A shared responsibility

Looks like Greece and Germany are at war, for the third time in the space of a century. Or perhaps it’s a hoax. We’ll find out soon enough. Illogically, Athens and Berlin are competing in populism, with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and his Greek counterpart Yanis Varoufakis arguing with each other smugly.

We can understand Schaeuble’s dislike of Varoufakis, a younger, inexperienced politician, whose arrogance comes from the ease with which he handles international economic theories. Nevertheless, those in position of power never get into personal disputes with those deemed insignificant and new. When PASOK founder Andreas Papandreou behaved cheekily vis-a-vis NATO regarding the alliance’s nuclear arms policy, US President Ronald Reagan refused to deal with him personally.

Now the situation is gradually reaching a limit. During its time in power, the SYRIZA-Independent Greeks coalition has made major steps backward and, in an awkward and troublesome manner, has managed to stay within the European Union framework. However, on a bilateral level, Greek-German relations have taken a dangerous turn.

The strategy of Alexis Tsipras’s government is simple and transparent. It aims to demonstrate that today’s Germany cannot divorce itself from its history, that the Third Reich’s responsibility and Berlin’s financial obligations toward Greece have not been written off. This is a particularly annoying reminder for Berlin’s current administration – the German state has continuity while the Third Reich’s shadow persists.

Beyond war reparations and demands for the repayment of the loan taken out by Greece during the German occupation, a decision by the Council of Appeals Court Judges will eventually see 64 defendants standing trial in the Siemens kickbacks scandal, serving as a reminder of the unorthodox means of corruption used by the German company in order to secure contracts in Greece.

For months now, it has been clear that the coalition, unable to satisfy voters’ financial demands on a practical level, would rush to “spill some blood.” Tsipras has already announced his intentions. The way in which these demands will be promoted has not been determined yet. Schaeuble’s irritation simply brought forward the “retaliation” against Germany, albeit in a particularly strong way.

Perhaps things would be different had Germany and the rest of our partners showed flexibility toward the previous government, with a deal sealed in September that would have allowed Antonis Samaras to use the idea of a “success story” and convincingly claim an election victory. But Germany and “the others” chose to come face to face with SYRIZA’s radical monster. Everyone is responsible in this case and the consequences will affect us all. Politics is a tough business.

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