By Christos C. Evangeliou, Professor of Philosophy
The current economic crisis has revealed, among other ugly things, that the so-called European Union is not as united as it claims, and its member states are not as friendly as they should be as Euro-partners. Within this non-unified and dysfunctional EU, many signs have appeared lately, which indicate that the gap separating the South from the North in Europe is big and growing.
Especially disturbing and concerning is the animosity and the vulgarity between Greece and Germany as expressed in their respective public media, which would make one think that with such shared feelings among its member states, the EU would not need external enemies to tear it apart. In both countries, so many nasty things have been said and written about each other in the last six years that the strange phenomenon is outright shocking and rather ominous for the future of the EU, envisioned as potentially a prosperous political entity and a harmonious union.
The question as to the cause/s of so much vitriol and bad feelings between the European peoples, particularly the Greeks and the Germans, as representatives of the South and the North, is baffling to the outsiders. However, a close look at the respective histories and national characteristics of the two protagonists in this unfolding tragic drama may provide some answers.
Let us begin with the Ancient Greeks, the famed ancestors of Modern Greeks, who are also admired greatly by all Europeans including the Germans, and considered as founders of Western civilization. Well, on this point, the historical fact is that the Germans (and other Northern Europeans) were not present during the first stage of the European history when Homer, “the educator of classical Greece,” was busy creating his poetic masterpieces, the Iliad and the Odyssey, in the 9th century BCE. Nor were the Germans present on the European historical scene even later, when the great Greek tragedians (Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides) were active in writing their classic dramas, and the classical Greek historians (Herodotus and Thucydides) were busy producing masterful histories of the Persian and the Peloponnesian Wars in the 5th century BCE, setting the standards of historiography and the science of History for the rest of Europe. The Germans were not present on the historical European scene even much later in the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE, when Plato and Aristotle, Epicurus and Zeno, and other distinguished Hellenic Philosophers were busy developing complete philosophical systems of thought, and thus setting the foundations of the arts and sciences, which have set the European civilization apart from, and perhaps above all others, as some Europeans like to believe.
The important historical point here is that, for a whole millennium (the first millennium BCE, which was so crucial for the distinct European culture), the Greek spirit as expressed in the love of liberty and learning had created a marvelous civilization of free Hellenic city-states, which fostered the philosophical cultivation of the mind as well as the athletic training of the body, and created works of art and literature that have become the classical measures for artistic human creations since that time. With the emergence of Rome as a political power on the world stage, some of these delicious fruits of the Hellenic spirit were passed on to other Europeans, the Italian, the Gallic and the Spanish peoples, but not to the Germans who remained mainly in the wild, outside the perimeter of the Empire, in spite of the efforts of the Caesars to bring them in.
So, regarding the pre-Christian Europe and the classical Greco-Roman civilization, the Germans are almost completely absent, both as creators and contributors to that civilization, as well as recipients. This historical fact is not a good omen for the future of Europe as a political union, apparently dominated by German economic might, against which the South will perhaps rebel with the Greeks as protagonists to be followed by the Italians, the Spaniards and the rest.
What is perhaps more astonishing, in light of the history of Christianity and the role that Germans played in the Reformation movement in the 16th century, is the fact that they did not play any significant role in the formation of the Christian faith during its formative period (1-6th centuries), although by then the various Germanic tribes had appeared in the horizon of history, and had overrun the western part of the divided Roman Empire. The elaborate development of the new Christian Trinitarian doctrine was entirely in the hands of the Greeks and other Hellenized individuals, while the organizational aspect of the hierarchical order was due to the Roman influence on the early Church. The Germanic tribes ended up espousing some heretical sects, especially the Arian sect, before they were compelled by the growing power of the Catholic Church in the Western Europe to serve the designs and the desires of the Popes in Rome, under the shrewd scheme of a so-called “Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation,” especially after the 9th century and during the long and dark Middle Ages, until Napoleon put an end to that phony creation in the 19th century.
While these developments were taking place in the Catholic and Roman Western part of the Roman Empire, the Eastern part, which was mainly Greek and Orthodox, had gradually developed a stable political Monarchy (330-1453 CE), by combining cultural elements of classical Hellenic past with the old Roman law and the new Christian faith, diligently elaborated in the powerful Greek language with some help from Greek philosophy, especially the Platonic and the Aristotelian systems of thought, which were utilized by clever theologians masterfully.
It was during the Crusades (11-13th centuries) that the crusading Germans and other Catholic Christians of the North came in contact with the Byzantine Greeks and impressed them with their barbarity, brutality and thorough lack of culture or any trace of Christian compassion, as is chronicled in the history of Anna Comnene, writing in the style of the old Hellenic masters, (Herodotus and Thucydides). The Crusades, which had been declared ostensibly to fight Muslim infidels and liberate the Holy Lands from the Saracens, ended up (in 1204) by capturing Constantinople (the citadel of Christendom) and by looting the City of Constantine as well as the church of Santa Sophia, the most magnificent Christian monument of all times.
