Despite the decades since the end of World War II, Germany remains ill at ease with its past to this day. That’s hardly surprising, given that WWII was not a war “like all others,” but a very scientific and extremely cold orchestration of atrocities. The insecurity that still exists in the common conscience and the violently suppressed feeling of historical complicity were revealed over the past few days in three different reactions to the revival of the enormous moral question regarding war reparations and the loan that Greece was forced to take from the Nazi government. One reaction was blunt, the other sarcastic, and the third feigned realism.
The leading representative of the blunt response was German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. Stepping into the role of international judge, he opined that the issue of war reparations no longer exists. His unrestrained power, with which he manages the fate of Europe as a whole and not just its beleaguered South, appears to have convinced him that his word is gospel. Is his brand of confidence a borderline god complex? No. It is simply extreme cynicism, which has found fertile ground.
The second reaction to the claims for reparations was one of unbridled sarcasm, with many German citizens delving even deeper and further into the past as though venting online would heal the wounds of the present. Some bloggers, for example, wondered whether Greece would now demand reparations for the Ottoman occupation, from the Persians and the Franks. The reaction was more or less along this line of logic: lighthearted perhaps, but with a good deal of psychological self-defense. What they forget is that no one in Greece nor in the European South intends to incriminate all Germans over what the Nazis did. If the German leadership has isolated the country from the rest of Europe with its authoritarian tone, the problem is not that of the leadership; it is that of the people and they should be the ones to solve it.
The third reaction to the Greek report came from those who chose to take on the role of the realistic and wise, advising Greece to be wary of getting its revenge on the Germans for the country’s current ills. What they failed to ask is how one of the winners of the war, Greece, which was eventually defeated financially and politically, could possibly seek vengeance on the big loser of the war, Germany, which arose to become a flat-out winner, both politically and financially.
On the Greek side, there are reactions we should be wary of. One, for example, is dealing with the issue in the same way that the Parthenon Marbles were dealt with – with self-righteousness and without doing the homework. The other is using any possible reparations to justify laziness and foot-dragging, as possible future gas deposits seem to have done to some extent. The third, and worst, would be allowing the issue to become part of the internal power struggle in domestic politics.