Greek-German Dialogue “Hope springs eternal”

Where’s the way up?
Where’s the way up? | Photo: Ignacio Munguía

How are things with Germany-Greece relations? What’s next for the euro-crisis? The Goethe-Institut and Deutsche Welle invited twenty German and Greek journalists to a dialogue. Six of them offered us their assessments and opinions of the present situation.

Greeks and Germans are talking a lot about each other right now, and less with each other. Their mutual esteem is rapidly dwindling. Many media on both sides are not exactly helping to defuse the conflict. This was the reason that the Goethe-Institut and Deutsche Welle decided to put German and Greek journalists together at one table to discuss matters in a conclave-like setting. It is the only way to create understanding and grow trust.

The first German-Greek Journalists’ Dialogue, initiated and organized by the Goethe-Institut Athens, took place in 2014 on Crete. This year, it was continued parallel to the Global Media Forum from 19 to 21 June in Bonn with support from Deutsche Welle and the Robert Bosch Stiftung. Ten journalists from each of the two countries, who reported in detail in recent years about the debt crisis or Germany-Greece relations, took part in the dialogues.

Six times three questions

We took this opportunity to ask six professional observers of the crisis for their personal assessment of the present situation. We asked them all the same three questions. Their responses brought interesting differences and commonalities to light, and not just between the two nationalities.
   

Michalis Mitsos

What do you think about when you think about Germany?

Michalis Mitsos Michalis Mitsos | Foto: privat Germany has overcome its feelings of guilt over the Shoah and faces the rest of the world without the syndromes of the past. Germany carried out painful reforms during an economic upswing and demands that the rest of Europe do the same during a period of recession. Germany is generous, but demanding; patient, but also strict; cosmopolitan, but arrogant. Between solidarity and responsibility, it leans ever more towards the latter. It automatically prefers a European Germany to a German Europe. It is the good pupil that some classmates flatter in order to become part of its clique, but it runs the risk of one day ending up alone. Can you imagine Greece without the euro and the Euroland without Greece?

I can imagine the Eurozone without the Greeks, but not Greece without the euro. As much as Paul Krugman, Wolfgang Münchau and various domestic pseudo-revolutionaries try to convince us that reintroducing the drachma will save us, what comes to my mind instead is Pedro Mairal’s staggering novel from the first decade of our century El Año Del Desierto: queues at exchange offices, clashes in the streets, looted supermarkets, black market, arson, roadblocks, general dissolution, terrorism, humiliation and above all loneliness, an infinite loneliness. For me, these would be the attributes of Greece if it would split off from Europe and then very quickly have to realize how its illusions go up in smoke.

Are you nonetheless confident that Greece and Europe will master the crisis?

A Greek-American journalist recently asked “Why on earth is Greece in the EU?” on the website Politico and expressed his opinion that enthusiasm for Ancient Greece was responsible for the Greek crisis. Our conviction that the Europeans owe us something because we built the Parthenon when they were still eating acorns truly has done a great deal of damage. Other, quite mundane and tangible problems are to blame for the crisis. If we solve them, we could circumnavigate this cape. The omens are not good. The Europeans’ distrust is not helpful. But hope springs eternal.
 
Michalis Mitsos, born in 1959, first studied chemistry to quickly switch to the study of journalism. He was worked for the newspaper Ta Nea for about three decades. Today he is head of the foreign desk. He has travelled to Germany frequently and regrets not having learned German.

Ulrike Herrmann

What do you think about when you think about Greece?

Ulrike Herrmann Ulrike Herrmann | Foto: Herby Sachs/WDR Greece – is the hospitality of its inhabitants. Although I often travelled to Greece on business, the first things that come to mind are the personal encounters I had there. The mixture of pride and despair was always striking. Even before the crisis, many Greeks were fully aware that their state did not function properly, but they were at a loss as to how to change it. Every reform also has losers, who put up fierce resistance. I’ve also had very interesting discussions with diaspora Greeks who are usually quite successful abroad and have their own views of their homeland. A Greek from Toronto once said to me, “It’s funny. The Greeks function well everywhere except in Greece.”

Can you imagine Greece without the euro and the Euroland without Greece?

A “Grexit” would be incalculable and highly risky for the eurozone. It would probably be the beginning of the end of the euro. Banks, businesses and depositors throughout the eurozone would assume that other countries would be endangered by the next crisis as well. The interest rates would rise and investments would slow down. Many countries would slip into permanent crisis. The much quoted “contagiousness” would get out of control and the euro would be demolished from inside. A “Grexit” would also be very expensive. With a weak drachma, the Greeks would no longer be able to afford the most necessary imports like oil and medicines and would rely on EU aid. In addition, the eurozone would have to largely write off the loans awarded to Greece because Athens could no longer service these euro debts with a weak drachma. The “Grexit” would be a losing proposition for all.

