This article/analysis is re-posted from Abravanel blog
During the joint press conference between the greek and german Finance ministers, greek minister Varoufakis said that on his return to Athens he would have to face a Nazi party being the 3rd most popular in Greece. As BBC pointed out «[…]The subtext (of mentioning the N word): pursue your demand for budget cuts and the nightmare you dealt with will continue to spread in Athens.».
Although the question does seem provocative, it actually emerged during the talks about the future of greek austerity between Greece and its creditors, albeit a better description would be between an imperial Germany and an impertinent Greece. And while drawing comparisons between todays Bundesrepublik and the 3rd Reich was limited to bar-talks and tabloid journalism; recently it escalated into full blown comparisons between human-soap-making, crematoria-loving Nazis and modern Germans appearing in the official newspaper of the governing Syriza party. So the question remains ? Is the rise of a modern Nazi party a consequence of german-insisted austerity?
This is a question which no Greek and no German does actually want to tackle – despite hastily assembled answers. Because the answer to this question would need to address the founding-myths of each country. First that Greece is immune to racism and second that the modern Bundesrepublik was founded on the complete and utter rejection of Nazi Germany. Both assertions while nominally challenged, (many greeks believe that racism in greece is rampant and many germans questioned the role of their fathers during the nazi era), they may be the basis of the modern states but are also means to distance from accepting full responsibility. I understand that the concept is complex to develop in a single blog post so I will try to evidence through the use of two paradigms and a final comment on Tsipras visit to the Kessariani Shooting Range.
Greece has always claimed to be a country immune to racism. The official mantra of greek governments from the Evrigenis report in the ’80s to the Plevris Trials in the 00’s was complete denial that greeks had even the capacity of becoming racists. Even a minority faction in the Left which challenged the notion, it did little to address racism and it included it in a class-struggle narrative. Indicative is the perception that racism existed only in the case of immigrants while religious and ethnic minorities, gays (lgbt) and even sexism were relegated at best in the little league of leftist partys’ priorities. Even with the rise of the neo-nazi Golden Dawn party, initially they tried to blame the crisis and then they simply wrote them off, qualifying them as Nazis as to never be obliged to ask hard questions about their voters.
A good example of this ignorance at best, hypocrisy at worst would be Varoufakis himself. While I do believe he was sincere at the press conference where he uttered the N-word in front of an irritated Schauble, one must then wonder how he accepts being a part in a government where antisemitism runs rampant. And I don’t mean only the Independent Greeks (ANEL) junior coalition member; I intend parliamentarians like Rahil Makri. A former ANEL MP, she was hand-picked by Prime Minister Tsipras himself as the new Syriza rising star. Rahil Makri did not only characterize as a buffoon a pro-Jewish Christian mayor for sporting the yellow star during the entrance of nazi members after municipal elections, but also voted against the indictment of Golden Dawn parliamentarians. She even went to tattoo herself with a spartan helmet which is perceived as code-symbol for greek supremacists and favorite among Golden Dawn hard core nazi members. But still her greek-supremacism and antisemitism were downplayed in front of her steadfast opposition to german inspired austerity measures.
On the other hand while Germany has unequivocally rejected the Nazi past, they seem less ready to reject the notion that the foundations of the Bundesrepublik carry the echo of Horst-Wessel-Lied. And I don’t mean recognition and acceptance of nazi atrocities; the recent visit of Bundesprasident Joachim Gauck was filled with sincere sorrow and acknowledgment of the nazi historical burden modern Germany carries. I mean the first decades in which modern Germany payed nominal lip-service to the Holocaust and WW2 massacres and tried consistently to shield Nazi criminals from justice.
The most famous example is the butcher of Salonica, Max Merten who supervised the deportation to Auschwitz of tenths of thousands of Greek Jews and enabled Christians to plunder a cultural heritage of a 2000 year old community. Merten survived the war and became a high-ranking member of the new german Bundesrepublik, although he remained a wanted man by Greek Justice. He was eventually arrested by a prosecutor of integrity by the name of Andreas Tousis. Despite being convicted, the West German Bundesrepublik campaigned for his release and eventually bought him out by offering new loans and pressuring on NATO solidarity. They even shadow-wrote a piece of legislation which immediately halted the search and indictment of german war criminals, while privately doing everything to erase responsibility. German professor Hagen Fleischer has documented these efforts in his book about Public History which I reviewed here.
