Tag Archives: euro

The German Debt

A Greek person smirks as they tell a German person that "a debt is a debt." The German person is worried and nervously clutching Drachma bills that Greece wants Germany to hand over.
A Greek man smirks as he tells a German man in a military uniform that “a debt is a debt.” The German man is worried and nervously clutching Drachma bills that the Greek man is nonchalantly telling him to hand over.

The London Debt Agreement in 1953 consisted of twenty countries (including the United States, Britain, France, and Greece) who wrote off about half of Germany’s World War I and World War II debt as well as installed a payment plan (Dearden, “Helped Postwar Germany”). As Germany began to prosper in the years following the debt relief, Greek debt and unemployment continued to rise. Economist John Milios states that Greece should receive a debt write off similar to what Germany received in the London Debt Agreement (qtd. in Bershidsky, “Debt Relief”). However, Greece’s political and economic circumstances vary greatly from Germany so it is unlikely that they will receive such help. This cartoon, “The German Debt,” by Miguel Villalba Sánchez (Elchicotriste) portrays the complicated relationship between the two countries and their debt problems through the use of visual exaggeration, irony, and historical allusion.

In this cartoon, Germany and Greece are personified and visually exaggerated in order to convey the strain that debt relief has put on their relationship. Germany is portrayed as an old, pale, sweaty, and almost sickly looking man dressed in combat gear. This rendering of Germany evokes a negative connotation; his pallor and old age represent weakness and intimidation. The German man is wearing a military uniform in which the helmet closely resembles the helmets that Germans wore in World War II (Antill, “German Army Equipment”). The uniform provides Germany with a false sense of safety and authority. By contrast, Greece is portrayed as a young, smiling, and healthy looking man who is at ease dressed in a stereotypical Greek outfit. This shows how Greece is pleased by the German struggle. Germany used to be Greece’s major enemy, however, now the tables have turned and Germany is now Greece’s largest creditor (BBC News). Greece claimed that Germany owed them billions of euros in order to repay the Nazi occupation of Greece during which about 250,000 people died, a forced loan was taken from the Bank of Greece, and infrastructure was destroyed (BBC News). Greece is satisfied with Germany’s struggle because they see justice being exacted.

This cartoon relates to the historical cartoon “Going Down Third Time” by John Knott because it shows how German debt problems in the past led to even worse debt problems. According to the Jubilee Debt Campaign, half of German debt came before World War II and the other half came after (“Cancelled Germany’s Debt”). The first half was incurred by loans as Germany tried to pay off their insane World War I debt charges. The second half stemmed from reconstruction following the end of World War II (“Cancelled Germany’s Debt”). After the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, Germany’s debt problems continued to worsen. This was foreshadowed in Knott’s cartoon because he made it evident that Germany was drowning and no one was willing to help. However, Germany’s economic trajectory changed for the better in 1953 because of the debt pardon that was an “economic miracle” (Becker, “German Economic Miracle”).

There is irony in Greece chiding Germany by saying “a debt is a debt” because Greece is having problems paying its own massive amounts of debt. After the debt write off, Germany began to slowly but surely recover from their rough past as Greece fell further into recession. Greece feels that they should receive a debt write off similar to Germany, however, the creditors are not inclined to offer the same relief.  The crediting countries see that Germany is trying to “expiate its past” whereas Greece is accumulating debt by “unsustainable socialist benefits” (Bershidsky, “Debt Relief”). Some of these socialist expenses include higher pensions, universal healthcare, a large government, and salaries for Orthodox priests (Bershidsky, “Debt Relief”). The difference between German and Greek debt is seen in how each country acquired their debt.

According to Leonid Bershidsky in his Bloomberg View column, “Germany Deserved Debt Relief, Greece Doesn’t,” Greece caused deficits by continuing these socialist fiscal practices for three decades, borrowed to cover them, and then lied about them to the Eurostat so they could adopt the euro in 2001. Bershidsky emphasizes the fact that Germany is taking on debts made by previous, corrupt governments whereas Greece carelessly and secretly accumulates debts of their own. On the contrary, the cartoon shows Greece smirking at Germany as if the Greeks didn’t have any debt problems of their own. Therefore, the cartoon is ironic in that both countries have debts to pay and no matter how that debt was incurred, neither Greece nor Germany should be reprimanding the other.

The bar-code mustache and Drachma bills allude to World War II and how it affected Germany’s relationship with Greece. The bar-code mustache on Germany not only alludes to Hitler’s infamous mustache, but it represents a price. In general, we scan bar-codes to get the price of an item. This shows how Hitler’s rule created a huge price that Germans would have to pay for a long time. Not only was previous debt ignored and new debt obtained, but the cruelty of Hitler’s Germany will always be remembered and felt across the world. The bar-code mustache emphasizes the price that Germans are still paying for World War II. This leads to the allusion and symbolization of the Drachma bills.

