An “Eternal Recurrence”: Patterns of German Ideological Hegemony in Modern Greek History

012819 35 History Ancient Greek Greece Politic Polis

This piece was published in the Acheson Issue, Volume 11


Throughout its existence, the Hellenic Republic has struggled to reconcile its “modern Greek” national identity with its “ancient Greek” cultural history, burdening the country with both an economically and geopolitically marginal position within the European and world order and with a schizophrenic national identity. The Federal Republic of Germany and its predecessors since the nineteenth century have been some of the most important foreign architects of the modern Greek state, and thus have also been influential sources of this complex Greek identity. Over two hundred years of shared cultural history between Germany and Greece, the divergence of Greek national identity from its German idealized conceptions has led to tension, disillusionment, and even hostility. Periods of interaction and conflict are symptoms of a fundamental dynamic of the Greco-German relationship: the recurrent imposition of German ideological hegemony on Greece philosophically, politically, militarily, and economically, forcing Greece to conform to this German ideology, ignoring the complexities of Modern Greek national identity. Over the course of modern Greek history, Greek citizens themselves have integrated this dynamic into their own national consciousness, resulting in increased expressions of victimhood and defiance against an oppressive German “other”. 

I. Introduction

Throughout its existence, the Hellenic Republic has struggled to reconcile its modern national identity with its ancient cultural history, burdening the country with both an economically and geopolitically marginal position within the European order and a schizophrenic national identity. The Federal Republic of Germany and its predecessors have been some of the most influential foreign architects of this modern Greek identity.  Over two hundred years of shared cultural history, the divergence of Greece’s national identity from German ideals surrounding its conception have led to tension, disillusionment, and hostility between the two countries. German philhellenes who fought to liberate the supposed modern descendants of the ancient Greeks instead confronted heterogeneous, non-Western, and often-violent peoples. Nazi military forces, driven by formulations of racialized history partly founded on ancient Greek aesthetic principles, subjected Greece to brutal occupation conditions when faced with resistance. Greek economic instability during the Euro Crisis after a period of growth, integration, and development prompted a cultural and ideological clash between the two countries that manifested via cultural and historical stereotypes in mass media. 

These periods of interaction illustrate a fundamental dynamic of the Greco-German relationship: the imposition of German ideological hegemony on Greece in a manner that forces Greece to conform to Germany’s idealized image while ignoring the complexities of modern Greek national identity. The Greeks themselves have integrated this dynamic into their own national consciousness, resulting in increased expressions of victimhood and defiance against an oppressive German “other.” 

As the locus of the “cradle of Western civilization”, Greece has one of the longest and most influential histories in Europe. “Ancient Greece” is somewhat of a cultural topos, commonly treated as a cohesive, singular entity. The phrase evokes images of classical Greek temples, mythology, and white marble sculpture. 

 Compared to ancient Greece, the modern Hellenic Republic formed in 1832 has struggled to solidify its achievements within the context of the European world order, due to features such as its geographic location, relative economic difficulties, and periodic oppression due to armed conflict. Despite being a member of both the EU and the Eurozone, as well as the largest economy of the Balkan region, Greece is still considered a “peripheral” European economy. From 2001 to 2010, Greece represented a mere 2.5% of total EU GDP (Mylonas 2012, 652).

The article begins by discussing the distinction between the perceived cohesive, timeless cultural topos of ancient Greece and the struggles of the modern Hellenic Republic. The article then briefly discusses modern Greece’s place in Europe and addresses modern Greece’s national identity. The article concludes with a brief discussion of how this work distinguishes itself from pre-existing literature. 

Chapter II examines the earliest modern dialogue between the Greek and German cultures: German art historian and archaeologist J.J. Winckelmann’s development of Germany philhellenism in the late 18th century. The chapter provides a brief sketch of Winckelmann’s life and work, and then outlines German philhellenism’s salient features and peculiarities. The chapter concludes with examinations of Friedrich August Wolf and Wilhelm von Humboldt, two German intellectuals who personify philhellenism’s importance in German academia and culture. 

Chapter III addresses the cultural impact of the Greek War of Independence on the German state and people, then addresses how Germany contributed, both directly and indirectly, to the war effort. It also highlights German reckoning with the disjunction between the idealized conceptions of Ancient Greece that motivated German support of the war and the reality of Modern Greek identity. 

Chapter IV analyzes how Germany shaped the development of the newly-independent Kingdom of Greece. Classically-educated Germans, steeped in the Romantic-era philhellenism developed by Winckelmann and his successors, took up key roles in the state apparatus of the Kingdom of Greece during this period of national reformation and exercised great influence in shaping Greek domestic policy. The chapter concludes with a brief examination of the decline of both the German presence in the Greek government and the German influence on the nascent state as a whole. 

Chapter V demonstrates how Greece simultaneously provided a philosophical and ideological foundation for, while also being subject to, Nazi policies during the 1941-1944 Occupation of Greece. The chapter begins with a discussion of the racialist precedent in German philhellenism that better enabled its assimilation into Nazi ideology. The chapter then addresses the occupation itself, as well as the German actions and policies that once again highlight the disjunction between the conception of ancient Greece on which they were based and the modern nation then being occupied. 

Chapter VI examines both the overall trajectory of Greek economic growth at the turn of the twenty-first century land its particular landmarks: Greece’s joining of the European Union in 1992; adopting the common Euro currency in 2001; and hosting the Olympic Games in 2004. The chapter assesses Greece’s adoption of German economic principles in the pre-crisis period, then examines the Euro Crisis-era Greco-German relationship and the cultural characterizations of the two countries in mass media. 

To conclude the article, Chapter VII briefly summarizes the history of mutual misunderstanding that has characterized the Greco-German relationship throughout modern history, the status of this relationship in a “post-crisis” era, and, finally, considers what must be done to shape the relationship for the better in the future. 

Although the various topics explored in this thesis have been examined across generations, scholarship typically discusses episodes of the Greco-German relationship as more discrete developmental phenomena, rather than as an ongoing cultural dialogue. The subject of German philhellenism has been well-documented from a variety of perspectives, ranging from the development of the German philological and archaeological tradition following the advent of widespread German philhellenism in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to its subsequent incorporation into the rhetoric and propaganda of the Third Reich (see Butler 1935, Marchand 1996, Roche 2018). In particular, the effects of Euro Crisis-era developments and policies on the Greco-German relationship have facilitated the creation of a wealth of literature assessing its current state. While some sources, particularly news articles, have attempted to contextualize the relationship between Greece and Germany by invoking the trajectory of modern Greek history, these typically do so only cursorily. 

II.   German Philhellenism: Origins of German Hegemony

Enter J.J. Winckelmann

The origins of modern Greco-German relations began with the formulation and spread of German philhellenism, a component of the German intellectual movement which was born in the late eighteenth century out of the observations and scholarship of Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-68). Winckelmann, generally regarded as the singular progenitor of Romantic-era German philhellenism, was born into poverty in Altmark, and spent his youth seeking education far beyond his family’s means. While begging his way across Germany in search of classical texts and antiquities, he sought the scholarly companionship of the few fellow Graecophiles in Germany (Butler 1935, 11-12). His greatest goal was a pilgrimage to Rome, his means of accessing a repository of Greek art forms (Butler 1935, 16). After making the journey to Rome and securing patronage, Winckelmann published various works, including his magnum opus, History of the Art of Antiquity, in 1764. Although his grander ambition was an eventual pilgrimage to Greece itself, he was murdered at Trieste before he could finally complete his journey.

Winckelmann conceived of ancient Greek art as the pinnacle of human artistic achievement, a testament to both the beauty of the ancient Greeks themselves and their ability to translate that physical beauty into their work. He believed that the ancient Greek bodily form had been optimized through a wide variety of factors, ranging from ambient climate, exercise regimen, diet, forms of artistic expression, clothing and dress (Winckelmann 1766, 11). In addition to cultivating a beautiful physical form, Winckelmann argued that the Ancient Greeks, through various aspects of their education, were taught “to judge, with discernment and taste, of those bodily proportions that constitute true beauty” (Winckelmann 1766, 19), which in turn prepared ancient Greek artists to portray the likeness of the ideal form. This capacity for capturing the ideal bodily form, according to Winckelmann, made ancient Greek art reign supreme.[1]

Of Winckelmann’s life and scholarly formulations, two features were particularly notable. The first was his aforementioned preoccupation with the ideal form of Greek beauty, which he conceived of as the epitome of artistic achievements. To Winckelmann, art was an organic product, its greatness “inseparable from racial, climatic, social and political conditions” that enabled its creation (Butler 1935, 44). The second was the uniquely voyeuristic nature of his scholarly contemplations. Like all but a handful of German travelers, Winckelmann had neither travelled to Greece, nor seen its monuments firsthand; his only experience with Greek art was through Roman copies of primarily Hellenistic statuary, so he had minimal interaction with Greek art of the Classical period (St. Clair 2008, 92; Roche 2018, 545; Butler 1935, 44). 