No wonder, then, that later on (in 1453), when the Byzantines were compelled to choose between Germanic Christianity and Turkic Islam, they chose the latter as “the lesser evil.” This historical episode may still have serious consequences for the future of the European Union. For if things were to continue in the way that they have been going lately, the Greeks may face again the same dilemma and make again the same choice, preferring the Turkic over the Germanic occupation of their beautiful and culturally rich country. Of course, the Germans, who do not want the Turks as partners in the EU, may wish to see the Greeks pushed out of the EU, using the current economic crisis and the Greek debt (for which they are partially responsible) as probable pretexts.
Be it as it may, and to return to our main narrative, the Germans seem to have entered the central stage of European history with Martin Luther and the fury of his bold Protest against Catholicism (1517). Luther’s violent rebellion against the established order and power of the Pope not only shattered the unity of Christianity in Europe, but also cut short the revival of classical learning and culture, which had started with the Italian Renaissance (14-15th centuries).
For as a consequence of the Crusades, a number of precious manuscripts had found their way to Italy, where many Byzantine scholars with their rich libraries also took refuge. This was the incentive of the rebirth of classical learning in the West, especially in Italy, from where it moved to the North, into France and England but much less into still semi-barbaric Germany. The Germans remained tied to the power of the Pope for several more centuries until Luther declared his apostasy from the Catholic Church, though he retained the Christian Dogma, and even revived the fanaticism of the primitive Pauline Church. By that time and in their own eyes, perhaps providentially, the Byzantine Greeks and their precious Orthodoxy had been conquered by the Turks. Thus, Protestantism as a religious movement with its work ethic did not affect them. However, it reshaped Catholic Europe and later on would give the Prussian Bismark a tool to attempt to unify Germany and to take revenge on France with his victory in the war of 1871.
The unification of Germany and its growing economic and military power led to the two World Wars in the 20th century, which were disastrous for Europe and its civilization. In both wars Greece fought against Germany, which had become a supporter of Turkey, “the sick man of Europe” that would not die for a long time because the European powers could not agree on how to divide the spoils. At any rate, in these wars, especially the second, we may find hidden some real causes of the animosity between Greece and Germany, so publicly displayed lately.
It is a historical fact (but not well known), that the Greeks were responsible for the first victory of the Allied Forces against the Axis Powers, when the rest of Europe was on its knees. With their heroic decision to stand up to the Fascist Mussolini and the Nazi Hitler and to pay a heavy price in blood and treasure for this act, the Greeks showed the world that Freedom is a good that demands virtue and sacrifice. By being willing to pay the price and make a sacrifice, the Greeks also proved that they were worthy of their Hellenic ancestry. Thus, they helped the Allied Forces to liberate Europe, and Germany in particular, from the incarnated evil of Nazism.
For this Greek contribution to the Allied Victory, the Germans, if they were less arrogant and more rational, should be grateful to the Greeks whose heroic resistance and great sacrifice humiliated Mussolini’ pride and spoiled Hitler’s plan to attack Russia in the summer of 1941. As if that was not bad enough for the arrogant dictator, a Greek youth (named Manolis Glezos, now in his nineties and recently elected to the European Parliament) dared to pull the Swastika flag off the Acropolis. For that act of daring, Greece would pay another heavy economic price. All the food in the stores and all the gold in the banks of Greece were confiscated by the German occupation army, and the population of Athens was starved to death. In addition to this atrocity, the German occupiers arranged for a loan from the Greeks to support their army of occupation.
Adding insult to this grave injury after the war, the USA (facing the menace of aggressive Soviet Communism) directed most of the economic aid for Europe not to Greece and other Allies, but to Germany. Its war debt was forgiven, while its loan from Greece was forgotten. So, if Germans were more rational and had some Christian compassion, in this difficult situation of economic crisis in Europe, they should have come forward to recognize their war debt to Greece, and express their gratitude to the Greeks for their magnanimity in allowing the USA and NATO to forgive Germany its war debt, at the expense of Greece and other Allies in that terrible war, which Nazi Germany had started, chasing the foggy dream of a German Global Hegemony.
To conclude, then, we may say that the future of the EU will remain uncertain unless and until the Germans decide to be kinder and gentler with their South-European partners, especially with the Greeks, to whom they owe much in terms of civilization, culture, and unpaid war-loans. Unless the Germans become serious about the union of the EU, and decide to do for Southern Europe what they did for Eastern Germany during the re-unification process, the project of a politically united and economically prosperous EU will remain a fleeting dream. The Greeks can help this common and pan-European project to become a reality by being responsible Europeans, that is, by trying to live within their means, and not by consuming more than they are producing.
The historical lesson of this survey is that the Greeks and the Germans are proud peoples. The Greeks are also well aware of their great history and rich culture. They can be very kind and gentle, like Achilles playing his lyre in the seashore of Troy. But when Hector (or Hitler) arouses their temper, their wrath is destructive and irresistible. If the leaders of Germany do not show tact in handling the problem of the Greek debt in the re-negotiations with the newly elected Government of Greece on 1/25/2015, Greece may decide to get out of the EU, allowing Turkey to take its place, so that the Turkic/Islamic design to conquer Europe may materialize at last.
Christos C. Evangeliou
Professor of Philosophy
Honorary President of IAGP