The Drachma was Greece’s currency until they adopted the euro in January of 2001 (“Greek Drachma”). In 2000, the Greek Supreme Court ruled that Germany “should pay €28m to the relatives of those killed” in the Nazi massacre in Distomo in 1944 (BBC News). There were several other massacres in which hundreds of people died as well as war crimes, a forced loan, and the destruction of infrastructure (BBC News). Because of this, Greece rightfully deserves compensation for the Nazi occupation during World War II. This is a central idea in the cartoon as it shows Germany unwilling to give Greece its own currency. However, Germany is disinclined to settle these reparations because they claim that the issue was settled in 1990 and Greece keeps changing the figure. It also raises questions as to why Greece did not negotiate these repayments before entering the Eurozone (BBC News). This explains why Germany is reluctant to give the Drachmas to Greece, however, Greece feels like the money is rightfully theirs.

Furthermore, relations between the two countries continue to worsen. When discussing a bail out for Greece’s debilitating debt in 2015, Germany approached the topic with what many perceived as a harsh sternness. This view was reinforced when Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, suggested that Greece temporarily exit from the euro (Eddy, “Greek Debt Crisis”). The two countries have to deal with the exasperating problem of getting rid of old debt without incurring new debt.

Miguel Sánchez’s cartoon relates to John Knott’s political cartoon, “Going Down Third Time,” because it shows the results of what happened due to German debt after World War I. The debt problems Germany had with France led to the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party, which then led to more debt, which led to the London Debt Agreement, which led to further tensions between Greece and Germany. Not only do Greece and Germany have their individual problems with debt, but they are still trying to settle conflicts that happened over half a century ago.

Works Cited

Antill, P. “German Army Equipment of the Second World War.” German Army Equipment of the Second World War. N.p., 20 Aug. 2010. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.

Becker, Andreas. “German Economic Miracle: Thanks to Debt Relief? | Germany | DW.COM | 27.02.2013.” DW.COM. N.p., 27 Feb. 2013. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Bershidsky, Leonid. “Germany Deserved Debt Relief, Greece Doesn’t.” Bloomberg.com. Ed. Cameron Abadi. Bloomberg, 27 Jan. 2015. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.

Dearden, Nick. “Greece and Spain Helped Postwar Germany Recover. Spot the Difference | Nick Dearden.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 27 Feb. 2013. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Eddy, Melissa. “Germany’s Tone Grows Sharper in Greek Debt Crisis.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 July 2015. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.

“Greek Drachma.” GRD. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

“How Europe Cancelled Germany’s Debt in 1953 – Jubilee Debt Campaign UK.” Jubilee Debt Campaign UK. N.p., 08 Apr. 2016. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Knott, John. “Going Down Third Time.” Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News 15 July 1931, sec. 2: 2. Readex: A Division of Newsbank. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.

News, BBC. “Does Germany Owe Greece Wartime Reparations Money?” BBC News. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Sánchez, Miguel Villalba (Elchicotriste). “Pitch THE GERMAN DEBT.” Cartoon. Cartoon Movement – THE GERMAN DEBT. N.p., 29 Jan. 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

 

 

Watch Out for Greek Debt!

The cartoon Watch Out for Greek Debt! depicts the famous Greek statue Discobolus by Myron with “Greece” written on it, ready to throw a discus symbolizing debt at other, cowering European countries.
The cartoon Watch Out for Greek Debt! depicts the famous Greek statue Discobolus by Myron with “Greece” written on it, ready to throw a discus symbolizing debt at other, cowering European countries.

The political cartoon Watch Out for Greek Debt! depicts the famous Greek statue Discobolus, with the word “Greece” written on it, ready to throw a discus, which symbolizes debt, at other cowering European countries (Sooke). The statue is posed as if it is about to hurl the discus, and all of the statues around it are ducking to avoid getting hit. This cartoon symbolizes how the other countries are avoiding getting “hit” by the negative consequences of Greek debt and having all of their political-economic progress regress (“Watch out for Greek Debt!”). The cartoon emphasizes the potentially devastating effects of Greek debt for other European countries in the Eurozone.

The European Union (EU) is an economic and political partnership between twenty-eight European countries that was created in the aftermath of World War II. The intent behind the creation of the EU is that countries that trade with each other become economically interdependent and therefore more likely to avoid conflict. The establishment of the EU brought about the creation of the euro, the single currency used across the twenty-eight countries (“The EU in brief”). Greece is one of the many members of the EU, along with Ireland, Austria, Italy, Spain, France, Germany and Portugal, to name a few (“Countries in the EU and EEA”). Greece in particular, however, is singled out in this cartoon as the most vulnerable as well as the most threatening member of the bunch.

