Railing against the 'Fourth Reich' Anti-German Mood Heats Up in Greece
Nazi flags are hardly a rarity at Greek demonstrations these days. Anti-German tirades on primetime television have likewise become a staple. In Greece, a consensus has developed as to who is to blame for the country's economic misery. Age old stereotypes are flourishing.
Georgios Trangas had launched into a tirade -- yet again. He seemed to have completely forgotten his four studio guests. Trangas stared into the camera and turned to his favourite subject: the Germans, and how they are cold-bloodedly shoving Greece into the abyss. "Germany doesn't care that 3 million pensioners are dying here," he raged.
The sentence is one of his more harmless utterances on this evening. But such verbal artillery is hardly out of the ordinary on the Athens television broadcaster Extra 33, a channel full of angry broadsides against the "German occupiers."
"Choris Anästhetiko" is the name of the program, and it lives up to its name: "Without Anaesthesia." Politesse is an alien concept on the show as it offers ruthless analysis of the economic and debt crisis gripping Greece. On this evening, the show is set to examine the problems facing taxi drivers in Athens and the suffering shipping industry. But the experts invited to appear on the show serve little more of a purpose than providing the moderator with additional excuses to launch into a diatribe.
"Barbaric measures," Trangas spits, referring to the austerity demands made by the so-called troika of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Berlin, he posits, is controlling everything anyway.
The problem, of course, is that Trangas is not merely voicing his views of the financial crisis over a beer in the bar. Rather, he is on primetime television. In addition, he hosts a breakfast radio show, writes columns and has his own magazine. Trangas is a cult figure. What he says carries a certain amount of weight in Greece. He quickly reduces complex problems to mere slogans and just as rapidly identifies who is to blame. And only seldom are those responsible to be found in his own country.
Should the conversation turn to German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- or should it be forced in such a direction by Trangas -- the host completely loses all control. "She acts as though she were clean. But in reality, German companies have been paying bribes in Greece for years and handing out risky loans," he says. "Merkel is lying when she says that she knew nothing about all that. But now, she is playing the fiscal watchdog." The rant goes on for minutes. Trangas rattles off statistics mixed with random references to the Nazi regime. Even the studio guests begin to hang their heads sheepishly.
A monitor hangs on the wall directly behind Trangas. On this evening, the image remains neutral. But that is not always the case. On occasion, Trangas is fond of displaying images of Merkel conflated with marching German soldiers from World War II.
Just minutes after the show is over, an amicable Trangas is relaxing in his office. He has his bodyguard bring a drink to his guest from Germany before saying: "I don't actually have anything against Germans." But, he says, he detests what Merkel and the troika she supposedly leads is doing to Greece.
Then he takes a deep breath and launches into an almost word-for-word repetition of the accusations he has just made on live television. A half hour later, even Trangas has preached enough for the evening. He wishes his German guest a nice stay in Athens, is helped into his coat by a second bodyguard and disappears into the night in his SUV. It's a German make.
Trangas is a master of hyperbole, and has won many viewers with his tirades. But his core message is one that many in Greece share. Seeing the EU as the "Fourth German Reich" is hardly a novelty in the country -- and one almost has the feeling that the sentiment against Germany grows more poisoned by the day.
Indeed, just this week, the associations representing doctors, lawyers and structural engineers met in Athens and agreed on a unified boycott of products from Germany. Just how the boycott will be put into practice is not yet clear. But it could mark the beginning of a broader anti-Germany movement. Already, the burning of German flags, and the display of swastikas, has become de rigueur at anti-austerity demonstrations in Greece.
Stathis Stavropoulos is well versed in Third Reich symbols. He sits chain smoking in the spartan offices of the daily newspaper Eleftherotypia, located a few kilometers away from the Extra 33 studios. The paper has been on strike for months, the offices are dark and unheated. In the mean time, Stavropoulos has found a job at another paper, but he nevertheless elected to host his German interlocutor here in the offices of Eleftherotypia. Few people in Greece know what Stavropoulos, 56, looks like. But everybody knows his drawings. Stavropoulos is the best known caricaturist in the country -- and he too has remained focused on a single subject since the beginning of the crisis: the Germans.
His drawings are seen each week by well over 100,000 readers. Even the New York Times recently reprinted one of his cartoons, he proudly relates. Whether it's Merkel, Sarkozy, Horst Reichenbach, the head of the EU's Task Force for Greece, or the leaders of the Greek government, Stavropoulos dresses them all in German World War II uniforms and depicts them abusing Greeks.
Agitation and Reflection
He is a far cry from the boisterous utterances of Trangas -- he prefers a more elevated brand of provocation. "Of course I aim to shock people with my drawings," he says. "But the initial agitation should be followed by reflection. That, at least, is my hope," says Stavropoulos, as he reaches for his next cigarette.
He says he is aware of the danger that his use of World War II symbols could enflame new resentments among the Greek people. But the debate, he insists, is worth the breaking of a few taboos. He insists that his criticism is focused on German political leaders and their Greek lackeys -- never against the German people as a whole.
Are his readers able to appreciate the subtle difference? The cartoonist isn't quite sure.