Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

The special German - Greek relationship

Important is to keep in mind what poet Yiorgos Chouliaris said, namely everything related to the newly elected Greek government should be understood right now in the context of a negotiation campaign being partly played out in the media, including the social media (in reference to the use of the blog by the new Greek Finance Minister Varoufakis.)

While the media campaign continues with Varoufakis making headlines whenever he meets his counterparts, the last ones being UK Finance Minister Osborne and the private investors of London's City (it is said that the meeting lasted for two hours and many investors were enthusiastic about him), two things stand out when looking at what is being expressed in the German press.

First of all, many seem to groan and to negate any chance of reaching some kind of agreement between the Greek and the German government. This is due to the insistance on the German side that the Greek state must save money wherever it can regardless of the social consequences, in order to fix the state deficit. This position leaves unanswered the question about the investments needed to get things started again.

Secondly, there is mistrust involved. Even now, when Varoufakis indicates Greece shall not insist on a 'hair cut' as a way to obtain some relief from the huge debt, any new proposal is questioned immediately as if the only proof of something to be trusted and therefore accepted is that Greece must default at all costs.

Behind both attitudes exists the insistence that the theory on how to run an economy is not refuted by Greece. Due to the outcome of the elections held on January 25th, the real challenge to Germany comes from the fact that it has transformed political reality. It turns out to be that politics can make a difference, be more humane and at the same time capable of creating many new possibilities. The new government is restoring confidence in the Greek people. Outwardly, it begins by the leading politicians of the new government not wearing any ties; inwardly, and more substantially, the police is being withdrawn, so that peaceful demonstrations can suddenly take place without any incidence. Also the protective fence around the Greek parliament has been taken down. The new government declares simply that the parliament belongs to the people (in German, it would mean doing away with the Bannmeile: no demonstrations allowed within one mile of the German parliament).

Most important is that people begin to relax, start to smile, as if a big weight has been taken off their shoulders. Practically they have lived by now since 2008/2009 in a very tight situation. It is filled with growing worries whether or not they can still make ends meet i..e. pay all the hospital bills and make sure that the children get not only a decent education but also a job after graduation.

When articulating this time measure, then because all dates back at the very least to Dec. 6th, 2008 when Alexandros was shot and killed by a police man and the entire youth exploded. Now that a smile returns to people's faces, it is because they have finally a government which stands up to this depressing reality and which seeks to change the austerity policy.

But what does the German press say .

Especially the Spiegel online is turning out to be a sharp shooter while Die Zeit offers a mix of pro and contra comments. The latest issue is that the Greek Finance Minister is now suggesting no longer a 'hair cut' shall be sought, but a restructuring of the deficit. The Spiegel online article "Kein Schuldenschnitt" exposes the weak point in his declaration as they miss any explanation on how private creditors are going to be satisfied with these promises.

There are ways to speak to the German mind even though often a near impossibility since there is often a confusion between categories of logical thought and prejudices. Already a long time ago a Dutch friend expressed her disappointment when she came to Germany back in 1971: she had hoped to find people who are deep thinkers, and indeed she found quite a few, but then at the end of thinking there came categories of a very sharp kind. A Spanish philosopher compared those categories to such sharp knives which cut through everything without ever feeling anymore the resistance of meat you would feel when in an airplane and given a plastic knife instead.

Being locked into a logic of necessity, there is no freedom to decide something else can take place, and not just reality must bow to the dictate of necessity. The once established etiquette of reality has to stick. This is when a prejudice has become a conviction in need to be upheld at all costs.

There is a lack of freedom in the German mind. Many find it even difficult to admit that things shall go wrong if everyone continues on the same wrong path. It is above all inconceivable that one is free in the sense of being able to decide to stop going in that same direction, and instead go in another direction especially if the path is a wrong one. Again it seems most difficult to admit that. Since any stepping out of an old path and finding a new one requires freedom, philosophers would claim the only way to attain that freedom is to attain the ability to overcome the coercive power of a logic which uses the category of necessity and thereby ignores the needs of people. There is as well the inherent danger to demand any solution has to be so much more convincing that a solution derived out of that conclusion risks to erase all human traces in what then remains as conceptual perception of reality.

