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Bogeyman Germany

Nils Naumann / als
March 22, 2013

Germany pays the largest amount in eurozone bailouts, but is often criticized in crisis countries due to its alleged tough attitude. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the primary target for criticism.

A protestor in front of the parliament building holds a poster showing German Chancellor Angela Merkel after the Cyprus Parliament rejected the bailout deal, Copyright: EPA/FILIP SINGER
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is likely growing weary of the photo collages splayed across front pages of European newspapers.

Those images usually include protest posters showing the German chancellor in a SS uniform or donning a Hitler moustache. Since the start of the eurozone crisis, opponents of austerity measures have relied on Nazi comparisons to get their message across.

And now it's Cyprus' turn. Over the past few days, thousands of people have gathered at the country's parliament building. Many of the demonstrators carried anti-Merkel posters bearing slogans that read, "Merkel, you're stealing our savings" or "Merkel, your money is bloodier than any type of money laundering." One older Cypriot woman interviewed by DW called for a stop to "German financial fascism."

Many Cypriots hold Germany responsible for the tough loan requirements of the EU bailout plan. Cypriot politicians have been hawking the idea that German Chancellor Merkel and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble were responsible for pushing through the planned tax on Cypriot savings accounts.

In Cyprus' Parliament, Communist Andros Kyprianou had a different complaint. "On the illicit earnings list, Germany stands far above us," he said. "Yet they are ones telling us how we're supposed to be doing things."

The German government depicts the situation a little differently. They point to the refusal by Cyprus' government to place greater burdens on those with higher assets. That's why, they claim, the EU could not get a find solution that was both immediate and would include less dramatic burdens for small savers.

Cypriot protestors wave banners picturing German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades during a demonstration against an EU bailout deal outside the parliament in the capital, Nicosia, on March 19, 2013. Copyright: AFP PHOTO/BARBARA LABORDE
Demonstrations in Cyprus paint Merkel as the "enemy"Image: AFP/Getty Images

Cypriots are particularly insulted by the money laundering allegations, said Andreas Armenakis, who is involved in a German-Cypriot cultural and business forum in Cyprus. Many residents of Cyprus, he said, have only recently become aware of just how dependent they are on cash flowing in and out of the country.

Anti-German déjà vu

For Merkel, the references to Nazism are another chapter in an ongoing saga.

On a recent state visit to Greece, she was met by protestors wearing Nazi uniforms. In Italy, former Prime Minister and media tycoon Silvano Berlusconi's "Il Giornale" newspaper screamed the headline "Quarto Reich" ["Fourth Reich"] in mid-2012. The picture below the headline was misleading, catching a serious-looking Merkel gesturing with her right arm in a manner that happened to resemble the Hitler salute. The editor-in-chief of that newspaper, Alessandro Sallusti, wrote that Germans had replaced their canons with euros.

Berlusconi continued to play the anti-German card throughout his election campaign at the beginning of the year, accusing Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti of being enslaved to Germany. Monti was bowing to German demands, Berlusconi claimed, by enacting austerity policies. The tirades by the media tycoon found favor, with Berlusconi grabbing nearly 30 percent of the vote, enough for second place.

Italian newspaper 'Il Giornale' last August, screaming the 'Fourth Reich' Copyright: Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/dpa
Italian newspaper 'Il Giornale' last AugustImage: picture-alliance/dpa

In Spain, too, Merkel has been the bogeywoman. Protests erupted when she visited the country in the middle of last year. "No to a German Europe" and "Merkel, no; Fourth Reich, no" were the slogans. On some of the demonstrators' signs, Merkel's face was painted with swastikas.

Unlike Greece and Italy, where older generations can still recall atrocities committed by German troops during World War II, Spain has not traditionally had high levels of anti-German sentiment, said political scientist Fernando Vallespin. Spain, after all, has never been conquered by Germany, and Spaniards have always looked at Germans "favorably," he told DW.

Still, "there is a lot of unease" in the country concerning "La Merkel's" austerity policies, he said. With years of cost-cutting measures showing no clear results, many Spaniards feel defeated. "We have the feeling that we have no future," Vallespin said. Spaniards do not have a problem with Germans per se, but with the German government, he added.

Demonstrator holds a poster depicting Adolf Hitler and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a protest in front of the Parliament building against new austerity measures in Athens, Greece, October, 2012. Copyright: EPA/ORESTIS PANAGIOTOU
Greeks protesting Merkel's visit in October 2012Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Germany's charm offensive

In spite of the criticism, Germany still attracts many, especially young southern Europeans. Due to high unemployment in Spain, demand for German language classes there has risen dramatically, with many of the employed hoping for better career chances up north once they learn the language.

The German government, meanwhile, has recognized the anti-German mood among some southern Europeans, and has kicked off a campaign to win back popularity - at least among Greeks.

German coach of Greece, jumps in celebration at the end of the Euro 2004 soccer championship final match between Portugal and Greece at the Luz stadium in Lisbon, Portugal, Sunday, July 4, 2004. Greece won 1-0 and clinched the trophy. Copyright: AP Photo/Thomas Kienzle
German soccer coach and Greek hero Rehhagel after Greece's winImage: AP

None other than Otto Rehhagel, one of Germany's most famous soccer coaches, is expected to charm Greece. While the 74-year-old enjoys cult status in Germany, in Greece he's considered an all-out hero. In 2004, he managed to lead the more-or-less third-rate Greek soccer team to a championship in the European cup. Greeks still love him for it. Rehhagel will travel to Athens at the end of March 2013.

In nearby Cyprus, Armenakis says that most Cypriots do not bear a grudge against Germany.

"Once a solution is found, things will settle down again," he said.

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