Despite his indirect relationship with Greece, Winckelmann’s vivid descriptions of the physical, as well as the “romantic” particular details of his life and death – his impoverished origins, wanderings across Europe, and tragic murder – made him not only one of Europe’s leading figures on classical art history but also the catalyst for the entire German philhellenic movement. His work inspired generations of scholars, enlightenment followers, and cultural nationalists (Marchand 1996, 7-8), and Winckelmann himself became Germany’s leading authority on art history and archaeology, worshipped by many of Germany’s greatest Romantic authors, including Goethe, Schiller, Herder, and Lessing (Roche 2018, 545).

From Ideals to Institutions

In the decades following Winckelmann’s death, philhellenism spread and became institutionalized throughout the German states. Translations of classical work proliferated, while German classical specialists greatly improved their social and academic standing. One such follower was Friedrich August Wolf, traditionally regarded as the father of modern philology. Wolf’s deliberate academic pursuit of philology signified the ascension of Altertumswissenschaft(“Antiquity”) within the realms of scholarship and pedagogy. Before Wolf, Germans who engaged in higher-level classical studies typically did so through theology or law, rather than pursuing classical philology for its own sake (Marchand 1996, 17-18). Upon his acceptance of a professorship at the University of Halle, Wolf revitalized philological studies within the university, bucking contemporary trends in German academia, which increasingly favored “useful” subjects such as the sciences. (Marchand 1996, 19). 

Later, Wilhelm von Humboldt, a Prussian philosopher who as head of Prussia’s Interior Ministry for educational and ecclesiastical affairs was responsible for redesigning the system of financing Prussian educational institutions, reshaped the Prussian educational pipeline and its various requirements to more strongly emphasize philology, including the study of ancient Greece. He implemented the Abitur, a new state-wide school-leaving exam required for prospective university students, that emphasized thorough knowledge of both Latin and Ancient Greek; the exam was administered only at Gymnasien, select schools that emphasized classical education, thus making such schools the only university preparatory institutions in Prussia (Marchand 1996, 27). This new academic landscape required a great majority of Prussia’s would-be university-educated professionals, such as free professionals, public servants, and teachers, to obtain a classical education and study Ancient Greek. 

Humboldt also founded the University of Berlin in 1810, within which he prioritized philosophy – which included philology, natural sciences, and philosophy proper – and its faculty over those of the so-called “practical” fields such as law, medicine, and theology (Marchand 1996, 27). Humboldt attracted scholars to Berlin and his university by offering large salaries and the promise of academic prestige, especially for classical philology “the centerpiece of his grand new institution” (Marchand 1996, 27). The University of Berlin quickly cultivated a reputation as a place of “industrious, mature, and unsocial scholars such as Wolf and Humboldt themselves had been” (Marchand 1996, 28). Humboldt’s own scholarship reflected the influence of his predecessor Winckelmann. His 1806 essay “Latium und Hellas, oder Betrachtungen über das klassische Alterthum” (“Latium and Hella, or Observations on Classical Antiquity”) re-emphasized the anthropological, Winckelmannian conception of an optimized society, that in turn facilitated the creation of the most ideal art.[2] This holistic, anthropological view of ancient Greece was perhaps the best representation of the core views of then-contemporary German philhellenism. 

Within just a few generations, German philhellenism was born, grew, and spread, leading to an “institutionalization of German admiration for Greek beauty” (Marchand 1996, 7). While German philhellenism would continue to evolve through contributions from other writers, thinkers and intellectuals, the movement was rooted in this conception of ancient Greece’s identity as the timeless paragon of human artistic achievement. Through the efforts of individuals such as Wolf and Humboldt, philology (and with it, ancient Greece) was entrenched as a pillar of Germany’s academic institutions. As these institutions shaped the intellectual priorities and cultural output of Germany as a whole, ancient Greece became intertwined with German intellectualism. Until the early nineteenth century, German philhellenism was a distinctly cultural phenomenon, cultivated in academic and intellectual circles and confined to the regions in which it was born and had grown; however, a new geopolitical shift soon presented the German philhellenes with a novel opportunity to tangibly and politically assert their principles. 

III.   The Greek War of Independence

The Greek War of Independence began in 1821. Although the nation declared its independence in 1828, the conflict would continue until 1830, when, under the London Protocol, Greece was recognized as independent by the Great Powers of Europe. During this time, German contributions to the revolutionary Greek cause broadly took three forms: soldiers, donations, and propaganda materials. Compared to their fellow Europeans, Germans were some of the earliest public supporters of the Greek cause, with German cities in the summer of 1821 being among the first to establish Greek committees, which distributed pamphlets, gathered aid, and sent men off to fight (Penn 1938, 639). By this time, pro-Greek sentiment had already spread throughout German universities, propaganda campaigns promoting Greek liberty were underway, and volunteers had begun gathering in German cities (Penn 1938, 639; Marchand 1996, 32). 

After forming legions in various German cities, between 1821 and 1823, Germans sent a total of over four hundred men in eight formal expeditions to the Greek front including soldiers, officers, and medical personnel (Penn 1938, 643). These Germans joined a philhellenic corps founded in Greece in 1822, which included volunteers from various European countries (ibid.). The corps were often not effective, mostly owing to a lack of supplies, training, leadership, and cohesion (ibid.). 

German donations to the cause were consistently generous. Between 1821 and 1823, supplies sent on the eight expeditions included various forms of aid, including medical supplies, military equipment, and other necessities (Penn 1938, 643). In 1823, the German states supported an influx of Greek refugees who had fled there to escape the theater of war through contributions of food and clothing (Penn 1938, 646). German towns were some of the most significant monetary contributors from 1826 to 1828, even during periods marked by institutional fatigue and the exhausting of European donations (Penn 1938, 650, 653). Among German benefactors, King Ludwig I of Bavaria—father of the future first king of Greece, Otto— was particularly noteworthy, openly and consistently supporting the Greek causes while also encouraging others to do the same (Penn 1938, 642).[3]

Although present across all of German society, philhellenism and revolutionary support were especially prevalent in intellectual spheres. Accordingly, educated Germans, bolstered by previously institutionalized philological studies in the German Gymnasien, were particularly receptive to the calls for European support of the Greek cause (Marchand 1996, 32). Their writings in newspapers, journals, and political pamphlets were crucial in drumming up widespread German support for the war effort. Wilhelm Traugott Krug, a philologist at Leipzig, published a pamphlet in 1821 calling for committees of Greek aid to be established. Friedrich Tiersch, a philologist, author of works on Greek grammar and archaeology, and the founder of the Institute of Munich, wrote newspaper articles arguing the benign nature of Greek Revolution concerning local political affairs (Penn 1938, 642).

Despite its prevalence throughout German society, the translation of philhellenism to concrete support for the Greek cause was far from seamless. Philhellenic activities across Germany were often met with waves of resistance from authorities, who prohibited the public from forming pro-Greek associations, volunteering and fundraising for the war effort, and, in some cases, even issuing pro-Greek public statements (Güthenke 2008, 98; Marchand 1996, 32-33). However, the protracted Greek defeat at Missolonghi in 1826 reignited widespread German public support for the Greek cause (Güthenke 2008, 98).

An appeal particularly attractive to German philhellenes was the so-called “continuity thesis”: that modern Greeks currently fighting for their liberation were direct descendants of their ancient brethren (Roche 2018, 557). The Greek revolution, therefore, represented a symbolic liberation, the rebirth of civilization’s peak in the form of a modern state. Under the “continuity thesis,” the Turks were merely “foreign tyrants whose odious rule had blighted the fair land of Hellas for centuries” (Penn 1938, 639). Literary appeals for German support described the idealized, transcendent beauty of the Greek natural landscape, a continuity of the ancient Greek perfection that had continued to exist since ancient times and could be recaptured by liberating Greece from her Ottoman overlords.

Even in the fifty years since the advent of German philhellenism preceding the Greek revolution, few German philhellenes had actually visited Greece, and its literature and art were accessible only by way of classical texts and Roman imitations. The Greek revolution presented the opportunity for German philhellenes to directly experience Greek culture; however, like the philhellenism that formed the ideological basis of support, German support of the war effort largely ignored the wide gulf between Greek antiquity and modernity, preferring to characterize modern Greece using antiquated tropes.

When German philhellenes finally reached Greece, their reactions to the discovery of the gulf between ideal and reality ranged from surprise to disillusionment. The volunteers that comprised the Philhellene corps expected modern incarnations of the aancient Greeks described in their philological studies, but when they arrived in Navarino they were met by peoples more closely resembling Turks, who could not even speak the ancient Greek language (St. Clair 2008, 82). Additionally, reports from German soldiers and officers recounted terrific brutality by Greek revolutionaries; the Philhellene corps at Navarino witnessed the remains of horrific massacres of Turkish communities, which the Greeks had undertaken in hopes of impressing the arriving volunteers (St. Clair 2008, 83); Maximilian von Kotsch, a German officer and philhellene, in his account of the fall of Nauplia in late 1822, describes how the Greek soldiers extensively mutilated and murdered civilians, including a fellow Greek suspected of corresponding with the Turks and a Jewish would-be deserter (St. Clair 2008, 107). The anxiety and disillusionment of these German accounts reflected the unacknowledged truth that Romantic-era German aspirations of reclaiming the lost glory of ancient Greece via the establishment of a modern Greek state were doomed to fail. These aspirations, rooted in idealized conceptions of ancient Greece ascribed to the modern Greek state a glory that could never practically manifest. 

