The cast of heroes and villains in Greece’s ongoing battle to save its economy varies depending on who’s telling the story. One simplified narrative depicts the German people as rich and callous overlords inflicting hardship on the downtrodden Greeks. The austerity measures they insist upon are essentially meant to punish the Greeks for spending too much on social programs for the sick and elderly.
In an opposing storyline, the Greeks have only themselves to blame: they lived beyond their means, evaded taxation, were generally corrupt, and irresponsibly piled up debts they simply could not repay. In this scenario the Germans are like parental figures administering discipline on the immature Greeks.
Neither of these narratives is accurate or helpful; rather than providing real insight, they merely serve to heighten nationalistic and xenophobic impulses in both countries. In order to make sense of what’s going on, we need to go behind the scenes to look more broadly at the underpinnings of the crisis.
It is widely assumed that the European Union was formed in order to prevent conflict. This notion can be traced to the aftermath of the Second World War, when well-intentioned statesmen promoted the notion that economic integration was a path to peace and harmony. And until this day many idealists support the EU for this reason. However, for many in my network – particularly in Scandinavia – it was clear from the beginning that the EU was primarily about big business.
Before countries were linked together into an economic union, Europe’s many regions were home to a great variety of cultures, languages and customs. But the Union erodes this rich diversity, which was born of human adaptation to different climates and ecological realities. The many borders, currencies, and differing regulations made trade difficult for big business, while the diversity of languages and cultural traditions put limits on mass marketing.
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