 1944 is seared into Greek memory — and full reparation has yet to be paid


Don’t mention the war.  But whenever Britain gets into an argument with Europe, we cannot resist it, deploying every wartime image we can muster.

Even before heading for his showdown with “Merkozy” (Merkle and Sarkozy), David Cameron was being warned against appeasement, and told not to return “with a kind of Chamberlainesque piece of paper.”  Another Tory MP urged him to show Winston Churchill’s “bulldog spirit”.

As Cameron took his solitary stance, others cited the famous wartime cartoon from 1940 showing a lone Tommy (ordinary soldier) standing up to tyranny: “Very well, alone.”  A single column in the Daily Mail yesterday draped the “Churchillian mantle” over Cameron, who was “sticking to his guns” in a “war of attrition”.

The instinctive resort to wartime symbolism is understandable, predictable, and almost entirely irrelevant to this particular episode, except as a shorthand way of praising a British leader, and simplistically damning his detractors.

But there is one area of the European (debt) crisis in which the war matters very greatly, for if the Second World still looms over Britain, it does so far more insistently and importantly over Greece, as it struggles to establish a viable economic future in the face of increasingly strict rules laid down by Germany.

The complex, painful and unequal relationship between Greece and Germany, hinging on the appalling experience of Nazi occupation during the Second World War, is central to the current crisis.  The Eurozone meltdown is reported in terms of accountancy and economic responsibility, bailouts and debt, but for many Greeks the debts involved are moral not financial, the issues historical, emotional and patriotic, inextricably entwined with Greece’s wartime experience, and one event in particular.

On the morning of June 10, 1944, a company of SS troopers hunting Greek partisans entered the mountain village of Distomo, near Delphi.  When the Red Cross arrived nine days later, they found 218 bodies of murdered villagers, the oldest 86, the youngest a baby of two months.  Most of the village had been burned to the ground.

Germany handed out $67 million in war reparations in 1960, but has refused to pay more for fear of encouraging additional demands.  The case of the Distomo survivors, with the backing of the Greek government, finally reached the European Court of Human Rights last summer, which ruled in favour of Germany.   The timing could not have been more telling: to many Greeks, it seemed that Germany was reneging on a moral debt, while insisting that Greece pay its bills.

The Axis occupation was a defining catastrophe in the short history of modern Greece.  The country’s economy was ruined, its treasures looted wholesale, tens of thousands died at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators, hundreds of thousands more through mass starvation caused by the requisitioning of food and the Allied blockade.

The occupation was only the most traumatic period in a history dictated, to a large extent, by external powers.  From the middle ages until the war of independence, Greece languished under Ottoman rule.  Greece’s first modern king was a teenage Bavarian prince, King Otto, imposed by the Great Powers, which also demanded the repayment of debts incurred by Greeks fighting for their freedom.  Even the outcome of the civil war that followed in 1946 was largely dictated by outside intervention.

It is against this grim backdrop that many Greeks see Germany demanding that Greece once again pay up, insisting on the most stringent austerity in exchange for a bailout package.  This is not just about money, but about dignity, and Greek sovereignty.

One Greek newspaper shows Horst Reichenbach, the German-born head of the European task force on Greece, in the uniform of a Wehrmacht officer.  A magazine depicts the swastika rising over the Acropolis.  Protestors carry red Nazi fags, the swastika replaced by the euro symbol.

The German tabloid press has stirred the pot by describing Greeks as lazy and profligate, and calling on Athens to sell off its islands and archaeological heritage to pay its ballooning debts.

That deliberately offensive caricature is partly accurate – for years Greece and its government lived way beyond its means, on borrowed money – but the suggestion that Greece surrender its patrimony bites deep in country that still feels a deep sense of anger over Germany’s refusal to pay compensation for the sins of the past.

The Greek relationship with Germany is deeply conflicted, bitter resentment coupled with profound admiration: many German fought for Greek independence; Greek opponents of the junta took refuge in Germany, and millions found work there; before the Second World War, Germany was seen in Greece as a source of cultural and political inspiration.

Greece’s admission to the EEC was seen as a sign that it had finally achieve equality within Europe, no longer the peripheral plaything of greater powers.  The rest of the Europe club welcomed Greece not so much because its economy fitted into the union, but because, as the cradle of democracy and western civilization, Greece seemed an essential adornment to the project.  The decision, like so much about the European project, was more romantic and historical than practical.

France, which did so much to encourage Greek membership, now says that “some”  countries (read: Greece) should never have joined the club, an observation that to Greek ears is almost as insulting as the idea that it should sell off the Parthenon to make ends meet.  Greece will not willingly leave the Eurozone.  It will go only if it is kicked out, by Germany.

Memories of war still shape national responses to crisis.  These memories may be misguided, even self-deluding, but that does not make them any less potent.   Our own familiar wartime narrative tells of a plucky bulldog Britain, standing up to Europe.  Greece’s story is of a country for too long pushed around by others, admitted to an elite club but then told it did not deserve to join, ordered to pay up when it believes it is still owed, and no longer in control of its own destiny as more powerful states, most notably Germany, wag their fingers and lay down the rules. 

In 1941, Manolis Glezos, a young resistance fighter, scaled the Acropolis and pulled down the Nazi swastika.  At the age of 89, he is mounting a fresh resistance campaign, demanding reparations and insisting that it is not Greece whose debts remain unpaid, but Germany.

Glezos is an apt emblem of the unfolding Greek drama: a country facing a deeply uncertain future, and haunted by the past.


 

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