Will Germany keep its cool in the Public Relation Battle with Greece?

Dialogue with the Alter Ego on Greece’s reparation claims against Germany

Question by Alter Ego of Noah denkt™ (AE): On March 11, 2015 the Greek justice minister, Nikos Paraskevopoulos, declared that he was ready to approve a Supreme Court ruling which would have Greece seize German state-owned property in his country if Germany continues to reject Greece’s war reparation claims. The same day the German government reaffirmed its earlier position according to which all war time reparation demands against Germany have ceased to bear legal merit with the international treaty on the reunification of Germany. In legal terms, this issue is effectively in a stalemate after the International Court of Justice ruled that no national court can have jurisdiction over the imposition of wartime reparations. The standoff between Greece and Germany is therefore likely to continue and to get worse. Does Noah denkt™ agree with its Alter Ego that the continued singling out of Germany by the Greek government poses a considerable risk for the stability of the European Union? After all, it is by no means clear whether Germany will be able to keep its current calm and collected composure if Greece chooses to continue to nag Germany for its Nazi past.

Answer by Noah denkt™ (Nd): We absolutely share the concern of our Alter Ego in this. And we do so for three reasons: a) because Germany cannot at all be sure that it will win the PR battle against Greece in the court of international public opinion (some international reactions have been highlighted in our Twitter account) ; b) because Germany’s mainstream is so blissfully ignorant about the uphill PR struggle its country will probably face in that court of international, public opinion, and c) because history hasn’t allowed Germany to develop the same sense of confidence and restrain that is so prevalent in the British mentality. In other words, it’s entirely possible that Germany will eventually lose the level-headed poise which it manages to maintain up until now. And it seems to us that the Greek government has an intuitive knowledge of that. Hence, it will be just as apt in pushing the right provocative buttons as Marco Materazzi was when he got Zinedine Zidane expelled from the 2006 World Cup final.

AE: Why is Germany’s public opinion so unaware of the diplomatic PR challenge it may face in the international arena?

Nd: Because Germans tend to believe that a page has truly been turned on Germany’s past, that our neighbors meanwhile view us as just another equal and fellow partner and that being German no longer carries the self-conscious baggage, it used to. But, obviously, that isn’t true and will probably never be so. Imagine therefore, how hurt and bruised Germany’s public opinion will react if to its surprise it should find out that our EU partners are a lot less cool on Greece’s reparation demands than Germany would have thought they were?

AE: And why doesn’t Germany have the same culture of restrain and levelheaded excellence that Britain is so famous for?

Nd: This is due to the fact that the creation of Germany in 1871 was seen with little benevolence by its neighbors. They may have acquiesced to the fusion of one major power (Prussia) with two other second-tier powers (Bavaria and Wurttemberg), but deep down they felt that this unified Germany would unduly upend the delicate balance of power in Europe. Germany therefore felt uneasy about itself from the first day of its existence. That is why it ever so often opted for an extreme and violent nationalism; and that is also why we cannot be sure at all that it will be able to maintain its calm under serious pressure.

AE: What then is your advice to the German government? How should it respond to Greece’s irritating claims?

Nd: Germany’s government must at all cost maintain its current poise, i.e. be somewhat comprehensive towards and compassionate with the plight of the Greek people but reject the reparation claims. Clearly, it will be extremely difficult to maintain that soft-spoken approach, if Greece should up the ante by among others seizing German property in Greece. But even in this case a calm British attitude towards Greece must be kept at all times. Perhaps, it would help in a situation of heightened tension to soothe public outrage in Germany, if the government were to adopt the following rhetorical stance: “Obviously, the violation of German property rights by the Greek government is unlawful. And we are confident that the courts will sustain our views on this. Generally speaking, however, these recent transgressions by the Greek government must be viewed and understood as the expression of an exhausted people that is simply overwhelmed by the challenge it constitutes to have a first-league currency. It would certainly have a healing effect on the Greek soul if the burden of having to live up to Euro standards were lifted off of it. However, Germany cannot make that decision for them. Germany instead has its hands full to manage its own difficult reputation in Europe. That is why we cannot yet again play the role of the bad boy here and must leave it to others to see the light on the Greek Euro membership.”

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