Günter Grass’ poem on Greece in context

This is a video about a solidarity demonstration with the Greek people, in France.

By Christoph Dreier in Germany:

Germany: Günter Grass criticizes EU’s treatment of Greece

31 May 2012

The German author and Nobel Literature prize-holder Günter Grass has published a withering critique of the policy of Germany and the European Union towards Greece. In his latest poem published in the Saturday edition of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Grass draws parallels with the NATO-backed junta of the colonels and the German occupation of Greece in the Second World War. He also responds to critics of his last poem, which warned of the dangers of an Israeli war against Iran.

Under the title “Europe’s Shame,” the 84-year-old author devotes twelve stanzas, each with two verses, to castigating the European elites for their treatment of Greece. Written in ancient Greek metrics, the poem portrays the manner in which the finance markets and European governments are destroying the country and its rich history. The first verse accuses the EU of bringing the country: “Close to chaos, because the market is not just, you’re far removed from the country which was your cradle.”

In this connection Grass refers to the austerity measures dictated by the EU which have resulted in wage cuts of up to 60 percent, an official youth unemployment rate of over 50 percent, mass starvation, and social despair. The social rights of workers have been systematically destroyed in order to rescue the loans of the international banks and increase corporate profits.

Meanwhile, there is a debate in broad circles of the European political elite about excluding Greece from the euro zone and forcing a return to the drachma. This would lead to hyperinflation and a corresponding devaluation of wages, pensions and social benefits, transforming the country into a low-wage haven for European corporations. The chancellery in Berlin has circulated a six-point plan, which calls for the selling off of state assets to the highest bidder and establishing special economic zones, where workers are paid rock bottom wages and deprived of all their rights.

Given this development, Grass quite correctly draws parallels in his poem to the occupation of Greece by the German Wehrmacht, which cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Greeks. The German Reich plundered the country economically. It acquired from Italy and Bulgaria the contractual right to exclusively exploit all the zones in Greece it had occupied.

Grass’s reference to the dictatorship of the colonels, who took power in a coup in 1967 coup in order to prevent a victory of left parties, is also an entirely legitimate analogy. The undemocratic character of the EU austerity program was demonstrated last December when, following pressure from Brussels, the elected government was replaced by an unelected technocratic administration. Now the Greek electorate is being blackmailed by the international banks and institutions and pressured not to vote for parties which oppose the austerity measures. Behind the scenes a military solution to the crisis is being discussed.

Grass’s poem also notes that not all Greeks are equally affected by the austerity measures of the EU. The elite of the country, which he calls … “the Croesus-resembling followers” have long since deposited their money in “safe havens” abroad.

Finally, Grass notes that the Greek population decisively rejected the austerity measures in the last election. Socrates, he writes, returns the cup, full to the brim, which the EU commissioners had sought to force down the throat of the Greek electorate. Socrates drained the deadly hemlock out of respect for the law, but Grass allows the Greeks to return it. In so doing he alludes to the social consequences of austerity for the whole of Europe.

Throughout the poem Grass seeks to make analogies with Greek history and mythology. He writes that the defiant Antigone wears black while the European elite seek to steal Mount Olympus. He evidently wants to show how in response to the growing aggressiveness of finance capital intellectuals and the educated elite have peremptorily ditched their former humanistic ideals drawn on the great thinkers of ancient Greece. “What was searched and found with one’s soul, is now considered to be as worthless as scrap metal,” he writes, in reference to Goethe’s Iphigenia.

Here Grass hits his target. Only a handful of intellectuals and artists have taken a serious stand against the barbaric measures used to drive the Greek population into poverty and despair. Instead, there is a massive chauvinist campaign launched by the German media against “lazy Greeks” or the “corrupt structures” of the country.

The reactions to Grass’s last poem two months ago had already made clear that sections of the German middle class are turning sharply to the right as German militarism raises its head and class tensions grow across Europe. …

“Europe’s Shame” is not only an indictment of the barbarous policy of the German government and the EU, but also all those writers, journalists and authors who have lined up with German imperialism and seek to silence its critics. They have lost any right to appeal to humanistic ideals and are nothing less than apologists for a barbaric policy.

The host of defamatory responses to his latest courageous poem only serves to confirm Grass’s thesis. His criticism “misses reality,” declared the chairman of the European Affairs Committee of the Bundestag, Gunther Krichbaum (Christian Democratic Union). “On the whole one should not take Günter Grass so seriously,” he added. …

In “Europe’s Shame” Grass once again speaks for the majority of the European population. It is commendable that he has refused to be intimidated, and has courageously faced up to his attackers to reveal their utter intellectual bankruptcy.

Europeans’ Economic Future Has Been Hijacked by Dangerous Ideologues: here.

Britain: SEP (UK) public meetings. Defend the Greek working class: here.

Günter Grass poem on Greece, austerity, translation

This video is about poverty in Greece.

A video which used to be on YouTube was called Families Crumble In Greece’s Economic Crisis. It used to say about itself:

Seventy-year-old Eletharias cannot afford to go the supermarket any more, so for the past few months he has started rummaging for food in dustbins.

He goes out in Athens at night so that no one sees. When Sky News met him, he was collecting onions from some wheelie bins.

“Since my pension was cut, I can’t buy food so I look through the garbage,” he said, “I can only pray that things get better.”

He is among an increasing number of pensioners who have slipped into desperate poverty and rely on waste food to survive.

From The Local in Germany:

Grass attacks austerity forced on Greece

Published: 26 May 2012 12:01 CET

German Nobel literature laureate Günter Grass has followed his Israel-critical poem from last month with one tearing into European policy on Greece.

His latest poem, “Europe’s Shame”, published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, talks of the chaos in Greece and the suffering there, yet warns that Europe would be soulless if Greece were to leave as it had dreamed up the European idea.

He describes Greece as a country condemned to poverty, and as a “country without rights, whose belt is pulled tighter and tighter by the powers with rights.”

See also here. And here. And here.

The original German text of the poem is here. It has much imagery from Greek mythology, Greek history and history of Greek and German literature.

The “you” to whom Grass addresses his poem, is Europe; more precisely, politicians like Angela Merkel.

Here is my translation:

Europe’s shame

Close to chaos, because the market is not just, you’re far away from the country which was your cradle.

What was searched and found with one’s soul, is now considered to be as worthless as scrap metal.

As a debtor put naked on the pillory, a country about which you used to say you were grateful, suffers.

Poverty doomed country whose maintained wealth adorns museums of the loot you kept.

Those [World War II German nazi occupation soldiers] who hit the country, blessed with islands, with the force of arms wore both uniforms and [books of German poet, inspired by ancient Greek poetry] Hölderlin in their knapsacks.

Barely tolerated country whose colonels were once tolerated by you as an alliance partner.

Country which lost its rights, whose belt is tightened and tightened again by the cocksurely powerful.

Antigone defying you wearing black and all over the country, the people whose guest you have been wear mourning clothes.

However, outside the country, the Croesus resembling followers have hoarded all what glitters like gold in your vaults.

Booze at last, drink! [European] Commissioners’ cheerleaders shout. However, Socrates gives you back the [hemlock poison] cup full to the brim.

Curse you as a chorus, which is characteristic of you, will the gods, whose Mount Olympus you want to steal.

You’ll waste away mindlessly without the country, whose mind invented you, Europe.

Christine Lagarde’s “tough love” is an insult to Greece. By urging Greeks to pay up without whingeing the IMF chief has revealed her deep historical and cultural ignorance: here.

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde vented her class hatred for the workers of Greece, denouncing them as tax scofflaws and ruling out any respite from the austerity measures that have devastated the country: here.