Anti-German Sentiment

Like everyone else with an interest in financial and political matters, I have followed events in Greece with increasing concern. This isn’t the place to argue what should/should not be done. I don’t know, and I’m pretty sure that many of those who rush to comment don’t know, either. What I have become very conscious of, however, is the anti-German sentiment powering much of the Greek people’s opposition to the various bailout programmes proposed by the E.U. Die-hard opponents of Britain’s membership of the E.U. like to remind anyone who will listen of a certain German general’s prophecy at the end of World War II, to the effect that Germany might have lost that war but would win the economic one. Today, in Europe, there are many who feel that Germany dictates economic policy to other nation states. There may not be the same intensity of loathing that some in Greece have displayed recently, but still there is a fund of anti-German sentiment that is troubling.

Today is the anniversary of the beheading of St Thomas More. One way of dealing with opposition is to cut off its head, either literally, as in the case of More, or figuratively, as in the case of Greece and its likely exclusion from the Eurozone. It is much harder to weigh arguments and open oneself up to the possibility one may be wrong. No one outside Greece doubts the corruption and economic mismanagement that led to the present situation, but the solutions proposed hitherto may be too ‘north European’. Couldn’t part of the problem be that those of us who live in northern Europe expect everyone in southern Europe to think and behave as we do? Phrases like ‘austerity’,  ‘economic discipline’, ‘retrenchment and reform’ sound differently under southern skies. Maybe when we ask why Greeks can’t be more like Germans we’d do well to admit the long shadows cast by history and examine our own attitudes. Anti-German sentiment isn’t something that concerns Greece only. It is a thinly-disguised element in some of the debate about Britain’s membership of the E.U., too.

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22 thoughts on “Anti-German Sentiment”

  1. Mmm, that gives a lot of food for thought, thank you very much. I am Dutch, have lived in England for over 40 years. I have not lost my accent and nothing irritates me more than when people ask whether it is German.

    • I have Dutch blood on my mother’s side but, fortunately for her during the last war, her surname was so clearly Dutch not German, she did not encounter any of the terrible prejudice some did. Hatred of others, whether individuals or nations, is clearly wrong, but how many of us are unaffected by little twinges of it?

  2. Interesting blog Sister. I too have followed the Greek situation closely, and I am very concerned about the future of the Greek people and my friends there.

  3. Unfortunately this anti-German sentiment has been increasingly spreading also in Italy for quite a few years and it does not include only specific economic and financial issues, but also real problems directly concerning the life of families and children. Apparently this issue is not directly connected with economic questions, but it is, and it goes with the above mentioned “prophecy”, which I am sure, will not become true, despite efforts to the contrary. (This comment has been edited by the Moderator.)

    • Thank you, Cinzia. I’ve had to shorten your comment because I don’t think we should single out individuals/situations that are open to dispute. I don’t want to be prosecuted!

      • Dear Sister, I understand your position. In case someone should have read my comment, I declare myself the sole responsible for what I wrote, of course.

        Let us pray for our Europe. Our Pope John Paul II strongly pushed unsuccesfully for a reference to our Christian roots in the European Union Chart. Let us pray that children may find a future Europe strongly linked to our Christian values.

        Cinzia

  4. I am German, I have lived, worked, and was partly educated in the UK and am an inveterate anglophile (I will even spend my summer holiday there, as I have done in past years), and I must say the German bashing going on irritates (and hurts) me to no end.
    People having to be ashamed of their last names or accents is sad –but I confess guilty myself. When I lived in Finland and went over to the UK on conferences I did not always correct people who thought I was a Finn or a Swede. I just wanted to avoid the stupid comments, I was so tired of them.

    But so what if part of our culture is based on a belief in hard work, trust, and fiscal discipline? We are no monsters, believe it or not. May I point out that solidarity is also part of that culture, grounded in the values of Rhenanian Capitalism (which, I may add, comes very close to many ideas expressed in Catholic Social Thought).

    Today, we are the nation that bears the brunt of the present crisis, after having dealt with reunification, and now it also appears we will be the ones who will also bear the brunt of the migration crisis (and I will refrain from commenting on the current UK government’s position on that crisis), and the vast majority of Germans show great solidarity with the refugees. I see this “live” in my hometown, in our neighbourhood. I don’t know how much of this appears in the British (or Greek) press.

    Also, in the context of the Euro crisis, the present discourse in the media is deeply flawed. Of course it should not be about « why can south Europeans be more like the Germans », because they cannot, and should not be. Neither should it be about more or less explicit expectations for the Germans to financially patch up other nations’ errors. They simply can’t.

    The real problem is in the initial set-up of the Eurozone: a tight alliance between nations which are structurally and culturally very heterogeneous is bound to be highly problematic, if not outright infeasible.

    Another important issue is the worrying rise of populism across Europe. Populism is the ugly side of democracy. No good comes from it.

    I wonder why neither of these two points get much attention in the press.

    So instead of asking why everybody cannot be a bit more German, or, on the other side, telling the Germans to stop telling the rest of Europe what to do and just write out the cheques, we should ask how we can build a Europe along the principle of “suum cuique”, where governments can operate, culturally and economically, the way they see best for their people.
    This might exclude the option for a Eurozone of the size we currently have. I start to believe that a common currency across nations who are fiscally and culturally (these often go together) aligned would be a healthier option. The Euro was a romantic idea but it has proven dysfunctional. We need to face that fact.