Despite the existence of such accounts, German philhellenism continued largely unimpeded throughout the War of Independence and beyond. German philhellenism’s foundations of idealization gave it a certain resilience, even in the face of firsthand German accounts of modern Greece and its people that seemed to undermine the authenticity of the “continuity thesis.” German philhellenes refuted, or simply disregarded, disillusioned philhellenes and their accounts of the Modern Greek people and their “unclassical” behavior throughout the war, attributing their negative accounts to the individual incompetence (Marchand 1996, 33-34; St. Clair 2008, 120-121). In April 1822, a group of French officers who had returned to Marseilles from Greece published an open letter detailing their horrific experiences on the Greek front at Tripolitsa, calling the Greeks a “despicable, cowardly, and ungrateful race” (St. Clair 2008, 76). In response, the Greeks at Marseilles alleged that the open letter was in retaliation for their expulsion due to misconduct, an explanation wholeheartedly accepted by the German volunteers awaiting departure (ibid.). 

The institutional admiration for ancient Greece was also responsible for a feedback loop of Greece’s own conceptions of self and national identity, enabled by Greek diasporic communities, which provided much of “the educational preparation for nationhood” (Kaloudis 2006, 56). Greek expatriates, most notably students, in German and other European cities were exposed to Romantic-era philhellenism and its ideals through their interactions in German universities (Güthenke 2008, 97). Exposure to philhellenic ideals awakened feelings of nationalism in these educated diasporic Greeks, who contributed significantly to the spread of pro-Greek sentiment throughout German cities. Additionally, Greek merchants and commercial communities in these cities also contributed to the war effort by publishing pamphlets and organizing contributions. These Greeks represented the fusion of German and European philhellenic ideals, Romantic-era formulations of nationalism, and Greek identity. After Greece finally won its independence, many of these diasporic Greeks would return to their homeland to contribute to the nation-building effort.

The War of Independence had always, to a certain degree, been a competition for influence between Europe’s more geopolitically influential powers (Kostis 2018, 75). Once Greek independence had been won, German philhellenism at home relegated itself once more to German intellectual and educational spheres, its political aspirations having now been largely achieved (Marchand 1996, 35). The nascent Greece state, however, presented a new opportunity for German philhellenes to assert their influence on the architecture and organization of the new Greek state apparatus. The presence and influence of such German philhellenes would become a hallmark of the early nation-building period in Greece. 

IV.   The Formative Years of the Modern Greek State

Greek Country, German Government

In 1832, Prince Otto, the second son of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, was appointed King of Greece by the great powers of Europe via the Treaty of London. Due to Otto’s youth, the Treaty stipulated that Greece would be preliminarily governed by a regency council with unlimited authority until Otto came of age in 1835. The council’s three members – Josef Ludwig von Armansperg, George Ludwig von Maurer, and Carl Wilhelm von Heideck – appointed by Otto’s father, Ludwig, were both intellectuals and politicians (Kostis 2018, 77). The external appointment of German governing authorities by the Great Powers was not welcomed by the Greek national assembly, but domestic authorities were powerless to prevent it. The assembly was subsequently dissolved, cementing the Germans’ absolute authority over the new Greek state. 

In the immediate post-liberation era, Greece could almost be described as a “Bavarian colony” (St. Clair 2008, 348). Distrustful of local political actors, the regency council filled most key positions of the new Greek state apparatus with fellow Bavarians. The other main institution of Greece’s central government, the cabinet, was completely subject to the will of the regency council and then the king. The principal duty of cabinet ministers was to advise the king and enforce his will, and they could not implement policy without his approval. Similarly, the bureaucratic organization of the state municipal structure gave local leaders very little power, and was essentially “an extension of central power in miniature” (Kostis 2018, 87). These features of the new government made it highly dependent on the will of the king after he came of age. 

Most of the Bavarians imported along with the regency council did not stay long in Greece and returned to their homeland; even after this, though, Bavarians still occupied many of the highest positions in government, thus remaining the primary architects of state policy. Otto himself proved to be opposed to the gradual removal of foreigners in the Greek government and took steps to ensure their continued presence. Although Greeks could serve in positions as high as cabinet minister, the nature of the position gave them little real power in determining state policy. Additionally, Greeks who held positions in higher levels of government were mostly expatriates, known as heterocthons, who were chosen due to their increased qualifications from having been educated elsewhere in Europe (Kostis 2018, 78). The presence of both Germans and German-educated Greeks at the upper levels of government was a testament to the perceived supremacy of the German model; the new Greek state could not be capably managed by autocthons, its local inhabitants. 

The foreign identity of the upper levels of Greek government and lack of widespread local public support necessitated an authoritarian style of governance. German control over the military became essential to maintaining German hegemony. Under German direction, Greece’s army and navy were dramatically reorganized and upgraded. Although most of the 3,500 German mercenaries who accompanied the regency council to Greece as a military entourage subsequently returned to Bavaria, Germans still held a majority of the officer positions within the Greek army as late as 1839 (Kostis 2018, 82). Additionally, policies of disarmament for local “irregular” troops – those outside the state military – ensured that the German-run state military would maintain a monopoly on military presence and state-sanctioned violence. 

Germany also reorganized education, architecture, archaeology, and urban planning; reforms that demonstrated their commitment to cultural governance and provided an opportunity for German philhellenistic influence. German influence was particularly widespread within the Greek University. Perhaps the best example of this phenomenon was the establishment of Athens Othonian University in 1837, according to principles of the German educational model codified by Friedrich von Thiers (1784-1860), a classical scholar and educationist, and Christian August Brandis (1790-1867), a philologist and historian of philosophy (Kokkinos et al. 2016, 154). German intellectualism completely dominated intellectual discourse within Greek educational institutions for the majority of the nineteenth century. At the time of the Athens Othonian University’s founding, virtually the entire personnel of the new university consisted of either German professors or Greek expatriates who had studied at German universities and institutions, (ibid.). Even as late as 1870, over half of the university’s Greek faculty had graduated from German or Austrian universities (ibid.). German intellectual influence extended beyond just Greece’s educational system, with firm presences in fields ranging from technology and mechanical engineering to science, medicine, and public health (ibid.). However, it was in the fields of architecture and urban planning that German intellectualism most significantly impacted the national identity of the new Greek state. 

Archaeology, Architecture, and Urban Planning

During the War of Independence, ruins and other material antiquities – physical symbols of both ancient Greece’s cultural legacy and modern Greece’s national self-determination – had become significant as “symbolic capital, to be exchanged for national legitimacy” (Athanassopoulos 2002, 292). Ownership over these antiquities, therefore, meant a claim on Greek national identity, thus necessitating protections of such items. In the pre-Independence era, foreign archaeologists had often simply appropriated their finds, claiming their own countries and institutions were better equipped to both preserve and appreciate such items; during the War of Independence, however, these antiquities’ newfound importance as national symbols necessitated the introduction of formal legislative protections (ibid.). The Greek revolutionary government passed various decrees between 1825 and 1829 safeguarding antiquities by limiting (or prohibiting) their foreign sale and exportation, though these decrees were frequently reevaluated and altered due to mounting pressure from other European powers (Voudouri 2017, 77-78). 

This heightened importance of material antiquities continued after the war ended. Ruins and antiquities gained newfound significance in the midst of the architectural nation-building project in the newly-independent Greece. Particularly within Athens, archaeology played a crucial role in German-led government policy and urban planning (Athanassopoulos 2002, 294). Greece’s first national archaeological legislation was introduced in 1834, and proclaimed that “all antiquities within Greece, as works of the Greek people, shall be regarded as national property of all the Greeks in general” (Voudouri 2017, 78-79). Despite the law’s practical limitations, which included various provisions for legal ownership of antiquities, the law still held great symbolic significance, and codified Greece’s establishment of a national cultural heritage (ibid.). After the ascension of King Otto, archaeological projects and urban planning initiatives involving material antiquities were increasingly state-supported due to Otto’s own classical education and philhellenic inclinations. Three individuals – Eduard Schaubert, Leo von Klenze, and Ludwig Ross – illustrate the various ways that this German intellectualism shaped both state policy and conceptions of Greek national identity. 

A Prussian architect who, along with the Berlin-educated Greek architect Stamatios Kleanthes, was first commissioned to remodel Athens’ urban landscape, Eduard Schaubert (1804-60) was one of the first individuals responsible for the introduction of German philhellenism to the Greek archaeological sphere. The two architects wedded their modern urban planning with archaeological excavation, both preserving uncovered ancient monuments and ensuring that no modern buildings were constructed on top of them (Athanassopoulos 2002, 294). To Schaubert, the preservation of ancient monuments was just as important as the construction of new buildings. This philhellenic-inspired architectural policy came to characterize the entire post-liberation building effort in Athens and was appropriated by Leo von Klenze in his subsequent policies. 

