Germany not long ago demanded that Greece repay its debts. Yet it is Germany who is the greatest defaulter in Europe. The Greek debt crisis appeared in much of the media characterized in terms of European, mostly German, generosity flouted by Greek profligacy. Greeks were ‘untrustworthy, wasteful and above all, lazy’.
Actually Greeks are the hardest workers in Europe, according to the latest research, putting in an average of 54 hours a week. It’s the Danes who are probably the laziest, with exceptionally low productivity. But that’s another story.
The media encourages short-term focus, and almost never provides a long-term view. It sells everything with the WOW factor, keeping readership in the Now without offering real perspective. That’s because they don’t want us to form our own views. So they limit the flow of relevant information, ensuring we buy their political position of supporting dominant conservative views rather than consider rational perspectives beneficial to all sectors of society.
But are Greeks the irresponsible defaulters as they are characterized, principally by Germany’s Merkel? To answer that, let’s consider Germany itself.
We could start with World War One. In June 1914 Germany declared war on Serbia. By August they had also declared war on France. After four years of the worst destruction the world had ever seen, Germany was defeated. In 1919 the Allies signed the Treaty of Versailles, holding Germany accountable for the damage and demanding reparation payments of $445 billion, in 2015 values. Nothing happened. In 1921 this payment obligation was reinforced by the London Schedule of Payments. Then in 1923, with nothing of note paid, France seized Germany’s industrial Ruhr region as a part payment. In 1924, the Dawes Plan tried to reschedule Germany’s debts, and in 1928 the Young Plan attempted the same.
By 1931 the Allies realized they were not making headway with defaulting Germany and, given the political and industrial turmoil that had developed in Germany, the reparation plan was suspended. In 1932, they bit the bullet and at the Treaty of Lausanne, cancelled the debt. Of course, these years of forment had generated massive resentment among a proud people, and forged by the chaos came Hitler determined to win back his country’s honour and retake lost territory. During all that time, Germany had only repaid a paltry 15.9% of their debt. They alone had been forced to pay all reparations while years earlier, the Allies had cancelled the war debts of Axis members Hungary, Turkey, Austria and Bulgaria. But with the Treaty of Lausanne, Germany and her allies had got off more or less scott-free after the worst mass destruction ever seen in the world.
Revenge is a word that several commentators have used to describe Germany’s current underlying attitude towards Greece. Revenge could also be seen as a national characteristic as it was a major underlying factor in Hitler’s decision to provoke the Allies into a war by invading Poland. After WW1, Poland had been given a large amount of German territory, and with Germany weakened between the wars was developing imperialist ideals of taking more. But Poland was militarily weak and so was a perfect theatre for Germany to demonstrate its superior military power to the rest of what was still Allied Europe, just to show them Germany had returned as their equal or better. Revenge and small-man boastfulness undoubtedly played a role in all that.
In 1942, a crushed Greece was persuaded to empty the coffers of its principal bank and loan Germany 476 million D-Marks, or $2.86 billion today, at 0% interest. It was a bona fide loan and has never been repaid by Germany. In 1960, Germany agreed to give Greece reparations for WW2 damage by paying 115 million Deutsche Marks, or $224 million today. But that was not for the ‘loan’ money, which remains unpaid. In 1990 Germany announced the war was over and it would not be paying anything more to anyone because of it.
What is mostly forgotten now is that unlike post WW1, when the Allies sought return of the actual war costs from Germany, the story after WW2 was the reverse. An enlightened American leadership realized that if another war cycle was to be avoided, and world markets restored, Europe would have to be rebuilt. In 1947 it created the Marshall Plan which pumped $1.48 trillion (2015 values) into restoring Europe to a viable economy and society. In fact, when the Plan ended in 1952, all European countries were in far better shape than before the war started. Thus Germany was not only forgiven its normal wartime reparations, but was massively supported financially to lay the foundations of its European economic supremacy today. Not only that, but during the extreme European winter of 1945-46, America fed Europe by donating nearly 17% of it’s own food supplies, enabling 300 million Europeans to get at least 300 calories a day, which undoubtedly saved millions of lives.
So we have an incredibly prosperous Germany now calling Greece fiscally irresponsible, when it provided most of the muscle that forced the IMF and European Bank to loan the money to Greece in the first place. The real reason for this was to enrich the lenders by pillaging the Greek economy to pay exorbitant interest rates, knowing that the principal could never be repaid.
Noam Chomsky’s view is that Merkel’s ‘Austerity’ is just a fancy word for class war. It could also be regarded as a pre-emptive strike to prevent Greece ever recovering the unpaid ‘loan’, and a form of sophisticated revenge for asking for it.
But most of all, the famous French economist Thomas Piketty reminds us that for all of its triumphalist, moral-high-ground, finger-waving about repaying debts, Germany herself has never repaid any of her debts, and moreover has the distinction of having unleashed the two greatest destructive forces onto mankind in recent history. Perhaps chastened by her earlier demands, Merkel is now calling Greece’s predicament a humanitarian disaster. The spin doctors at work!
Ultimately, a country’s policies reflect the values of the single individual elected to run it, and individuals at root are either forgiving, resentful or retaliatory. They instinctively operate from the values of their unconscious deep tapes. To know their personal story is to grasp their Beingness and predict their Doingness. You be the judge of Merkel and Tsipras.
This is the bigger picture that journalists who are either deceptive or ignorant don’t provide to enable you, the reader and voter, to understand the greater issues and make informed opinions. Simply put, what is missing in today’s hyperventilated news is context, and context is a key Leadership Issue.