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Eurozone crisis takes toll on German-Greek ties

Anger in response to the new Greek bailout has vented itself in the form of stereotypes directed at Greece's European partners, in particular Germany. DW takes a look at how stereotypes are affecting bilateral ties.

Nikos Dimou, an advertising expert and editor, has grown tired of the stereotype of "lazy Greeks retiring at 50" as well as stinging criticism from Germany's finance minister. However, he does feel that both sides - the Germans and the Greeks - have behaved badly during the debt crisis.

"The Greeks tend to blame others for their problems," he says. "When I was a child, it was the English, then the Americans and now it's the Germans." Dimou deplores this lack of self-criticism that can lead to conspiracy theories: "Some claim the crisis was orchestrated so that Greece could one day be bought at a bargain price."

'From medieval to modern times'

Dimou's views have earned him a reputation as a whistleblower in Greece. His collection of aphorisms "On the misfortune of being Greek" scrutinizes the question of Greek identity. Dimou argues the Greeks lack the formative experiences of western Europe.

"They missed out on the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment or the French Revolution," he says. The 1821 war of liberation catapulted Greece directly from medieval to modern times. Otto of Bavaria and his advisors came to Greece with the aim of transforming it into a European nation.

However, Dimou appeals for fairness: "Before you start criticizing, you must understand that the rational organization of society is still a rather new phenomenon in Greece. The younger generations think far more rationally than mine. Things will change, but not overnight."

Greek nepotism

A Greek flag with money on it.

Corruption: imported or a structural problem?

Nonetheless, some feel this change is taking too long. Greek commentators criticize that talent and performance take a backseat over social background and contacts. The elites in particular benefit from this feudal form of nepotism - a system that reproduces itself.

As a result, Vassiliki Georgiadou, a political scientist at Athens' Panteon University fully understands why German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is criticizing Greece's political class. "He's right. However, German citizens and taxpayers must recognize that millions of Greeks are honest workers who pay their taxes, especially the middle class."

Therefore it is particularly important for outsiders to balance their criticism and to differentiate between "the honorable people, who are suffering most from the crisis and the country's elites who are responsible for it."

German companies caught up in corruption

Vassiliki Georgiadou is concerned about the rising tensions between Greece and Germany. After several German companies, notably Siemens, were caught up in bribery scandals, the Greek press has been accusing Germany of corruption. Last April, then Justice Minister Charis Kastanidis even slammed German companies as the "world champions of corruption."

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble delivers his speech on the bailout package of the Eurozone for Portugal during a debate at the German parliament Bundestag in Berlin Thursday, May 12, 2011. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Many Greeks were stung by Schäuble's criticism

Both Dimou and Georgiadou agree that these rash statements are nothing but diversions. After all, it's not just German companies who are fuelling corruption in Greece but rather the "political system and maybe even the economic system," says Georgiadou. "Such accusations merely serve as an excuse to avoid looking at our own mistakes."

However, some Greeks also look on the funny side of the recent tensions. The caricaturist of the daily newspaper Kathimerini dispenses with all historical stereotypes and has his own take on how to solve the crisis.

A recent caricature showed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schäuble glancing helplessly at the German soccer coaching legend Otto Rehagel, who won the European cup with Greece's national team in 2004. "You must help us," pleads Schäuble, adding "you're the only one the Greeks would accept as budget commissioner…"

Author: Jannis Papadimitriou / nk
Editor: Gabriel Borrud

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