Von Klenze (1784-1864), the court architect of the Bavarian King Ludwig I, was commissioned by Otto in 1834 to oversee urban planning efforts in Athens. As the principal architect of archaeological and urban planning projects in Athens, von Klenze became one of the best representatives of the classical conservationism and revivalism that characterized the post-liberation nation-building movement in Greece. Two main goals characterized von Klenze’s subsequent state urban policies: (1) the excavation and conservation of antiquities, and (2) the removal of post-classical monuments and architectural elements. Von Klenze enacted measures to restore and preserve the Acropolis from modern construction, rejecting proposals to build new major buildings there (including a royal palace) and instead advocating to restore the Parthenon and other Acropolis monuments (Roche 2018, 559). German efforts to preserve and reconstruct Greece’s classical past, however, also necessitated the deconstruction of its post-classical past. Deconstructionist policies went hand in hand with preservationist ones. Von Klenze supported the removal of Byzantine and other post-classical monuments from the Acropolis and the greater Athens (Athanassopoulos 2002, 294); efforts to rebuild the temple of Athena Nike required the demolition of the existing Turkish rampart (Athanassopoulos 2002, 297). The urban planning of Athens increasingly reflected the German devotion to aesthetic principles: ancient buildings were separated from modern ones and were preserved as monuments rather than as functional parts of the city (Athanassopoulos 2002, 294-295). 

Another classically-educated German, Ludwig Ross (1806-59), became Curator, and later Director, of Greece’s first Archaeological Office in the Ministry of Education, overseeing the restoration of the ancient monuments in Athens (Fatsea 2017, 65). As Director, he became the carried out the policies developed by von Klenze, including restoration work on the Acropolis and the demolition of numerous post-classical monuments. Ross occupied his directorship from 1834-36 before resigning and becoming the newly-founded University of Athens’ first professor of archaeology (Athanassopoulos 2002, 295). His Manual of the Archaeology of the Arts, an “epitome of his combined interests in art, architecture, archaeology, history, and culture,” aimed to guide the future study of ancient archaeology (Fatsea 2017, 66). In the work, Ross aimed (1) to circumscribe the field of archaeology, which had, in the last few decades, become increasingly intertwined with philology in the German intellectual landscape, and (2) to examine the art of antiquity for its aesthetic qualities, rather than as just objects representative of historical craft (Fatsea 2017, 66). In the Manual, Ross also shaped the future neoclassical discourse by formulating different methods of classical artistic emulation, while still arguing the supremacy of the classical Greek art form (Fatsea 2017, 67). 

As nation-building became the priority of the Greek architectural and archaeological projects, the influence of Winckelmann’s original aesthetically-minded philhellenism was palpable. Winckelmann’s work “aimed at completeness and (neo-)classicizing integrity as it successfully restored the narrative of ancient art” (Orrells 2011, 173).By conserving Greece’s classical monuments and purging its post-classical ones, the Germans reestablished this unbroken narrative, strengthening the legitimacy of the modern Greek nation state while also maintaining an arguably slavish adherence to ancient Greek ideals. This adherence limited Greece’s potential for constructing a new and innovative national identity. To build a new, modern royal palace on the Acropolis near the Parthenon would have sent a powerful message about the continuous narrative of classical Greek history, but von Klenze’s rejection of such proposals in favor of restoring the Parthenon indicated that German ideological statecraft preferred to formulate Greek national sovereignty by excavating and emphasizing its ties to its ancient past. The Germans continued to conceive of Greek cultural value as being embodied by ancient relics. 

The intellectual priorities of these German-driven state policies in architecture and urban development again exposed the liminality of the modern Greek cultural identity. German construction of Greek national identity depended on the excavation and elevation of Greece’s ancient monuments. This process, however, assumed a seamless narrative between the new modern Greek state and its ancient past that did not exist. The presence of architectural elements from intervening periods of Greek history, whether Byzantine, medieval, or Ottoman, undermined the strength of one continued Greek national identity empowered by ideological formulations such as the “continuity thesis.” To the Germans, these previously unacknowledged periods of Greek history made Greece “both holy and polluted…holy as the mythic ancestor of European culture and polluted by the taint of the Turks, viewed by Europeans as the embodiment of barbarism and evil” (Athanassopoulos 2002, 280). To reestablish this continuity, palimpsest monuments needed to have their non-classical elements erased. 

However, numerous prominent Greeks were influenced by German philhellenism in their own actions and policies. Ross’ successor as director of the Archaeological Office, an Athenian autocthon named Kyriakos Pittakis (1798-1863), despite lacking formal archaeological training, had developed an apparently unmatched zeal for antiquities, due to his extensive collaborations with German and other European archaeologists (Athanassopoulos 2002, 295). Besides serving as Director of the Archaeological Office, Pittakis also helped found the Archaeological Society of Athens, and singlehandedly saved various antiquities across Athens and Attica from modern infrastructure developments (Athanassopoulos 2002, 296). Similarly, Alexandros Rizos Rangavis, a heterecthon from Constantinople educated in Munich and Bucharest, held positions at both the Ministry of Education and the University of Athens, and was also a founding member of the Archaeological Society. In a speech at the Society’s inaugural meeting, he echoed the prevailing German view of Greece as a continuous narrative of classical grandeur interrupted by a lengthy “period of enslavement”, the remains of which “had no place in the cultural heritage of the new nation” (Athanassopoulos 2002, 297). 

The best personification of the integration of German intellectual and philhellenic ideals into Greek national identity in the nation-building period was Stephanos Koumanoudis (1818-99). An Adrianopolic Greek who had studied at German universities in Berlin and Munich, Koumanoudis became a prominent figure in the intellectual circles of Othonian Athens due to his “pro-classicist views, consisting of an amalgam of European rationalism, German Idealism, and Greek nationalism” (Fatsea 2017, 69). His works, which explicitly invoked Winckelmann, argued that a glorious Greek revival and the development of resilient modern Greek national identity required a return to the artistic forms of classical Greece, accessible via neoclassicism, as formulated by western European authors. His “bipolar” conceptions of Greek art distinguished between the ancient, “western,” “Greek,” and the Byzantine, “eastern,” “non-Greek” (ibid.). For Koumanoudis, a Greek artistic revival was not possible without the subversion of the latter category. 

Phasing out the German

Although Greece still remained highly dependent on the support of European powers, as the nineteenth century wore on, Greeks gradually assumed greater degrees of leadership within their own country, and the Germans were gradually phased out of the state apparatus. As mentioned previously, many of the Bavarians and other Germans who had arrived in Greece to manage the new state did not remain long. Additionally, domestic rebellions soon undermined the German influence embodied by King Otto’s absolute monarchy. Of the various rebellions that occurred during the Othonian period, two are particularly notable for their results: the first, which occurred in September 1843, resulted in the creation of a representative legislative body and a constitutional charter of monarchical authority, both of which effectively limited King Otto’s authority and transformed the Greek monarchy from an absolute one to a constitutional one. The second rebellion resulted in the deposing of King Otto on October 10, 1862 and the overthrow of the Bavarian dynasty in Greece. This was perceived by many as a symbolic reclamation of national Greek self-determination. 

For many Germans, the symbolic overthrow of German hegemony – via the deposing of King Otto – removed any hope of future German-led excavations in Greece (Bohotis 2017, 122); however, despite Otto’s expulsion, the Greeks would continue collaborating and maintaining close, if somewhat tenuous, ties with the Germans, particularly in fields such as archaeology. In the post-Othonian era, the increased prominence of parliamentarism in Greece and growing nationalist sentiment prompted Germans to adopt a more clientelist attitude toward Greece: archaeological projects were typically organized as collaborations between the two countries, had occurred largely at German expense, and would guarantee at least most of the finds to Greece. Despite these less-than favorable conditions, the Germans still enjoyed increasingly preferential treatment in archaeological matters relative to other European powers. 

Perhaps the best example of these changing political dynamics was the German excavations at Olympia, which began in October 1875 after more than two decades of negotiations and postponements due to European geopolitical upheavals. The Prussian historian and archaeologist Ernst Curtius (1814-96) led the excavations with support from both the Prussian King Wilhelm I and the Reichstag, which signifies a shift toward a new era of “grand-scale” archaeology and “cultural diplomacy” between Greece and Germany (Marchand 1996, 84). Through providing the Germans with exclusive digging rights at Olympia, Greece secured a closer political relationship with this major European power as well as secured for Greece a “future friendly position toward Greek demands regarding the Eastern question:” the method of partitioning former Ottoman territories as the empire continued to decline (Bohotis 2017, 125-126). German excavations at Olympia would continue until 1881, and they remained a symbol of Greco-German cooperation. 

For German intellectuals and philhellenes, the establishment of the Modern Greek nation represented the realization of a dream several generations in the making. Spurred on by the promise of a grand revival of ancient Greece and its cultural legacy in the form of the newly-independent Greek state, German intellectuals, who occupied many of the highest positions within the Greek state apparatus, exerted a particularly strong influence in fields such as education, archaeology, and urban planning. Influenced by the German philhellenism of its leaders, the Greek state enacted policies of classical conservationism and revivalism, which shaped the development of Greek national identity in accordance with this same German intellectualism; throughout the nation-building period, however, German direct influence in Greece declined as Greeks gradually assumed control over their own government. Despite this decline, the Greco-German relationship was still collaborative, especially within the realms of archaeology. The next period of Greek history characterized by the overt imposition of German ideological hegemony was in the context of armed conflict with Nazi Germany, which was on a much greater scale than before. The racial ideology touted by Germany’s Nazi regime appropriated and manipulated the cultural peculiarities of the Greco-German relationship that had developed since the advent of German philhellenism itself. 