Are you nonetheless confident that Greece and Europe will master the crisis?

I am pessimistic that the crisis can still be solved. The Euro Group is pursuing a totally wrong policy. Formulating ever-new austerity measures will not work. Demand in Greece is collapsing, which in turn will bring the economy to collapse. In the end, the deficits are higher, not lower. But perhaps there is still a solution, because it would be really simple: resolve a debt moratorium, stating that the Greeks have to service their loans only when the Greek economy is growing again. That would also be the cheapest for the eurozone.
 
Ulrike Herrmann, born in 1964, works as business editor for the taz. She has been to Greece often, even before the crisis.

Nikolas Voulelis

What do you think about when you think about Germany?

Nikolas Voulelis Nikolas Voulelis | Foto: APE I was born and raised in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the Greek community in Alexandria, Egypt, and my associations with Germany relate to education and the arts and, of course, history. Later, while I was at university in Athens, my rapid politicization exposed me to the important German names, not only in the arts and literature, but also in philosophy and politics. However, it’s real life that produces reliable evidence for people. In the dark years of the military dictatorship, I met an extraordinary human being, the then director of the Goethe-Institut Athens, Johannes Weissert. He was largely instrumental in my internalization of the view that origin, colour, religious beliefs, social status or the personal preferences of people do not determine our principles and values from the outset, or our attitudes about the great questions of liberty, democracy, justice and solidarity. This important man helped me in my resistance to the junta as only few others did; he encouraged me to see not black and white, not to simplify and equate peoples, countries or religions. I learned to distinguish between views, attitudes, interests and goals of people, classes, groups, political forces and governments. And I also see today’s Germany through this prism.

Can you imagine Greece without the euro and the Euroland without Greece?

I cannot imagine Greece outside the euro. After all, my country, in my opinion, is in its natural space – the European Union and the eurozone. It is therefore also its right to take part equally with the other European countries in the architecture of a unified Europe, which serves the interests of all its peoples. Regardless of the date of entry and the special circumstances that accompany the integration of each country, the principles of the European architecture guarantee every member state the fundamental prerequisites for overcoming its difficulties and fulfilling its obligations. Thus I can also not imagine the eurozone without Greece. An ever-expanding eurozone cannot refuse the membership of a country that has been an inseparable part of Europe for millennia and that produced the fundamental ideas, values and principles that are the basis of the European ideal and the further development of the European process of unification. A Greece outside the eurozone, whether of its own free will or based on coercion, is unimaginable to me. The former would imply a decision made by domestic circles who want to return to the past or enter a dark future, which would only bring suffering to the Greek people. The latter would be the dictates of foreign powers that aim to force their hegemony on other countries to secure their own prosperity at the expense of others. This means they would be solidifying a policy that only benefits themselves and harms others.

Are you nonetheless confident that Greece and Europe will master the crisis?

I am confident that Greece and Europe can ultimately overcome the crisis, as this involves the general interests of Europe. However, it will not be easy given the circumstances, particularly of the past few months. Greece has piled up problems that cannot be tackled and solved quickly. It requires in particular courageous initiatives in many areas, which the recent governments have not taken. At the same time, the European Union is at a crossroads and must re-examine a large part of its policies. Many already are demanding the radical reform of European integration. There is truly a great distance between the policies asserted today and the principles on which the project of a unified Europe are based. I believe that the European Union will remain the region in which all European peoples can grow in prosperity, without marginalization, without hegemony, without a dogmatic economic policy that contradicts the legitimate interests of Europeans. In a world full of new, unprecedented threats, Europe cannot be an enclosed fortress, but only a place that functions as a model of liberty, democracy, justice and solidarity.
 
Nikolas Voulelis was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1946 and turned to journalism following studies of philosophy at the University of Athens. In between were the years of the dictatorship, during which everyone in the resistance was marked by incisive experiences: underground, arrest, conviction and imprisonment. Voulelis worked for newspapers, magazines and radio stations and taught journalism. He was head of the news and information department of the Athens News Agency. In September 2012 he became the head of the Efimerida ton Syntakton (Journal of Journalists).

Eberhard Rondholz

What do you think about when you think about Greece?

Eberhard Rondholz Eberhard Rondholz | Foto: privat About people who no longer put up with everything. About corrupt politicians, powerful oligarchs and neoliberal Eurocrats.

Can you imagine Greece without the euro and the Euroland without Greece?

