By Calvin Palmer
Sixty-five years after the Second World War ended, it is still invoked to further political arguments even though those who fought in the conflict – the Greatest Generation — are dwindling in number.
The financial crisis in Greece has plunged the country into crisis and it faces a bail-out by the EU. The Germans have been among Greece’s harshest critics following the announcement that its budget deficit was four times the level laid down by the eurozone.
Needless to say such criticism has not gone down well with the Greeks.
Theodoros Pangalos, deputy prime minister, said Germany had no right to reproach Greece for anything after it devastated the country under the Nazi occupation.
“They took away the gold that was in the Bank of Greece, and they never gave it back,” Pangalos said. “They shouldn’t complain so much about stealing and not being very specific about economic dealings.”
Andreas Peschke, spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry, rejected the accusations by saying Germany had paid Greece the equivalent of more than €4.4 billion ($5.9 billion) in formal war reparations and compensation for slave laborers.
“A discussion of the past is not of great help in resolving Greece’s problems,” he added.
German media have not helped to pour oil on troubled waters. Earlier this month, Stern magazine published an article that accused the Greeks of frittering away German taxpayers’ savings.
Another German magazine, Focus, further published a front cover that depicted a statue of the Venus de Milo making an obscene gesture under the title “Greek cheats.”
Greek newspaper Eleftheros Typos responded to the Focus front cover by printing a doctored photograph of the statue atop Berlin’s Victory Column holding a swastika.
German ambassador to Greece, Wolfgang Scultheiss, was summoned to Parliament for a dressing down by the speaker, Filippos Petsalnikos, who speaker described the German coverage as “offensive” and “surpassing all limits”.
The Mayor of Athens, Nikitas Kaklamanis, has also waded into the dispute. “You [Germany] owe us 70bn euros for the ruins you left behind,” he said.
The Greek Consumers’ Federation has called on shoppers to boycott German goods.
The Greeks feel aggrieved that the country’s crisis is largely due to outside forces such as the financial markets and the EU.
In a world where the “Don’t Blame Me” mentality is the norm, Greek anger is, perhaps, understandable.
Germany’s concerns stem from a widely-held belief that, as Europe’s largest economy, it will eventually have to foot the bill for Greece’s economic laxity.