This mutual hypocrisy can be viewed best with Tsipras visit to Kesariani Shooting Range, where Germans executed 200 greek prisoners in retaliation to acts of the Greek Resistance. The visit was geared both towards the interior market nodding to leftist voters but also towards Germany reminding her of her past and present duties. The act might had been a clever photo opportunity before the start of negotiations, but proved counter-productive by causing anger among the Germans who already in 1987 had publicly accepted blame during the visit of another Bundespresidant. The hypocrisy of Tsipras was all-too apparent when a few days later published the stereotypical statement of Holocaust Memorial day through the greek State Department, following the greek tradition of treating Jews as foreign nationals and using the Shoah only as a means to gain points abroad.
On the other hand one cannot but feel unease with the German reaction. Even if Tsipras visit was only for political expediency, he could plausibly deny it as such. Even if conceding it was petty politics, Germany should have bowed its head in front of German atrocities. Failure to do so brings into question the benignity of german political dominance in Europe and raises eyebrows whether Germany has shed the imperial arrogance of past wars and accepts the responsibilities it bestows or considers it part of a past which can be bought off with money.
I’m already at 1100 words but I feel that the contexts I’m describing are vital if the will of the German and Greek State is to eradicate the Nazi threat which I, as a Jew, feel direct and immediate. In the 2012 article «How the Greek crisis breeds antisemitism», (english translation at the end of the link) I believe I provided a model on how Golden Dawn took foot: VIANEX is the leading greek pharmaceutical company which reaped in the years of the fat cows, but has encountered serious problems by the austerity measures which have also resulted in a humanitarian crisis of the greek society. Feeling persecuted – but also decidedly refusing to accept any mismanagement – has decided to invest in greek antisemitism as means of battling those who have tried to clean a corrupt National Health System. The crisis here did nothing to create antisemitism – it was already there. It simply created an opportunity for it to be used as a specter which threatens Greeks. Read the post; I admit it is weak as an example but I’m more interested in the dynamics described, rather than the actual weight of the incident .
Germany is not responsible for the existence of Golden Dawn – it is a wholesome greek product which breeds on the racism and antisemitism which is tolerated by the greek society. Holocaust trivialization and gross antisemitism can be seen both in parties of the Left and Right. Many Greeks would argue that this is not true, but this denial would be just another symptom of the antisemitism embedded in the society.
On the other hand Germany is responsible for providing the opportunity for the virus it helped create, to rise again. Even the most strict german moralist acknowledges the austerity in a deflationistic environment is economically counter-productive after 5 years of Μemorandum. Also the Germans themselves are losing their moral high-ground when harboring greek economic criminals like Christoforakos. Greek Nazis thrive on the hypocrisy of Germans protecting economic criminals as they protected war criminals – they also thrive on an overwhelming feeling of the Greeks being victimized. Even if we concede to every German accusation, this will not change the horrible toll the austerity has taken on this society.
Germany herself suffered greatly at the end of WW1. The peoples of Europe attributed the fault to the Germans themselves and were indifferent to a german society crumbling. This did not create Adolph Hitler – he too was a wholesome product of german tradition – but it did help him rise to Reichkanzler. After the war the peoples of Europe understood that Germany should both recover and be cleansed and – even having to wait for a generation – modern Germany is an example of a State where human rights and the wellfare of its citizens protected. The same thing can happen to Greece or it can be left adrift in a raft constructed by victimization amidst a sea of racism, torn by the blasts of economic downturn. Where it will end up is Germany’s choice and I believe the make-or-break of European Union.
It acknowledge that handing the ball to the Germans for a problem they did not create, is unfair. But the power is in Bundeskanzelrin Merkel’s hand, not in a bankrupt Greece. And she alone will be judged as a Clemanceau «Père la Victoire» or a Clemanceau «Père la Paix». If she wants to ask how it’s done, just ask her parents.