In exchange for a modest write-off of Greece’s debt, creditors – led by Germany – have demanded “harsh austerity measures.” In other words, screw the poor and the middle class. They’re going to pay for it all. Health Care? Forget about it – those who can’t pay can go somewhere and die. Education? Hell, they can’t even pay for professors! Pensions that people worked for all their lives? Sorry, Károlos – that money is needed to pay off a country that invaded and ran roughshod over the country about 75 years ago – after which a bunch of their debts were simply written off.
Oh, yes. After moving his Nazi regime into Greece in 1941, Adolf Hitler held a gun to the Greek Central Bank’s head and demanded an interest-free “loan” of 476 million Reichsmarks. That was around $2 billion USD at the time, which would be closer to $32 billion in today’s dollars. Of course, that doesn’t take into consideration the death and damage that was inflicted during the four year Nazi German occupation.
In 1960, the Greek government accepted 115 million deutsche marks – worth about $29 million USD. In today’s dollars, that would be about $240 million. Do the math. Germany got a 75% discount from Greece on its war debt reparation. And the German people didn’t suffer all that much. Other former enemies and victims of the Nazis were pretty forgiving as well (neither the Jewish nor the Romani [Gypsy] peoples ever got anything). On top of that, Germany received billions in aid and reconstruction funds after the war their former government had started.
This week, a spokesman for the German Finance Ministry told the press that he “saw very little leeway in terms of restructuring” Greek debt. He told the BBC that he “would not accept any reduction in debt that caused Germany more losses.” Greece’s current debt stands at €320 billion ($357 billion USD.) Creditors are willing to cut that by 18% over the next three years – but only if the people who had nothing to do with it submit to “austerity measures,” including draconian tax increases that threaten Greece’s tourism industry and will hit the poor and middle class the hardest.
Meanwhile, on Friday, the Dow rose 212 points as Wall Street and banksters in the U.S. breathed a sigh of relief and started popping the corks on $1,000-a-bottle champagne aboard their gold-plated yachts.
Living Greeks in their 80s and 90s still have vivid memories of mass starvation during the German occupation during World War 2 – as well as the civil war and decades of dictatorship that followed it. These stories have been passed on to children and grandchildren. Now, in the face of German-led E.U. economic pressure, those memories are resurfacing in Greece.
Apparently, the Germans have forgotten two things. First, that Greek debt was incurred in large part to help keep them and the rest of Western Europe safe from the “Red Menace” during the latter part of the Cold War. Secondly, Germany has forgotten that it started two catastrophic wars during the 20th Century, and never repaid its debts from either.
The Second World War was a massive human tragedy on all sides. For decades, all former belligerents have worked to put it behind them. In Germany, the swastika and everything associated with Nazism is illegal. It took almost three generations before Germans could even talk about the “Hitler Era.” And that’s fine. We should take lessons from such tragedies, but then move on to something better. Germany was doing pretty well at that – until now. The rank hypocrisy of Germany’s current stance on Greece in light of its own history has started to re-open 70-year-old wounds – and the consequences could spread far beyond the Hellenic homeland.