Greek Bailout Draws Ire From Germany

The dominant role of Germany in the Greek bailout has triggered special venom in Greece. Melissa Block talks to Nikos Konstandaras, managing editor of the leading Greek daily Kathimerini, about the tensions between the Greeks and the Germans. He says Greek frustration with the demands of the European Union have spilled over into a war of words between some of his countrymen and some Germans, tapping the collective memory of the German occupation.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The austerity measures in Greece are being demanded by the European Union. The driving force behind that is Germany. And that has triggered special venom in Greece. Protesters have burned the German flag. They've spray painted graffiti on the Bank of Greece, so it says instead, Bank of Berlin. They've even hoisted posters of German Chancellor Angela Merkel wearing a Nazi uniform. The clear subtext, the Nazi occupation of Greece during World War II.

Joining me to talk about that history and its legacy today is Nikos Konstandaras. He's managing editor of the leading Greek daily, Kathimerini. Nikos, welcome to the program.

NIKOS KOSTANDARAS: Glad to be with you.

BLOCK: You do hear, occasionally, Greek politicians, including a deputy labor minister who resigned, warning about life under the German jackboot. How common is it in Greece right now to hear language like that?

KOSTANDARAS: It is language that we hear, but it's not very common. The thing is that it's very striking when it's heard and it makes a big impression. The thing is that it does touch on a very raw nerve, which is Greek pride and the fact that Greeks had to fight during and live under a very difficult occupation during the second World War.

BLOCK: Would the history of that time - the occupation that started in April of 1941 - would it be very deeply rooted, even among young people, say - the people who are rioting in the streets would be too young to remember that time period?

KOSTANDARAS: There's a very strong collective memory. We live every triumph and every defeat from the past as if it matters to us right now. So, the Nazi occupation or the Turkish occupation or the fall of Constantinople is very much in the daily agenda.

BLOCK: When you mentioned that the occupation of Greece touches a very raw nerve, talk a bit about that time period. From '41 to '44, what happened to the Greek people during that time and to the Greek economy?

KOSTANDARAS: Well, the Greek people suffered terribly and the Greek economy was absolutely devastated. I mean, there were tens of thousands of people who died of famine because the whole economy was modified to fund the German occupation. There was a very hard political regime. I mean, there was imprisonment, torture, mass executions because there was a very strong resistance to the occupiers. The Greeks immediately fought against the Germans when they came in. And then, when the Germans just rolled over them, they were completely defeated.

BLOCK: How would you describe relations between Greece and Germany since the war? Relations, investments, things like that.

KOSTANDARAS: The relations between Greece and Germany were excellent and the Germans have made a big point of being very good partners within the European Union. I mean, there is huge respect for Germany and Greeks have worked in Germany, lived in Germany, studied there. You know, what we're hearing these days and what we see of some extremists burning the flag, that is really anomalous.

BLOCK: This tension reared its head again this week when the German finance minister urged Greece to postpone its elections and install a technocratic government and that really seemed to get under the skin of Greeks, including the president. He said, who is Mr. Schauble to insult Greece?

KOSTANDARAS: Well, finance minister Schauble has been a very good friend of Greece all along, but in the last few weeks, has shown a lot of frustration. I think it's a tactic to push the Greeks to work a little faster.

BLOCK: And help us understand about the ethos behind how Greeks would receive that message, especially from Germany.

KOSTANDARAS: Well, they would respond badly to any message coming from anywhere regarding involvement in domestic issues, but Germany is the figure of authority here for us. And this time of tension and pressure makes us think in terms of the things that have humiliated us and that have made us fight back and gain victory.

BLOCK: I've been talking with Nikos Kostandaras. He's managing editor of the newspaper, Kathimerini, in Athens.

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