Knowing in turn how the Greek mind works as an interplay between formal and informal categories so as to leave much in freedom, that is unregulated, and therefore with quite a different attitude towards the state and how the law or 'nomos' should work, that 'physis' of freedom is a real experience but hardly ever put into words since most of the time people are afraid of the nomos and therefore suppress instead their real feelings. The outcome is anxiety and anguish even though diametrically opposed to one another.

A lot more needs to be done before any mediation between the Greek and German sides can fruit in another form of cooperation than what has been practised until now. This includes mayors of German towns coming to Greece to help local councils to reform their administrations.

Clearly one mistake would be to fixate on Germany and Merkel as if the enemy number one, even though one has to admit that the constant insistence on saving is an integral part of the austerity policy which has been imposed to the detriment of European development. Many argue as well, Germany should remember what was done after Second World War when Germany was defeated and its economy in shambles. Yet Merkel has not that experience of West Germans who witnessed that the Western world did not punish Germany after 1945, but helped its economy to get back on its feet.

It should be added that this was not the case in East Germany which was under Russian tutelage, and even though Merkel grew up originally in Hamburg before her father, a preacher, decided to move to East Germany. The fact that she grew up in the house of a preacher has also to be underlined as it furthers an understanding of her morality, and what is a tradition within Germany when it comes to both poets and politicians. For this background makes them become skilled speakers, rhetorically speaking. They represent the morality but as Adorno would say, if that becomes a force independent from economic reality, it will transform itself into 'violence'. There is something to think about this connection between religion and violence when a sole moral force. 

The other point to be made in conjunction with the advise not to be fixed so much on Germany is that any future EU policy will require a practical economic model which supports the EU policy implementation process, so that social justice is served to all. This requires much more mediation between European regulations and directives, and the understanding of law within the various national and therefore cultural contexts.

Also the sole focus on economic growth, as if it would resolve the problem of unemployment, is clearly insufficient. It seems that the Greek finance minister Varoufakis is aware of this problem as he has talked while teaching economic theory in Texas about the new production mode tending towards full automation and therefore posing a new organisational challenge on how people can combine work and payment thereof. The solution offered by advocates of a minimum wage is not sufficient as it would deprive persons of one important experience on which people have counted on to attain happiness, namely the ability to earn their own living as a sign of independence, as an ability to stand on one's own feet. It matters, therefore, how freedom within the economic order is made possible and even how it is defined. 

Thus further philosophical frameworks are needed to facilitate a far more inclusive solution which in turn would allow clarification of the issues and challenges to be faced. It should be noted that a challenge differs from a threat. The UK financial minister Osborne used this term 'threat' stemming from the Greek deficit crisis in his declaration after talks with Varoufakis. It was not a realistic analysis as if he wishes to scare solely everyone that the Greek crisis could easily get out of hand and then everyone would be threatened, including the UK economy. Dramatization may belong to the political rhetorics of the day, but still challenges mean you can have different opinions on how to resolve the issues at hand, but you do not need to be fightened by them.

This was one point Obama made when he said reform of a society in depression is not possible, and no one should forget if Greeks suffered a 25% loss in living standard, then that is a lot to cope with, and so much that it will not allow for innovation and economic growth.

The interesting aspect as outcome of the Greek elections is that a new span of political economy is becoming visible in Europe and many opinions are being expressed. They show how solutions can be found in Europe's diversity.

Hatto Fischer 3.2.2015

Further references:

   In this interview, the main question is why Syriza entered a coalition with Kammenos and the Greek Independent Party.


^ Top

« One day after the election | Getting out of the debt trap »