Nothing illustrates better the anti-democratic politics of austerity in Europe today than the fact that the prime ministers of both Italy and Greece have been appointed by Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, Wolfgang Schäuble, the Federal Minister of Finance, and Mario Draghi, the President of the European Central Bank.
They represent the new power grid in Europe, a fast train connection between Berlin and Frankfurt. Together they are hammering an austerity on Europe, from Antrim to Zakynthos. Just as effective is the flattening of the European left. Where has it been until now? Only this past weekend (February 18, 2012) there were demonstrations against the take-no-prisoners attitude of the Frankfurt-Berlin axis with respect to Greece.
Nowhere is this slash and burn capitalism felt more viscerally than in Greece. The new ascendant Germany and a handful of the so-called AAA countries such as Finland and Holland (nations that have maintained their highest bond ratings) have deposed the elected Prime Minister, George Papandreou, and are now overseeing the dismantling of the country’s economy.
Informing this anti-democratic policy is a Little Red Hen morality that goes like this: While we reformed our labor markets, you engaged in property bubbles; while we restructured our economy, you consumed; and while we decreased our prices, you raised yours. In short, we pulled up our socks, while you loosened your belts; we worked hard, while you lay on the beach. And now you want our bread? (So why should we share our bread with you?)
Of course, German politicians could have informed their electorate that Germany’s much vaunted economic prosperity was a function not only of industriousness but also of a European captive market that bought Siemens trains, Audi cars, and Bosch dishwashers. Much of this consumption was made possible by easy money coming from the AAA countries.
Now these countries want to protect their own banks by arguing for a rescue of Greece. The taxpayers of the AAA’s, particularly in Germany, are scandalized that their hard-won money is being used to prop up the lazy Greeks. But the primary intention of the loan guarantees was never to save Greece. Discussions in the past week have let fall the fig-leaf -- or Lederhosen -- of pretense from the naked truth.
For the alliance of the AAA has made it a condition that the new loan package to Greece be in an escrow account for payment of Greece’s debts to the European Banks. That is, all the money must first go to their banks. Which makes you wonder why they are going through this charade. Why not have it deposited directly in the banks themselves without the pretense of having to rescue Greece? But in that case we would also have to blame the banks for their own profligacy and, in certain instances, corruption, in addition to looking for the shortcomings of the Greeks. It’s easier to invoke orientalist clichés. And will there be any money left in this escrow account to buy bread for the Greeks? If they have no bread, let them eat Sachertorte.
What is also clear is that the AAA, led by Germany, is pursuing a policy of humiliation of the Greeks. Wolfgang Schäuble has demanded that the Greeks postpone national elections until the loan “negotiations” are complete. More importantly, Greece has to be made an example to the rest of Europe.
Of course, Germany remembers its own humiliation at Versailles after WWI. But now the “treaty” of the global order is designed not in the shimmering palace outside of Paris but in the gleaming tower of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. It may be simplistic to characterize this order as neocolonialist. But what other word can one use to express the situation where democracy is set aside only for those countries which keep their economic affairs in order and whose economies are run by AAA batteries?
It is understandable if this triggers in Greeks memories of the German occupation of their country when the Nazi army requisitioned all the food and natural resources, effectively forcing the Greeks to pay for their own occupation, a policy that resulted in the starvation of hundreds of thousands? Of course, the comparison is not altogether fair. But, as the first subjects of the new Pax Germanica, the Greeks may be forgiven their memory confusion.
As Freud explained in his celebrated essay, “Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis,” sometimes we wonder if something we experienced was real. Was he actually standing on the Acropolis, Freud asked himself, or was it memory’s trick? Trauma exacerbates this disorientation, and a past occupation may be confused with a current economic crisis.
And I, who spent two happy years in Germany as a guest of the state, and now appalled at the sight of Athens in flames, ask myself: Whither European unity? Did it really exist? Or was it a trick of the mind?