V.   Nazism and the Occupation Era

Creating a Racial Ideology

Wickelmann’s veneration of Ancient Greece laid the foundation of German philhellenism and shaped decades of subsequent neoclassical discourse, in turn inspiring many Germans to support Greece during its War of Independence. His obsession with Greek aesthetics also created a reductive, and therefore potentially dangerous, form of philosophy predicated on admiration of Greek visual ideals. Furthermore, his anthropological conception of Greek art as an organic product of Greek cultural civilization included explicit appeals to a racialized notion of Greek identity which Winckelmann saw as superior to that of its peer-nations. For example, his considerations of intermarriage between Greeks and other races like Georgians and Kadardinskians ascribed a moral and productive quality to the Greek race: one that was diluted and lessened by intermarriage with non-Greek peoples (Winckelmann 1766, 20-21, 25-26).[4]Wolf held similarly anthropological and racialized views of Greek superiority, and this was reflected in his conception of classical philology. Wolf explicitly excluded other ancient cultures such as the Egyptians and Persians from his Altertumswissenschaft, on account of their purported inferior Geistescultur (“intellectual culture”) compared to that of the Greeks or Romans (Marchand 1996, 20-21). 

Between the rise of the Nazi regime and the German Occupation of Greece in 1941, the intellectual landscape that shaped so much of Germany’s foreign policy changed greatly. The Germans had abandoned their singular humanistic obsession with the Greek form in favor of racial politics that centered on the supremacy of the “German man,” as “antiquity, under the National Socialist regime, no longer represented the source of European norms, but had become merely a storehouse of forms to be ransacked for aesthetic effect or political self-legitimation…the culmination of the antihistoricist pedagogy and aestheticizing Winckelmania of the late 1920s” (Marchand 1996, 341). The regime’s funding of a complete edition of Winckelmann’s works that was to be read as part of Nazi youth education only underscored both the racialized elements of Winckelmann’s formulations and their renewed importance in the Nazi era (Roche 2018, 550). German racial science, in its asserting of a doctrine of blood kinship between the ancient Greeks and modern German race, had cast the former as “pure Aryans”, and the latter as the heirs to Greek antiquity (Roche 2018, 547). The fusion of German intellectual contemplations of the Greek aesthetic ideal and contemporary racial science mutated the Neoclassicist philosophy shaped by German scholars such as Ludwig Ross into a “liberal-minded cult of the Germano-Greek body” (Marchand 1996, 341). 

Although classical philology as a field declined in Germany after the rise of the Third Reich, many Germanophiles stressed the spiritual commonality and shared prehistorical blood ancestry of Germans and Greeks, granting a certain degree of security to classicists, especially since Hitler himself was an ardent admirer of Greek art and architecture (Marchand 1996, 350). Nevertheless, antiquity was only useful for Nazism insofar as it contributed to the Aryan historiography utilized by the Nazi regime. Accordingly, the intellectual and academic landscape in Germany was filtered and homogenized: numerous professors of classical philology in Germany, whose approaches to philology differed from the newly-proliferated theories of German prehistory and Nazi racial policies, were removed from their posts; others were removed simply on account of their race or religion; still others left voluntarily, preferring the safer academic environments of nations such as the United States or elsewhere in Western Europe (Marchand 1996, 345; Altekamp 2018). 

Classicists increasingly required state patronage to secure their jobs and ability to disseminate their works, and thus became increasingly pressured to align politically–and even intellectually–with the regime (Marchand 1996, 343). Within German schools and in the field of classical pedagogy, teachers increasingly conceived of ancient literature as a means of communicating to youth the present political importance of topics such as martial valor and racial purity (Roche 2018). Meanwhile, in the field of archaeology, the Nazis similarly appropriated the Winckelmannian ideal Greek male, with his white marble construction and characteristic musculature and masculinity, as the exemplary Aryan man who formed the foundation of Nazi racial politics. Just as had been the case in the late eighteenth century with Winckelmann, Germans had appropriated ancient Greek ideals and amplified their corporeal aspects.

As aforementioned, Greco-German interactions following the overthrow of King Otto and the Bavarian dynasty had continued, particularly in the field of archaeology. Additionally, prior to the German invasion of Greece, under the Nazi regime, German scientists had made numerous expeditions to Greece for paleontological, geological, and anthropological research, with hopes to identify the feasibility of German “modern colonization,” which would work to further German economic interests in the Balkans (Zarifi 2016, 218). German scientists would continue their examinations of the Greek landscape over the course of the next decade, frequently seeking out colleagues in Greek organizations like Athens University and the Athenian Academy of Science for collaboration (Zarifi 2016, 225-226). The most overt display of pre-invasion cultural dialogue between Greece and Germany occurred in the form of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. 

The Berlin Olympics were an ideological spectacle that showcased both Nazi propaganda – illuminating conceptions of German self-image – and German prowess. The 1936 Olympics also introduced the torch relay, now a staple of the modern Olympics, which consisted of lighting the Olympic torch in Greece, and relay to and arrival at the Olympic stadium in Berlin. In fact, the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda developed this torch relay specially for the 1936 Olympics (Wildmann 2018, 74). Leni Riefenstahl’s subsequent documentary on the Berlin Olympics, Olympia – The film of the 11th Olympic Games Berlin 1936, best represents how the Germans, under the Nazi regime, appropriated Ancient Greek ideals, using them as philosophical and ideological foundations of Nazi thought, while simultaneously showcasing how these foundations were manipulated to serve the goals of German hegemony. 

The regime commissioned Riefenstahl – one of the most famous filmmakers of the period and an ardent Nazi sympathizer – to create numerous propaganda films, including Olympia. The first part of the film, entitled “Festival of Nations,” opens with the ruins of the Acropolis and ancient statues, before transitioning into athletic performances of a living athlete, played by the German decathlon-champion Erwin Huber (Riefenstahl 1938). These ancient statues include representations of Greek gods, mythical heroes, and great historical figures. The introduction of Huber’s character occurs after a transition from a shot of the famous statue of the Myron discus thrower, whose position Huber assumes (see Appendix, Figure 1). The progression of antique figures is presented as “a genealogical sequence culminating in Huber himself” (Wildmann 2018, 68). Similarly, Riefenstahl’s portrayal of the torch relay culminates with the immolation of a “Greek” torchbearer and accompanying female athletes, followed by his symbolic rebirth from the flames, which occurs in the Olympic stadium in Berlin (see Appendix, Figure 2). Each of the two depictions illustrates one half of the Nazi conception of the Greco-German relationship: in the former, the physical prowess of the German athlete is presented as both the modern incarnation of and heir to the mythical greatness and aesthetic grandeur of Greek antiquity. In the latter, the Olympic flame in Berlin is the site of rebirth for the prototypical “classical” Greek. As expressions of German self-image, the 1936 Berlin Olympics and Reifenstahl’s Olympia showcased and celebrated a national German ideology rooted in the intellectual appropriation of Ancient Greece and its ideals. 

By early 1941, it had become apparent that Germany intended to aid its fellow Axis power, Italy, by invading Greece, which had been at war with Italy since October of the previous year and had succeeded in both repelling Italian advances from Albania and in capturing portions of Albania itself. The Greek response to the threat of invasion and occupation was a mixture of fear and national pride. Perhaps journalist Georgios Vlachos expressed the most important articulation of these sentiments in the period immediately leading up to the German Occupation in his March 8, 1941 “Open Letter to A. Hitler,” which today is widely considered as the most moving work of Greek journalism, and is read by practically every Greek citizen.[5] To Vlachos, despite its relatively small size and “naive” status as a modern nation, Greece displayed a powerful obedience to its own historical and cultural legacy through resisting the impending German invasion. His allusion to the Berlin Olympics of 1936 indicates both the Greek awareness of the cultural relationship with Germany and the freshness of the event in Greek national consciousness: the Germans had, through their assumption of the Olympic torch, appropriated the ancient Greek custom of the Olympics, and now intended to turn this same custom against its creators. His characterization of Greece also indicates great national pride and self-awareness of Greece’s status as the cradle of civilization and the architect of democratic principles. Just as ancient Greece had served as a model for the Western world, now the modern Greek state was to be a model of resistance against tyranny and a foreign empire that had appropriated Greek culture. The work’s cemented status within Greek national consciousness only confirms the national resonance of Vlachos’s words. 

The Greek spirit and commitment to oppose the German offensive was also characterized by the brevity of Prime Minister Koryzis’s February 18 response to the Germans via Alexander Rangavis, his ambassador in Berlin: “We will fight” (Stassinopoulos 1997, 81). The words of both Vlachos and Koryzis recall the famous reply of the ancient Athenians to the envoys of the invading forces during the Persian Wars, described by the ancient historian Herodotus: “We know of ourselves that the power of the Mede is many times greater than our own…Yet we have such a hunger for freedom that we will fight as long as we are able” (Herodotus 1987, 610). Like Herodotus’s Athenians, Vlachos represents the Greeks as militarily outmatched, yet fiercely defiant against an impending invasion by a foreign imperial power; while Greece has little hope of success against the foreign invaders, its defiance against oppressive hegemony is significant. 

