11 March 2010

Greek Debt Crisis and the EU

American Public Media's "Marketplace" program ran an interesting story on the Greek debt crisis.

In an effort to prevent his country from defaulting on its debt, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou proposed a $6.5 billion austerity budget this week. Protests resulted. Workers, not anxious to see their pay or benefits cut, were enraged.

Some saw the problem as a European one. Liana Kanelli, a Communist member of the Greek parliament, blames the decision to join the Eurozone in 2001. "If you get in this Eurozone you abolish a very severe amount of your national sovereignty. So you see, we are not free!"

While Kanelli expresses a minority view, the Euro always threatened to undermine national identity. Simply put, money is one of the key ways that nation-states express themselves, putting national symbols on currency as a means of promoting identity. In this case, the compromise was to assure that each country released its own Euros, with nationally distinct symbols on one side of the currency.

Fair enough, but this did not stop a relatively widespread nationalist backlash. What strikes me, however, is that opposition to the EU comes from both left and right. So, the question is this. Will the current economic crisis promote growing resentment toward Germany (the dominant economic power in Europe) and toward the European Union?

The indications from Greece suggest that the answer is "yes." The Marketplace story finishes with the fact that "Greece has now broken the unspoken rule of European politics: don't mention the war. Over the past week or so the Greek airwaves have been awash with archive newsreel footage of German's least popular export. News shows have reminded viewers of Hitler's occupation of Greece."

For Kanelli, German domination of the Eurozone represents "another form of conquest." She states "That's why sometimes I and a lot of other people speak about an economic neo-Nazism that's going against European people."

Memory, nationalism, and economic turmoil always make interesting bedfellows. The Greek story is certainly one worth watching.

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