Mr Schäuble can, I cannot. But after the Greeks voted out the old patronage-based parties that led the nation into economic disaster, against the declared wishes of the German finance minister, the new ones will continue to find it difficult to go against “Grexit” plans. And against a sort of reporting in Germany that borders on sedition (to quote the former editor-in-chief of the Bild am Sonntag), which doesn’t even shy from race-based assumptions, as recently in Springer’s Welt.

Are you nonetheless confident that Greece and Europe will master the crisis?

The Greeks are not alone in Europe, not even in Germany. But it won’t be easy. With opponents inside and out.
 
Sixty years ago, Greece first became a holiday destination for the WDR retiree Eberhard Rondholz and then “something like a little second home.” He has reported on it frequently since 1974 and still does occasionally.

Tasos Telloglou

What do you think about when you think about Germany?

Tasos Telloglou Tasos Telloglou | Foto: Neoi Fakelloi A restrained country, with limited sovereignty and a tendency for self-reflection until 1990 as regards the events between 1940 and 1945. A country that until 2003, when the US declared the war on Iraq, was in a phase of growing up. From that point, a country with its own political agenda. I remember during the 2006 FIFA World Cup how the many German flags on the balconies both shocked and delighted me at the same time. Currently German politics sometimes tends to moralize over completely practical things like the economy, which is disturbing.

Can you imagine Greece without the euro and the Euroland without Greece?

I can imagine Greece without the euro and the Greeks outside the eurozone. Wonderful European countries like Sweden, Denmark and Poland have their own currency and do not belong to the eurozone. For the Greeks, who align their country on the West, an exit from the euro would be traumatic because it would confirm all its inferiority complexes (which go hand in hand with superiority complexes). As recent events have shown, the majority of Greeks want the euro but not its obligations. That cannot work. That is why – in order not to sacrifice our fundamental, social and governmental structures – we should leave the common currency. The question remains whether these structures are sufficient for surviving with our own currency in the world today.

Are you nonetheless confident that Greece and Europe will master the crisis?

No, not the present crisis. Their social ideas of the shape of the world today differ too dramatically from one another. They did even more in the period of prosperity, during which the politicians never explained to the citizens what it means to be a member of the eurozone. Relations will probably normalize after Greece gains its monetary sovereignty. Or after a long period (one generation) of reflection about why we were unable to adapt to the rules of the eurozone. This will be painful, but necessary, because the country is entering a new phase in its history – and its European history.
 
Tasos Telloglou was born in 1961 and learned German, he claims, because his father insisted on it, he liked to read and the Goethe-Institut existed. He was the Germany correspondent for the newspaper Kathimerini from 1990 until 1997. Today, he writes analyses and reports for the same paper.

Reinhard Laska

What do you think about when you think about Greece?

Reinhard Laska Reinhard Laska | Foto: ZDF I remember the incredible heat – it was in August – beautiful beaches, priests dressed all in black, the loud honking in Athens, the quiet Acropolis and Greeks who seemed almost amazed that their country was being overrun by young backpackers. That was more than 35 years ago shortly after my Abitur when I travelled Greece with a friend via bus, rail and ship. We did not speak much with the natives, they could rarely speak foreign languages and we couldn’t speak Greek. Today? They can speak many foreign languages. But I still do not understand much. I remember the great hospitality, the helpfulness. But why do Greek officials and bureaucrats often display such Kafkaesque indifference? Another association: the luxury yachts that we filmed in a harbour near Athens. No one had to guard them; the sole corpulent watchman allowed us to film this manifestation of great personal wealth while poverty was spreading all over Greece like a cancerous tumour. I associate Greece with a beautiful, contradictory country that I have never come to understand. I guess it’s the same for some Greeks.

Can you imagine Greece without the euro and the Euroland without Greece?

I cannot imagine Greece without the euro any more than I can imagine the Euroland without the Greeks. There are economic and political reasons for this. Economically, leaving the eurozone would destroy small to medium-sized Greek enterprise. It would have to repay euro loans in euros although its income would be in the weak drachma. Unless they are international, and only a few are, crucial imports would be unaffordable for Greek businesses. I hope that Greece does not have to be the guinea pig for disoriented German professors. Politically, the step would degrade Greece; make it a second-class EU partner. I don’t like that and it does not correspond to my understanding of Europe.

Are you nonetheless confident that Greece and Europe will master the crisis?

I’d like to say yes, if the Greek citizens take their destiny in their own hands. If they stop always looking backwards, if they also seek the blame among themselves, if they establish a state they can identify with and that does not remain the complacent supply apparatus that serves the respective cliques. They have a long way to go.
 
Reinhard Laska, 58, is an editor for the investigative ZDF magazine programme Frontal 21 and has closely followed the state debt crises in the eurozone since they began. He produced a number of reports and award-winning documentaries including Die Griechenlandlüge and Der Kampf um den Euro.
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