    And besides, it is not just “the Germans” versus “the Greeks”. I know it is easy (and to some people even fun) to engage in German bashing, but how does one explain the Eurozone nations’ eternal patience and lenience with the Greeks to the people of Slovakia, or the Baltic States, and all those other European nations who accepted, and pulled through, hardships in order to get their economies fit for the Eurozone?

    To be functional, Europe needs to remember one of its founding principles – that of Subsidiarity (again something very dear to Catholic Social Thought). Empower, and trust, each unit to do handle things at their own level, and only devolve upwards those issues they really cannot or should not deal with . Maybe tight fiscal policy is just not one of those things to be devolved. The people who engage in, and apparently enjoy, German-bashing, have simply not understood that the problem lies much, much deeper.

    • I think possibly you have assumed I am advocating something I’m not? In a short post such as mine, intended to stimulate thought rather than attempt a ‘solution’, I address a single point: the anti-German sentiment I see at work in Greece and, to a lesser but still troubling extent, here in Britain. I am asking people to think about it, and that means Germans must do so as much as Greeks or the British, doesn’t it? I am truly sorry for the hurt you have experienced.

  5. Don’t you find that those who express the most anti-German sentiment (a) have never met a German, and (b) were not even alive during WWII?

    I think the ill feeling stems from basic jealousy: Germany has become a prosperous and more equal country (in terms of living standards) than ourselves. With better schools, hospitals etc there’s a lot to be envious of.

    • Well, that hasn’t been my experience, but if I use an analogy, I suspect I’ll start a hare running in a different direction! I think we often underestimate the dark power of our collective myths. How much of IS’s anti-Western sentiment, for example, is based on such myths rather than anything more concrete? Does that apply here, rather than envy?

  6. When times are tough people fall back on well-worn prejudices. It’s nice and simplistic, it mean we don’t have to think through intractable complexities that we’re quite possible not trained enough to understand fully, and it absolves us from all guilt because it’s always someone else’s fault.

    Greece is being terribly battered and it’s almost impossible to see how the country can get back on its feet. Of course it’s easier for the country to locate all the fault in those partly responsible for offering the beginnings of a solution.
    And those who just bash Greece for not having changed its economy years ago are also falling into the trap of wanting easy problems and quick blame.

    It’s not possible. Nothing is that simple.
    And if our faith teaches us anything at all it’s to beware of scapegoating.

  7. It’s all so hard to understand, because economics is, and one’s point of view seems to lead to different conclusions. For instance, the measures forced on Greece may just be to protect bankers. Germany is indeed the biggest lender: but also may have been the biggest profiteer from the euro, because its exports were no longer hampered by a rising deutsche mark. Greece may have borrowed too much, but banks awash with money had to lend to some mug to keep up their profits. I’m signing the Jubilee thing for debt relief for Greece

    • I agree that it’s hard to understand, but I have to say that I don’t see the pressure on Greece as a measure designed to protect bankers particularly. The money Greece owes represents, among other things, pension funds, investments by all kinds of bodies, not-for-profits among them, as well as borrowings from the IMF, etc.

  8. I don’t know if anyone here reads German, but the French economist Thomas Piketty gave an interview to the liberal weekly newspaper Die Zeit in which he makes the point that Germany never repaid its full debts after World War II and that the decision to cut its debts by 60% had not been made for political reasons (because it had been excessive debts after WWI that lead to WWII), but sound economic interest.

    I hope the article will be translated soon. In the meantime, it can be found here: http://www.zeit.de/2015/26/thomas-piketty-schulden-griechenland/komplettansicht

    • I read German. One difficulty with interpreting the decision to reduce the debt burden on Germany after WWII is that economists interpret it one way and political historians another.

  9. Which makes me wonder whether a combination of both isn’t true.
    Even in our topical debates people on either side will say “we did that because…” and the others will say “we did that only because…”, both usually missing the complexity and the demands of compromise.

    It made sense to me to say that if you cancel debt and allow a country to invest any surplus into infrastructure and education you end up with a healthy country sooner and therefore with a more stable country and a useful trading partner – so that in the long term, cancelling debts is beneficial for the creditors too. It becomes good politics, and the political historians seem to be agreed that imposing extreme financial burdens after WWI was bad politics.

    I’m so often amazed that the compassionate thing to do also seems to bring the most benefits to the people showing the compassion, even if it’s at first counter intuitive.

  10. I´m portuguese; i´ve been many times in Germany and i pretty much enjoyed meet german people.
    Maybe democracy isn’t working as it should; and that´s people´s fault. Countries bankruptcy is the result of government’s actions, borrowing from markets with germany´s endorsement. There are no free meals: this endorsement is given because, without people’s acknowledge, trade agréments happens between german companies and those political parties in power who profit from all this corruption system – not the people who, now, must pay all this. Of course, anti-german sentiment is a natural effect.
    For me, i´m anti-german and anti-portuguese corruption in business. Maybe the real problem is the economic monetary sistem – wich, as many think, is by nature corrupt.
    P.S. Former portuguese PM is remanded in custody, as well as some top bankers, business men and other former goverment members.

    Antonio Gomes (Trabassos)
    Portugal

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