The German Occupation of Greece

The Occupation of Greece began with Germany’s invasion of the country from Bulgaria and Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941. The German invasion of Greece resulted in the country’s swift capture within two months, though German forces notably suffered more damages and casualties than had been predicted by either side. Greece was subsequently divided into three occupied areas, split among Germany, Italy, and Bulgaria. Germany itself retained control over some of Greece’s most strategically important areas, which included Athens and Attica, Crete, the Aegean islands, and Central and Western Macedonia. The Occupation lasted until October 1944, and was marked by intense retributive cruelty against the Greeks, particularly in Crete, the last site of Greek resistance: entire villages were burned; German confiscation of agricultural products led to widespread starvation (now known in Greece as the Great Famine); Axis demands in 1942 for a massive loan of 1.5 billion drachmae per month from the Bank of Greece led to rampant inflation, crippling the Greek economy.[6] The German reign of terror was systematic and efficient, and it is estimated that out of a total population of roughly 7,500,000, around 300,000 Greeks perished during the Occupation (Kostis 2018, 302). With the Greek state being subsequently run by a series of collaborationist governments, the task of resistance fell chiefly on the Greek people themselves via spiritual defiance and organized resistance groups. 

Besides the various tools of oppression typically employed by the Nazi regime in occupied countries – economic devastation, widespread famine, corruption of the media and other public institutions– the Greeks suffered from additional cultural humiliations imposed by the occupying German forces. The conceived spiritual and blood kinship between the Nazis and the ancient Greeks “resulted in a widespread presumption that Germans had a right to control Greek heritage, even in its most tangible forms” (Altekamp 2018, 312). In practice, this resulted in massive encroachments on Greek national sovereignty by the occupiers. Once again, German archaeological projects flourished as the conquerors, headed by the efforts of individuals such as the German Archaeological Institute’s president Martin Schede, sponsored renewed campaigns of archaeological excavation, preservation, and restoration (Marchand 1996, 353). Now these excavations often occurred without Greek government approval, even sometimes going against its wishes, encouraging the theft of antiquities, and, in extreme cases, even threatening Greek national security interests. One particular collaboration between the German Archaeological Institute and the German air force resulted in the German acquisition of over 11,000 aerial photographs of Greek territory (Altekamp 2018, 312). 

The liberation of Greece and the end of the Occupation began with the German retreat from Athens on October 12, 1944 and its later retreat from the remainder of the mainland by the end of that month; the economic devastation, widespread loss of life, and symbolic cultural indignities endured by the Greek people at the hands of the Germans would, however, remain seared into the Greek national consciousness for generations to come. Both Greece and Germany would undergo profound political and economic changes before their eventual cultural and ideological conflict would be reignited by the onset of the Euro Crisis in the early 2010s, dredging up the hallmarks of Greek suffering in the minds of Greek people by once again pitting Greece against Germany and its ideological hegemony. 

VI.   The Euro Crisis: A Greco-German Collision Course

Pre-Crisis Ascendancy

Despite various domestic destabilizations and periods of unrest – including a Civil War and a military dictatorship – as the twentieth century wore on, Greece gradually continued on its course of economic growth and political integration with Europe. In 1981, Greece became the tenth member state of the European Economic Community (EEC); with the signing of the Treaty of Maastricht on February 7, 1992, Greece, along with the other eleven European member states that comprised the EEC at the time, became a member of the newly-established European Union. Just nine years later on January 1, 2001, Greece adopted the euro single currency. Throughout this period of integration, access to the European Single Market facilitated massive capital flows into the country, leading to steady real per capita income growth and a decline in unemployment (Tsafos 2013, 43-44). The pre-Crisis trajectory of Greek growth and integration with Europe was hailed as a sign of Greek national progress and was a great source of national pride for the Greek people: upon Greece’s accession to the EEC, then-prime minister Georgios I. Rallis, a primary negotiator of the accession, proclaimed Greece that “no longer [was] the ‘missing Balkan country’, ignored by everybody, and [now it had become] equal [sic.] to the great countries of the West” (Kostis 2018, 365); regarding the adoption of the euro currency, then-Finance Minister Ioannis Papandoniou proclaimed that these changes would “place Greece firmly at the heart of Europe” (BBC News 2001). 

This narrative of Greek economic and political ascendancy culminated in Greece’s hosting of the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens.[7] Various aspects of the Games, ranging from its motto, “welcome home”, mascots and other visual symbols, and opening ceremony emphasized the triumphant expression of Greece’s cultural legacy: at long last, the Olympics had returned to their birthplace (The International Olympic Committee 2004). The Olympics were also a landmark demonstration of Greek productive capabilities – this was the first time a “small country was faced with such a complex organizational and technological project” – and facilitated the improvement of infrastructure in Athens as well as around other parts of the country (Kostis 2018, 385). In the eyes of the Greek people and international community, Greece had finally achieved the levels of development, integration, and cultural pride it had sought since its establishment as a modern nation. As an exclusive member of the ongoing European Union, Greece had joined the ranks of the Europe’s most developed and influential nations as a marshal of a future of European integration and progress, triumphantly reclaiming its cultural patrimony, which it showcased while hosting the countries of the world at the 2004 Olympics. This sweeping narrative of Greek ascendancy overlooked brewing financial problems that did not concretely manifest until five years later, when the economic fallout from the global financial crisis provided the sufficient triggers to push Greece, along with the rest of Europe, into crisis. 

Greek financial instability had been growing long before the rising borrowing costs and declining access to financing connected to the global financial crisis occurred, making Greece’s national debt levels unsustainable. Among its principles of integration, the Treaty of Maastricht had outlined “fiscal convergence criteria” for EU member states that would facilitate the successful adoption of the euro (Council on Foreign Relations, 2018): Greece had been unable to adopt the euro currency during its initial launch in 1999, as it had not met this pre-established criteria.[8] Even Greece’s belated welcome to the eurozone in 2001 was allowed only via exemption from the fiscal convergence criteria which, Greece – with its higher levels of inflation and public spending at that time – had still not met.[9] Greece’s budget deficit doubled between 2000 and 2004, and its debt-to-GDP ratio rose due to decreased state revenues stemming from lower taxes, rising public spending and the costs of the 2004 Athens Olympics.[10] Some of these issues, as well as Greece’s growing trade deficit, were at least partly attributable to the institutional structure of the eurozone (Tsafos 2013, 44). Due to its inclusion of both more-productive northern European and less-productive southern European economies, the eurozone facilitated the development of large trade imbalances between the two groups. To finance mounting trade deficits, southern European countries such as Greece increasingly turned to foreign lending, leading to the substantial buildup of sovereign debt. 

During this period of growth, the Greek political party system was dominated by two parties, New Democracy (ND) and Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), who alternated power. After the reinstitution of democracy, conservative ND governments enacted policies that prioritized trade protectionism, widespread nationalization of failing firms, and inflation containment, despite an ongoing economic slowdown indicating the conclusion of the postwar growth period. These government policies overburdened the state-controlled banking system and caused the overall size of the public sector to swell. Widespread trends in economic liberalization, heightened calls for social change, and the broad appeal of PASOK to the “petty bourgeois social constellation” of Greek society enabled a landslide PASOK victory in the 1981 elections (Kalyvas 2015, 131). The PASOK government adopted a strategy of expansionary fiscal policy and public sector growth, leading to huge benefits for both farmers and low-income wage earners (Kalyvas 2015, 144). However, these policies also bolstered aforementioned problems surrounding mounting trade deficits, soaring inflation, and public debt: problems which subsequently persisted over the next two decades under both parties’ governments. 

The Euro Crisis

After government elections in October 2009, the new administration under prime minister George Papandreou revised previous estimates of that year’s public deficit from 6 to 12.7 percent, resulting in a swift downgrade of Greek bonds by international credit-rating agencies. This, in turn, “accelerated an exodus of mostly foreign investors in Greek government debt” (Kostis 2018, 392). With the government thus unable to service its debt, Greece risked sovereign default, prompting experts and public officials to consider a range of options, which included the very real possibility of a “Grexit” from the eurozone. Due to its inclusion in the eurozone, Greece’s options for crisis resolution were limited: its use of the euro single currency prevented Greece from exercising independent monetary policy, while the lack of an analogous eurozone fiscal policy meant there were even fewer methods of addressing potential sovereign default (Kostis 2018, 404). Greek financial instability also prompted a critical reexamination of the European integration project, which hitherto had been considered a widespread success, despite concerns about its economic sustainability present before the introduction of the euro (Frieden 1998). 

