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.