Greek bailout: Berlin’s stance during the negotiations left Greeks defiant

Greece’s new coalition government, led by the anti-austerity Syriza, rode to power on a wave of public discontent at austerity measures

Weeks of uncertainty have left Greeks feeling their country is being punished by Germany for daring to look Berlin and Brussels in the eyes.

The experience has humbled a country that now sees itself as a debt colony whose destiny lies in the hands of foreign governments.

“This is what has become of us. Our fate is being decided by others in foreign capitals. But that’s why it is important for us to hold our heads up high and not succumb to the blackmail of Germany and our lenders,” said Martha Yiannioti, 39, a dentist and mother of two, echoing the line trumpeted by politicians from the recently elected Syriza party.

Ms Yiannioti’s words also reflect recent polls, which show that while an overwhelming majority of Greeks want to remain in the eurozone, many also want the government not to agree to measures they feel will further impoverish their country’s economy.

“We must be equals in these negotiations; we cannot be treated as a debt colony … I know it’s tough for the government to strike this balance. We have a very weak hand in the negotiations, but we cannot be beggars,” Ms Yiannioti said.

 

“People democratically chose to refuse austerity. We just cannot accept everything they tell us to do, especially if the measures they want to impose will further destroy our economy.”

Greece’s new coalition government, led by the anti-austerity Syriza, rode to power on a wave of public discontent at austerity measures attached to the country’s bailout agreements. These have led to soaring unemployment and a 25 per cent reduction in the country’s economy.

The Greek government has promised to roll back reforms and do away with “inhumane” austerity, to the dismay of the country’s eurozone partners.

“They [Berlin and Brussels] don’t give a hoot about our elections. We, the people, voted against austerity and the destruction of our livelihoods but that doesn’t seem to matter,” said Adriana Markopoulou, 34, a schoolteacher who voted for Syriza in  January.

The conservative opposition party New Democracy has been critical of the government’s hardline stance, saying Syriza was given a mandate to renegotiate Greece’s bailout terms but not to lead the country out of the eurozone.

But polls from last week suggest almost 80 per cent of Greeks approve of the government’s negotiating position.

Germany’s rejection earlier this week of a Greek proposal – which Wolfgang Schäuble, the German Finance Minister, described as a “Trojan horse” – appeared to much of the Greek media and public as evidence that Germany was determined to see Greece submit to its demands.

One newspaper, the right-wing Dimokratia, said Mr Schäuble was “thirsty for blood.” Ms Markopoulou agreed. “The Germans want to punish the government for daring to look at them in the eyes,” she said.

With the anti-austerity party Podemos leading polls in Spain, she said, Germany wants to send a message to other countries in Europe in case they become galvanised by Greek success.

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Wolfgang Schauble described an earlier proposal as a 'Trojan Horse' (AFP/Getty)

“They want to bring the government to its knees and humiliate Greece as a way of showing everybody that the German government ultimately calls the shots,” Ms Markopoulou said.

“The German government wants to dominate Europe and dictate to everyone else what to do,” George Rigas, a 42-year-old lawyer in Athens, said.

He added that he felt “humiliated that our future is being decided in foreign capitals”.

The fallout has, in some quarters, solidified anti-German sentiment in Greece, where memories of the Nazi occupation in the Second World War run deep. Wolfgang Schäuble and Chancellor Angela Merkel have occasionally been depicted as Nazis on banners at anti-austerity rallies and in newspaper cartoons.

“No one really condones these sorts of things and they don’t really occur that often, but it shows how angry people are with the German government’s refusal to understand the humanitarian crisis we are living through,” said Sakis Manolidis, 23, a  student who attended anti-austerity rallies in 2011-12.

For now, anger at the mismanagement of successive Greek governments which led to this crisis has been largely redirected toward Europe. Yiannis Andreadis, a retired grocery shop owner, admitted that previous politicians, and the electorate that voted them in, were really to blame.

But, he said, “this is Europe, and solidarity is supposed to be a key element”. He added: “Yes we made mistakes, we all know this, but does that mean we should be punished and turned into a third-world country? Germany was forgiven its debts after World War II and was allowed to reconstruct.”

Regardless of the outcome of negotiations, the symbolism of the new Greek government’s stance has resonated with the Greek people. “I don’t think they will kick us out: a deal will be struck even if it’s not what we wanted,” said Mr Andreadis.

“Well done to the government for at least trying to do something. Previous governments just took orders.”

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