ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece’s president accused German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on Wednesday of insulting his nation, reflecting growing public resentment of almost daily lectures from Berlin on the dire state of the Greek economy.
A visibly angry President Karolos Papoulias singled out Schaeuble after he appeared to suggest Greece might go bankrupt, and also attacked critics of his country in the Netherlands and Finland.
“I cannot accept Mr Schaeuble insulting my country,” said Papoulias, an 82-year-old veteran of Greece’s resistance struggle against the Nazi occupation of World War Two.
“Who is Mr Schaeuble to insult Greece? Who are the Dutch? Who are the Finnish?” he said in a speech at the Defense Ministry.
His comments marked a highly unusual foray into international controversy for Papoulias, who normally steers clear of daily political debate.
Resentment of the tough German stand on Greece’s failure to meet targets set by the EU and IMF in return for financial aid has become widespread in recent months.
Protesters burned a German flag last week and newspapers have run computer-generated pictures of Chancellor Angela Merkel in a Nazi uniform.
With EU patience with Greek party politicians close to breaking point, Schaeuble has made a series of critical remarks in recent days.
He has likened the country to a bottomless pit and said on Monday that the euro zone was better prepared to overcome a Greek bankruptcy than two years ago.
Schaeuble also said the euro zone would do everything it could to avoid a Greek bankruptcy, which will happen in a chaotic fashion if Athens fails to secure an EU/IMF bailout before it has to repay 14.5 billion euros in debt next month.
Papoulias pointed out that Europeans had fought together in the past and said they should now work together during Greece’s crisis.
“We were always proud to defend not only our freedom, our country, but Europe’s freedom too,” he told a lunch attended by the defense minister and the country’s top military brass.
Finland has demanded that Greece put up collateral for rescue loans, while Dutch politicians have also taken a tough line on Greece’s problems.
With the nation deep in crisis, Papoulias has decided to forego his salary, the Greek finance minister said on Wednesday.
Despite his largely ceremonial role, this was 280,000 euros ($370,000) a year, only slightly below U.S. President Barack Obama’s $400,000 annual pay.
Papoulias played a leading role in helping to form the current national unity coalition government after a previous socialist administration collapsed in November.
His credentials as a democrat are strong, as he also was part of the resistance movement against the military junta that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974.
Reporting by Renee Maltezou; writing by David Stamp