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Greece and Germany 'keeping minds open'


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Greece and Germany 'keeping minds open'

The hostility of austerity-burdened Greeks towards Chancellor Merkel has taken on harder and harder symbols. The Hitler moustache and Nazi Swastika have become commonplace.

Germany is the biggest contributor to bailout commitments totalling 240 billion euros, but although the conditions attached were imposed by international creditor institutions, the Greeks hold the German leader largely responsible for their hardships.

The Wehrmacht occupied Greece in World War Two. It is a painful collective memory. Many still feel terrible wrongs were never put right.

However, the International Court in The Hague ruled in February that Germany can no longer be sued for compensation for Nazi war crimes, after reparations which amounted to tens of billions of euros were paid out after the 1950s.

The media in Germany also wield powerful imagery.

For two years, disparaging headlines and illustrations have accompanied mounting calls for Greece to ditch the euro currency.

Consumers in Greece, in a retaliatory gesture, were called on to boycott German products, although Greek purchasing power has steadily weakened during the crisis anyway.

Tourism in Greece has also taken a beating. Visitors from Germany have not dried up altogether, but some did not feel the same lightness of spirit as in the past.

German tourist Jürgen Stegner said: “We do have some fears concerning the difficulty in Greece. We even avoid wearing typically German clothing. We don’t want to stand out, because I believe that Germans are looked on critically at the moment. It would be better if the Greeks looked critically at themselves.”

On the other hand, jobs in Germany can be tempting. A brewer and bar owner interviewed in Athens – who is half Greek and half German – said many people are also keeping an open mind.

Athanasios Syrianos said: “We see that the visitors of the Goethe Institute have increased, we see also that the German school in Greece receives more pupils. That means that despite the negative echoes of some press and some media presentations, the sentiment, the total sentiment of Greeks is not negative towards Germany.”

Some critics ask if all the shouting isn’t a bit of a charade. But not according to radical left leader
Alexis Tsipras. He was sorry that Merkel wouldn’t be shown “…the 40 patients for each [hospital] nurse”, or the padlocks on the stores which have folded.

As her visit was still in progress, we spoke to political journalist Stamatis Giannisis in the Greek capital, about what he thought Angela Merkel’s visit to Athens will achieve.

Nial O’Reilly, Euronews:
It’s understood Angela Merkel is not coming with any concessions on Greece’s bailout terms, so what can Greeks expect from this trip?

Stamatis Giannisis:
Right from the beginning, it was made clear by Greek officials that Mrs Merkel was coming to Athens bearing no gifts. Mrs Merkel came to Athens, she’s still here now, and what she wants to do with her visit is to demonstrate her solidarity in a sense, towards the Greek government and its effort to push reforms. Of course this visit is not expected to produce any immediate political or economic effect as all the things will be discussed at the European summit. And also Mrs Merkel has made it clear that Greece has to push with reform before she gives the green light for any concessions.

Euronews:
Behind the scenes, would you expect that Prime Minister Samaras is trying make a case for concessions at a later stage?

Giannisis:
Surely at a later stage but not now. Mr Samaras has to pass through parliament. Mr Samaras is prime minister of the tripartite coalition government. He has to pass a very severe legislation: other measures concerning more and more paycuts to the civil servants, austerity measures that are going to be very hard to pass through parliament, although it is estimated that there will be some casualties in terms of MPs from the coalition who will not vote for those measures, in the end the measures will get through.

Euronews:
This visit is seen a gesture of support by Merkel to a fellow conservative leader. So, how difficult does it make things for Prime Minister Samaras with his coalition partners?

Giannisis:
In terms of the coalition and how it can stand, it is estimated that okay, they will get through parliament this package of austerity measures. However, this is an uneasy alliance and as time will progress, and as the measures will be implemented, that will bring more and more trouble to this coalition. However, for the time being it seems that the coalition is holding on, at least until the austerity measures pass through parliament.

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