Remarks by Britain?s Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this week that the United Kingdom could restrict the entry of Greeks (and other citizens of euro-area countries affected by Europe?s sovereign debt crisis) into Britain in the event of ?extraordinary stresses and strains? prompted a fair share of controversy.
Some local commentators questioned whether that meant Cameron would slam the door in the faces of the thousands of Greeks who study and pay fees at Britain?s universities, the thousands of Greek professionals who have built successful careers in the country, or the Greek shipowners who are based in the British capital.
Renowned British historian Richard Clogg, an expert on Europe?s 20th century travails, offered another response. In an article published this week in the London Review of Books, Clogg points out that in 1940, after the fall of France, Britain?s only active ally in Europe against Hitler?s Nazis was Greece.
Furthermore, the historian mentions what the Greeks had to go through during the war against the much larger Italian and German armies and the tripartite (German-Italian-Bulgarian) occupation that followed.
As many as 200,000 people died of starvation between 1941 and 1943, inflation skyrocketed (hyperinflation was 5,000 times more severe than the Weimar inflation of the early 1920s), and the country?s infrastructure was destroyed.
These sufferings are still remembered by the parents and grandparents of today who were the children of the war and the German occupation and there is no excuse for European leaders to casually make such populist statements. Aimed at bolstering their ratings, careless comments like this end up stoking the xenophobic and Euroskeptic instincts of the masses.
The continent?s crisis has led to a resurgence of hate speech coupled with a dangerous display of historical amnesia. Remarkably, the trend is not only being fostered by the populist tabloids but also by supposedly responsible political leaders.
Unfortunately, Greece?s political class has contributed to the demonization and victimization of the Greek people. In the eyes of our European peers, the population is identified with its inept leaders.