These underlying structural factors and constrained policy options set Greece, which now considered itself “an entity dominated by mechanisms of financial and political control”, on an ideological collision course with its creditors: in particular, Germany, the economic hegemon of the eurozone, whose banks were some of Greece’s primary creditors (Kalantzis 2015, 1042; Bulmer 2014). Within the eurozone, Germany occupied many of the most prominent positions of authority in both the supranational structure of the EU and the so-called “troika” of the EU, the ECB, and the IMF, whose 2010 “Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies” outlined a solution for resolving Greek debt. Under the terms of the Memorandum, Greece’s government would receive financial sponsorship of its debt from the ECB in exchange for the implementation of austerity, which included various structural reforms such as tax hikes and expenditure reductions: measures that were politically unpalatable to Greece and its people (Kostis 2018, 409). Citing the argument of ‘moral hazard’, Germany was also quick to dismiss other forms of crisis mitigation such as debt forgiveness or the implementation of ‘haircuts’ on investments by Greece’s creditors, which included German banks, preferring methods of crisis resolution that resembled its own domestic strategies (Tzogopoulos 2012, 6). 

Greece was certainly not the only country whose domestic crisis threatened the stability of the eurozone, being one of the group of at-risk countries derogatorily known as ‘PIIGS’ (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain); however, compared to that of its fellow European countries, the Greek crisis triggered a uniquely “unprecedented clash between the Hellenic Republic and Germany on both political and public opinion levels”, characterized by continuous cultural hostility between the two countries (Tzogopoulos 2013, 133-134). Crisis-era acrimonious relations between Greece and Germany were derived not just from disputes over economic policy and political hegemony, but also originated from culturally-supported blame narratives that ascribed essential qualities to both the Greek and German peoples, purporting to explain the characteristics of the ongoing crisis (Sierp et al. 2017, 1). Accordingly, Greco-German cultural dialogue during the Euro Crisis was unique in its production of, and reliance on, national cultural stereotypes, which both countries employed to contextualize the conditions of the current crisis both at home and abroad. These stereotyping phenomena were pervasive throughout all levels of Greek and German society, ranging from the most senior politicians to ordinary citizens. 

The Role of Mass Media

Since the earliest stages of the Greek crisis, German media has distinguished itself from its fellow European countries in terms of the volume of German journalism about Greece (see Appendix, Figure 3), as well as the nature of such content: from 2009-13, when compared their American, British, French, and Italian counterparts, Germany’s news institutions were some of most outspoken critics of Greece. Germany was also an outlier in terms of its production of satirical, offensive, and even hostile content about Greece: Germany’s media institutions were one of only two of the aforementioned nations whose media institutions suggested that Greece reduce its debt by selling its cultural monuments and islands (Tzogopoulos 2013, 103-105, 129). German cultural representations of the Greek crisis relied primarily on negative stereotypes of the Greek people, who became scapegoats for the ongoing crisis. German individuals and institutions ascribed a host of derogatory qualities to the Greek people, such as laziness, corruption, and profligacy. Greece was cast as the ‘black sheep’ of Europe, and this was reflected in the country’s portrayal in the international press (Kostis 2018, 393): German media outlets, such as the tabloid magazine Bild, amplified the thoughts and opinions of German citizens who, convinced that the Greek crisis was attributable to the Greek people, were resolved not to pay a single cent to help resolve it (Tzogopoulos 2013, 80). This resolve permeated throughout German society, as demonstrated by the results of a March 2010 poll on the first Greek bailout by the French company IFOP, which reported that almost 80 percent of German respondents were opposed to providing Greece with financial aid in the interests of European solidarity (Tzogopoulos 2013, 59). 

In addition to negative characterizations of Greece and its people, German individuals and institutions sought to contextualize these stereotypes using explanatory narratives of Greek culture. Bild provided pseudo-sociological accounts of Greek methods of corruption such as tax evasion (Tzogopoulos 2013, 110-111), while Der Spiegel, another German mainstream magazine, stressed the moral qualities of the ongoing crisis and prescribed austerity measures, which were presented as necessary disciplinary measures imposed on a ‘misbehaved’ populace. The failures of austerity were presented in a similar manner and were attributed to their lack of effective enforcement in Greece (Mylonas 2015, 259-260). German media institutions even compared the two countries directly, offering cultural explanations for Greece’s ongoing crisis and its greater severity compared to the crisis in Germany: in March 2010, the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published a letter directed to former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou which, in addition to articulating various stereotypes of the Greek people, described perceived cultural differences between Greek and German habits. These alleged differences included Germany’s longer working hours, lack of widespread corruption such as bribe culture, lower volume of pensions, and respect for the EU’s allocation of subsidies (Tzogopoulos 2013, 114-115). In all, the ongoing Greek crisis was seen in increasingly cultural terms: German media treated Greece’s financial woes treated as the product of elements of Greek culture itself, and thus was attributed to essential qualities of the Greek people writ large. 

The second component of German cultural representations of the Greek crisis was the simultaneous elevation and degradation of Greek cultural symbols. In an interview with Bild magazine, Josef Schlarmann, a senior member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, and Frank Schaeffler, a finance policy expert in the Free Democrats, addressed possible solutions for Greece’s public debt, proclaiming “[s]ell your islands, you Broke Greeks … and the Acropolis too!” (Bild 2010; Mylonas 2012, 650-651). The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung expressed similar sentiments in a 2010 article entitled “Who will buy a Greek island?”, which commented on the value of various state-owned assets, such as the Acropolis and Greece’s approximately 3000 islands, and their potential sale, questioning, “is there a market for white ruins from ancient times?” (von Petersdorff 2010). Besides being generally callous and disrespectful of Greek culture and national identity, these statements implied that the sole objects of value in modern Greek society were its antiquities, national property, and cultural symbols. Furthermore, these statements reduced these national symbols to mere commodities and preached that, in order to save itself, Greece must sell off its cultural symbols and national sovereignty. 

By the summer of 2011, most Greeks had considered the 2010 Memorandum a failure, interpreting Germany’s insistence on conditional lending policies, promises for structural reforms, and austerity measures as not just ineffective, but as actively malicious. When referring to German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble in a February 15, 2012 interview, Greek President Karolos Papoulias proclaimed, “I don’t accept that my country is vilified by Mr. Schäuble. I don’t accept it as a Greek person. Who is Mr. Schäuble to humiliate Greece?” (Tzogopoulos 2012, 7). In this particular statement, Papoulias’s disagreement with Schäuble derives from his identity as a Greek citizen. Negative characterizations of German hegemony became omnipresent across the Greek political spectrum, ranging from the right-wing party LAOS’s leader George Karatzaferis’ descriptions of a “German domination” to the left-wing SYRIZA’s leader Alexis Tsipras’s descriptions of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “economic chauvinism” (ibid.). 

By far the most provocative characterization of Germany – by both Greece and the international community writ-large – describes contemporary Germany as a rebirthed Nazi state. The legacy of German atrocities during the Nazi era is ingrained in the national identity and historical consciousness of several European countries, while accusations of renewed Nazism in response to German conduct have periodically been voiced throughout Europe since the fall of the regime itself (Droumpouki 2013, 190; Rosenfeld 2019). Nevertheless, the conditions of the euro crisis stoked and intensified anti-German sentiment predicated on characterizations of renewed Nazism: Greek citizens compared the limitation of Greece’s sovereignty under the conditions of the 2010 Memorandum to the Nazi occupation itself (Adler-Nissen 2017; Sierp et al. 2017), while German influence on the EU’s crisis response stoked fears of an impending economic “Fourth Reich”, with data from a VPRC poll in February 2012 indicated that 79 percent of polled Greeks had a negative view of Germany, 32.4 percent associated Germany with Nazism and the Third Reich, and 77 percent feared that Germany’s policies aimed at the creation of a Fourth Reich (Rosenfeld 2019, 274-275, 279; Tzogopoulos 2013, 134). Greek protests frequently invoked Nazi symbols to describe German actions: depictions of Angela Merkel during her October 9, 2012 visit to Athens for austerity talks depicted her with bloody fangs in full Nazi uniform (Sierp et al. 2017; Adler-Nissen 2017, 208), while a group of protestors, clad similarly in ‘Nazi’ uniforms, drove a makeshift Wehrmacht vehicle through the crowd (Kalantzis 2015, 1060). For some Greeks, insinuations or even explicit mentions of Nazism have become a defensive mechanism against foreign (read: German) criticism. The 2015 Greek referendum on the acceptance of the third bailout package even employed the same rhetoric used by the Greek people and press in the Second World War when Greece was faced with the prospect of Axis invasion in 1940 – “ΟΧΙ” (“NO”) – thus ascribing the refusal of the bailout package with the historical resonance of the Greek defiance against the Axis invasion (Mavrogordatos 2010, 132). 

