ATHENS (Reuters) - The dark shadow of German-driven austerity measures squeezing Greece has revived historical enmities and evoked comparisons to the massive destruction of the Mediterranean country at the hands of Nazi Germany over 65 years ago.
Cartoons have sprung up depicting the European Union’s “troika” as ferocious soldiers in World War Two German uniforms, and some Greeks are beginning to resent the German tourists flocking their ancient sites.
The staff cartoonist for the liberal daily Eleftherotypia has drawn dozens of such cartoons in recent months, often showing Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos giving the Nazi salute “Sieg Heil” (Hail Victory) to a soldier.
“I used the German uniforms symbolically,” cartoonist Stathis Stavropoulos told Reuters through an interpreter.
“They show that what Germany did not manage with weapons during World War Two, it is now trying to do through economic means,” he said.
The war, during which Greece was occupied and suffered enormous losses, is still a touchy subject today despite Greece’s fierce resistance movement at the time.
Some voices in the media have called the present Greek government ‘dosilogos’, a word meaning traitor and which referred to Greeks who collaborated with the Nazis during the war.
One of Stavropoulos’ cartoons, published on October 15, shows a soldier in German uniform watching over Venizelos as he barks at a Greek citizen to cough up more money in taxes.
Defying violent street protests, Greek parliament approved a painful set of austerity measures last week to ensure the release of a vital 8 billion euro ($11 billion) loan tranche from the EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF), which the government needs to keep paying its bills past November.
Germany, the euro zone’s largest economy, has been playing a key role in trying to prevent Europe’s Greece-spurred debt crisis from spiraling. The “troika” unites the EU, IMF and the European Central Bank, which is headquartered in Frankfurt.
Another cartoon from last month shows a soldier atop Venizelos asking why lists of names for the “Labour Reserve” remain empty, nodding at Greece’s new austerity law which wants 30,000 state workers put aside. They will be laid off permanently if no other public sector job is found for them within a year.
In the cartoon, a young Greek answers the soldier: “They are empty as you exterminated the Communists, the Jews, the homosexuals, the gypsies and the crazies last time,” in an obvious swipe comparing the “troika” to Nazis.
For ordinary Greeks, the German presence in their affairs is chilling. The German head of a new EU task force for Greece, Horst Reichenbach, is often poked fun at in media, who link his last name to the Third Reich.
“We hate the Germans now. They want to buy up our monuments and islands on the cheap,” said Faye, a 39-year-old writer in the historical center of Athens, echoing widespread fears that richer European countries will want collateral on loans.
Prime Minister George Papandreou has dismissed such suggestions from other countries as “insults.”
“When I hear them I just turn the other direction,” Faye said, pointing at a group of elderly German tourists, their cheeks slightly burned from the strong October sun.
Work by a Greek street artist, who goes by the name Bleeps.gr, adds to the collective ire.
He unveiled a piece last week on a concrete wall in a rundown area in central Athens, depicting a life-size man on crutches holding a Greek-German sign saying: “Health is kaput,” using the German word for “broken.”
Illustrating the heavy toll the economic crisis is taking on health, Bleeps.gr said he chose German to highlight the Greek government’s plans to take legal action against German firm Siemens for allegedly bribing Greek officials.
The cash-strapped government said it wants to seek compensation for damages it suffered by past corrupt practices.
Such newfound anger toward Germans adds to decades of pent-up resentment over what many Greeks say is unpaid compensation for Nazi atrocities.
Public opinion is being rallied by former Greek lawmaker Manolis Glezos, 89, who famously risked his life in 1941 when he scaled the Acropolis to pull down the Swastika flag.
He has repeatedly called on Germany to bail out Greece on the grounds it owes Athens money for war crimes, telling local media Germans owe around $40 billion.
Tensions with Germany have been on the rise since before the first rescue package for Greece was agreed in May 2010. In February that year, opposition lawmakers said Germany should pay reparations for its wartime occupation of Greece before criticizing the country over its yawning deficits.
Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos stoked tensions in the same month by saying gold taken away from the Greek central bank by Nazi Germany had never been returned.
“I don’t say they have to give back the money necessarily but they have at least to say ‘thanks’,” he said.
Berlin dismissed that complaint and declined to comment on remarks Pangalos made to a Portuguese newspaper two months later that Germany’s hard line on aid for Greece was based on a “moral, racial approach” and the prejudice that Greeks don’t work enough.
Adding to national frustrations, Greek survivors of a Nazi massacre lost one legal battle in July when the European Court of Human Rights ruled against their claim, which had been backed by the Greek government, but the case is still pending.
Germany paid Greece $67 million in war reparations in the 1960s and has since refused to pay any more.
Editing by Jon Boyle