The video above shows extracts of German Christian Democrat politicians talking about Greece. The statements are as follows:
“Der Grieche hat jetzt lang genug genervt” (“The Greeks have annoyed us long enough“) – Thomas Strobl
“Es gibt in Europa andere Staaten, denen es wahrscheinlich noch schlechter geht und die nicht jeden Tag rummaulen” (“In Europe there are other states where it seems to be even worse and they do not whinge every day“) – Herbert Reul
“Wenn die Griechen ihren Hausaufgaben erfüllen” (“If the Greeks do their homework“) – Volker Kauder
The CDU, and their sister party the CSU have form on this – Söder is especially harsh (“Irgendwann muss jeder bei Mama ausziehen, und die Griechen sind jetzt so weit.” – “At some point everyone must move away from mummy, and the Greeks are now at that point.” – Handelsblatt) and Focus has a summary of the rhetoric of the German right here.
All of this is classic conservative strict-father model rhetoric. Greece, the child, is errant and should be punished. It needs to do what the strict father – Germany and the Eurozone – tell it to do. It needs to respect the rules laid down for it (even if the father himself has erred). The ball remains in Greece’s court for it to find its own solutions.
This stands in contrast to nurturant-parent model rhetoric, where the emphasis is on collaborative solutions for problems, and providing help and assistance in a mutually beneficial manner. The strict-father versus nurturant-parent models are explained in Lakoff’s “Don’t Think of an Elephant” and a summary of Lakoff’s views is here, and a summary of the models here.
The problem – in rhetorical terms – is if you keep describing Greece and Tsipras as like an errant child, they behave as a teenager would – talking of blackmail, oppression, of a coup. It forces both camps to entrench their respective positions. Meanwhile within the German right, the chasm between the harsh rhetoric and the reality that a deal with Greece was actually done grows (the FDP’s Alexander Graf Lambsdorff spoke of the “Weichspüler” (literally “Fabric softener” – aka ‘wets’) having won). It also means that potential allies on Germany’s side – the soft left in the rest of the Western Europe for example – find it hard to give Germany any credit it may be due because they are so repulsed by the harsh rhetoric.
I’m not quite sure what the solution is here – because ultimately Reul, Kauder, Söder, Strobl et al. have national constituencies, and not a European constituency, to which they have to appeal. But some consciousness about the damage their rhetoric can cause would be helpful.
Caveats: before I am lambasted on Twitter for being anti-German for writing this blog post (yes, it has happened a lot over the last week, and it’s ridiculous), this is about the choice of words from German politicians. It is not about Germany versus Europe, or whether the deal is a good one or not. There was a deal, and I am grateful – to Germany, Greece and everyone else – for that. I am also not defending the reactions of the Greek side, or the left – all the #ThisIsACoup reaction is ridiculous, although somehow understandable in the face of provocation. I am also analysing the German side as I live in Germany and speak German; I speak no Greek. I’d also like to thank Migeru for the idea for this, and @Kosmopolit for helping me decipher Herbert Reul.