Greece is in the midst of a debt crisis that could potentially crumble the economies of its European neighbors. After Wall Street crashed in 2008, Greece became the center of Europe’s debt crisis. Greece admitted that it had been understating its deficit figures for years and suddenly found itself shut out from borrowing in financial markets, leading the country toward bankruptcy. This sudden decline put Europe on the verge of a new financial crisis. To avoid collapse, the financial troika – the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission – issued the first of two international bailouts for Greece, which would eventually total more than $264 billion in today’s exchange rates. “Greece’s relations with Europe are in a fragile state, and several of its leaders are showing impatience” (“Greece’s Debt Crisis Explained”).

The other countries depicted in the cartoon are not chosen at random either. Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain – collectively called “The PIGS”– are known for having “binged on cheap debt” and “allowed citizens’ benefits to go well beyond the means of their governments.” In 2010, the PIGS were going bankrupt at a fast rate and threatened the continued existence of the euro and the entire European project. However, since then, all of the PIGS except for Greece are returning to economic health (Dawber). Now Greece is putting them at risk of relapsing into economic instability, threatening the euro in the process. This is symbolized in the cartoon as “Greece” throwing a discus of “debt” at its neighboring European countries.

There is coincidental irony in the name of the statue, Discobolus, and the subject matter involved. The suffix “obolus” means “a silver coin or unit of weight equal to one sixth of a drachma, formerly used in ancient Greece” (“obolus”). It is ironic that a discus that symbolizes a Greek drachma has “debt” written on it, as if foreshadowing that Greece being a part of the EU and using the euro as its currency has a formidable future of debt crisis.

The issues illustrated in Watch Out for Greek Debt! have a lot of similarity to the issues depicted in the political cartoon If They Would Exchange Presents by John Knott (Knott 2). Published on Christmas Eve 1931, Knott’s cartoon shows Uncle Sam of the United States offering a Christmas gift of war debt revisions to a queen representing Europe; and in the generous spirit of the season, she is offering the gift of disarmament in exchange.

In the twenty-first century, Greece is in debt to other countries much like Germany was in the aftermath of World War I. In the 1930s, the United States wanted Germany and the rest of Europe to disarm so that the funds going toward armament could instead go toward debt repayment; thus, in If They Would Exchange Presents, Europe’s gift to the U.S. was disarmament. In Knott’s cartoon, Germany, along with the rest of the indebted European nations, was asking for war debt revisions so that their debt load wasn’t so crippling. Germany was blamed for the damages and costs of World War I and was required to pay back the costs to the Allied nations. Repayment obligations were so onerous that they needed a moratorium and debt revisions to ever back on their feet. Similarly, in Watch Out for Greek Debt!, Greece is held responsible for threatening Europe’s economy, and needs bailouts for its crippling debt like Germany was asking for war debt revisions. “The bailout money mainly goes toward paying off Greece’s international loans, rather than making its way into the economy. And the government still has a staggering debt load that it cannot begin to pay down unless a recovery takes hold” (“Greece’s Debt Crisis Explained”).

The humor of comparing these two cartoons, and particularly comparing twenty-first century Germany and Greece, is that Germany is now the poster-child for Greece to model itself after. “Germany has fewer outstanding tax debts than any other country in Europe, while Greece has more than any other. That difference not only helps Germany enjoy a far more fiscally sound position than Greece, but it offers a stark contrast between a disciplined government and one that historically has been hardly disciplined” (O’Brien). It is ironic that Germany, which once was economically unstable and deeply indebted to other countries, is now an example of European economic health, the example to which Greece aspires.

Lastly, in Watch Out for Greek Debt!, Greece has the potential of putting contemporary Europe in as much debt and economic instability as in the 1930s because of the region’s shared economic interdependence on the euro. The Knott cartoon shows Europe of that era requesting war debt revisions because it is in an economic rut. Contemporary Europe could potentially descend into similar economic turmoil because if Greece were to collapse, then the euro could collapse with them, causing a domino effect.

Works Cited

“Countries in the EU and EEA.” GOV.UK. Gov.UK, 24 July 2015. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

Dawber, Alistair. “While Greece Flails, Are the Rest of the Stricken Pigs Taking Off?” Independent. Independent, 19 Feb. 2015. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

“The EU in Brief.” Europa. European Commission, 15 Oct. 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

“Greece’s Debt Crisis Explained.” The New York Times. New York Times, 31 Oct. 2015. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.

Knott, John. “If They Would Exchange Presents.” Cartoon. Dallas Morning News [Dallas, Texas] 24 Dec. 1931, sec. 2: 10. Print.

“Obolus.” American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 5th ed. N.p.: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. The Free Dictionary. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

O’Brien, Matt. “7 Key Things to Know about Greece’s Debt Crisis and What Happens Next.” The Washington Post. N.p., 5 July 2015. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.

Sooke, Alastair. “The Discobolus: Greeks, Nazis and the Body Beautiful.” BBC. BBC, 24 Mar. 2015. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

“Watch out for Greek Debt!” Cartoon. Enikos. N.p., 16 Feb. 2015. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.