Greek accusations of renewed Nazism have also infiltrated the more sober landscape of Greco-German economic dialogue via intensified Greek demands for wartime reparations. Although Greece received limited reparations from West Germany in 1960, Greeks have periodically argued the existence of vast sums of unpaid reparations still owed by Germany (Adler-Nissen 2017, 210). In the era of the euro crisis, these claims have been advanced even by high-ranking Greek politicians (Rosenfeld 2019). Former deputy prime minister Theodoros Pangalos implicitly attributed the Greek plight to historical German maltreatment, proclaiming “[the Nazis] took away the Greek gold that was in the Bank of Greece, they took away the Greek money and they never gave it back … I don’t say they have to give back the money necessarily but they have at least to say ‘thanks’” (Knight 2013, 154; Michealidou 2017, 97). As a defensive rhetorical tool that gives Greece economic leverage over Germany, claims of overdue German reparations augmented Greek anti-German cultural arguments with economic legitimacy by suggesting that the economic conditions of the current crisis could be contextualized and explained by cultural history. Although such arguments generally proved ineffective, they nonetheless reinforced public notions of the current crisis as a conflict between two nations, rather than as a systemic European problem. Portraying the euro crisis in this way was useful for both sides of the conflict: for Greece, explaining Greek debt using claims of unpaid reparations absolved it of its own financial mismanagement; for Germany, public perceptions of the Euro Crisis as a two-country conflict absolved it of its role in creating the flawed design of the eurozone. 

Just as Greek representations of the euro crisis emphasized its historical parallels with past crises such as the German Occupation, Greek characterizations of “oppressors” were distinctly “(poly)temporal”.(Knight 2013, 153). Germany’s exercise of hegemonic, “Nazi” policies was presented as a return to form, and as an expression of essential qualities of “German-ness” rooted in the oppression of its fellow European countries, Greece in particular (Sierp et al. 2017, 3). In one extreme example, a Greek conspiracy theory implied that in addition to her supposed affinity for Hitler, Angela Merkel was actually his genetic relative. In such views, “Merkel, as a contemporary national leader, belongs to an aesthetic and blood lineage of German-ness that includes Nazism as an inherent trait and depicts Hitler as an archetypical agnate” (Kalzantis 2015, 1053). Using the extreme historical stigma of Nazism, Greeks undermine contemporary German behavior by ascribing perceived defining characteristics of the German people to both explain and immediately discredit their current conduct. Referring to the ongoing crisis, a Trikala resident remarked: “[i]t is history repeating itself. The Germans do not want to compromise and will take everything they can from us. They caused us famine before; they will cause it again now. They treat Greece as their private ciftlik [colony]…It is another colonization” (Knight 2013, 154-155). The conservative politician Panos Kammeros proclaimed, “[w]e are Greeks…We defeated [the Germans] in the [Second World] War. We will also beat them in the Fourth Reich that they are attempting to push through” (Rosenfeld 2019, 279). 

In these cultural and historical understandings of the Greek financial crisis, we can see the vast toll of Greek history on its modern national identity. Ordinary Greek citizens contextualized the recent crisis as the latest expression of German and European cultural dominance over Greece, part of a cultural narrative that has persisted since the founding of the modern Greek state. Appeals to unpaid German war reparations and cultural cycles of German violence derive from formulations of Greek nationalism predicated on the notion of Greek victimhood at the hands of Germany. Greek oppression by outside forces has ingrained itself in Greek national identity: as one Kalampaka resident remarked,“[w]e are all descendants of the people who worked these plains…[n]ow I can begin to understand what my ancestors went through…It is exactly the same. Our fields are being ruled by outside forces…Greece has become the ciftlik of Europe” (Knight 2013, 154). These formulations of Greek national identity are cumulative and are a product of two centuries of repeated imposition of German intellectual, cultural, and ideological hegemony on Greece. 

Additionally, mass media is significantly influential as it is a space filled with constructive institutions, which, in addition to conveying national thoughts and opinions, actually create and shape them (Tzogopoulos 2015, 6). Visual representations of Greece showcasing antiquated, historical, or trivializing stereotypes have become ubiquitous in international mass media. The February 22, 2010 cover of the German tabloid magazine Focus depicted the famous Greek statue Aphrodite of Milos, clothed from the waste-down in a torn and dirty Greek flag, raising her middle finger. The title of the magazine, translated, reads: “Cheater in the Euro-Family”; the subtitle: “Greece is robbing us of our Money – and what about Spain, Portugal, Italy?” A subsequent May 3, 2010 cover depicted the same statue, again clad in the torn flag, but this time with her hand outstretched, the title reading, “Greece – and our Money!”, and the subtitle reading, “What to expect from Her” (see Appendix, Figure 4). Greece, represented by a classical statue, initially projects rude defiance, then demonstrates supplication; it begins as a heckler, cheating on its European “family” by not adhering to eurozone regulations and maintaining unsustainably high levels of public debt, but swiftly becomes a beggar coming to Germany for money, an action particularly pathetic given the magazine’s earlier depiction of Greek defiance. The sequential nature of the two covers aims to emphasize both the pathetic irony of this defiance, and of Europe’s subversion caused by Greek financial woes; the depiction of Greece giving the middle finger during the daytime, followed by its begging at dusk, highlights this reality while also reflecting the country’s worsening economic situation. 

Other graphic details of these two covers also reveal far more nuanced, personal sentiments about Greece, as expressed by a form of media catering to the views of ordinary German citizens. The depiction of Greece as Aphrodite is almost certainly no accident: among the deities of the Ancient Greek pantheon, Aphrodite is notorious for both her egocentrism and infidelity (Heinrich et al. 2017, 118), an aspect of her identity only reinforced by the February cover’s characterization of Greece as the “cheater” in the EU “family.” Notably, the text of these covers portrays the crisis as a “nation-state affair only,” rather than as a situation between Greece and the EU that affects the latter’s growth and development (Heinrich et al. 2017, 120) The February cover addresses the possibility of economic contagion by invoking specific EU member states, while the May cover depicts Greece as begging for German (rather than European) money. This method of portrayal could, of course, be a symptom of mass media’s tendency to simplify complex issues (in this case: the economic and political dynamics of the euro crisis) in order to make coverage of those issues more palatable to consumers. However, these portrayals seem to go beyond visual pragmatism, and reflect a cultural mindset. A common German intepretation of the euro cisis is less as a conflict between a foreign nation and a supranational governing structure and more as a conflict between two nations: the Federal Republic of Germany and the Hellenic Republic.

In both cases, the classical rendering of the statue’s façade contradicts the actions depicted. While statuesque representation of Greece’s ancient past still characterized views of the nation, that past has been corrupted: the statue’s posture and expression, typically noble and austere, are perverted and mocked through the addition of uncouth, pathetic gestures, while the serene grace of the white marble contrasts sharply with the tattered and sordid Greek flag covering its genitalia. These two covers portray Greece, in essence, as a perversion: a once-noble, yet damaged, ancient statue debased and corrupted by the addition of modern gestures and garments. While ancient Greece may have been the pinnacle of art and culture, the modern nation is defiant and suppliant, representative of an uncouth present only highlighted by its juxtaposition with its past. 

Another German magazine, Der Spiegel, published an issue in May 2012, entitled “Akropolis Adieu!” Its subtitle reads: “Why Greece has to leave the Euro now,” and the cover depicts the remains of an ancient column, topped with a shattered euro coin, half of which lies on the ground; the image is set against a backdrop of Greek ruins (see Appendix, Figure 5). The magazine issue’s title refers to a 1971 chanson that “describes the nostalgic farewell from Athens as an unrealistic dream location” (Heinrich et al. 2017, 120). Taken together, the cover and title’s message are clear: Greece’s glory, embodied by its antiquities, has been lost and can never be regained; the modern Greek reality is one of devastation, a decrepit version of its former glory that now threatens the destruction of the entire euro system, represented by the broken euro coin. As a whole, these three examples of German graphical media represent modern Greeks as a sort of “failed offspring” of their glorious ancient predecessors, whose financial instability is presented as not just dangerous to the entire eurozone, but also indicative of an inferior culture (Herzfeld 2016a, 12). 

Meanwhile, Greek citizens’ graphical depictions of German cultural stereotypes, while arguably less nuanced in their characterizations and methods, are equally illustrative. The German salvo in the form of the February 2010 Focuscover ignited a war of media stereotypes between the two countries; and in the context of this war, Greece has been perhaps an equally active participant. Characterizations of German politicians and other prominent figures as Nazis form the bedrock of stereotyping or censure of Germany by the Greek media. Just one day after the February 2010 Focus cover, the Greek conservative newspaper Eleftheros Typos answered with an article entitled: “The financial occupation of … the Fourth Reich is spreading.” The accompanying photo depicts Berlin’s Victory Column, a representation of the goddess Victory (a Roman analogue of the Greek goddess Nike) clasping a raised swastika (see Appendix, Figure 6). The newspaper cover’s inclusion of a small reproduction of the original Focus cover demonstrated the tit-for-tat nature of the Greek response: the Greeks were prepared to communicate using the same visual, trope-reductionist discourse as the Germans. This depiction of a German national symbol mocks the very foundations of German national identity, positing it as being rooted in Nazism, while also demonstrating how Greeks themselves have internalized German conceptions of national identity that are rooted in classical symbols. 

On February 10, 2012, just after the Greek government agreed to a second bailout conditioned upon similar mandates of increased austerity, budget cuts, and structural reforms, the Greek newspaper Dimokratia published an issue with a cover article entitled “DACHAU!” with the subtitle, “Memorandum Macht Frei” (“Memorandum Makes You Free”), an adaptation of the Nazi slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Makes You Free”), which was written above numerous concentration camps during the Second World War. The cover also featured an image of Merkel, depicted in Nazi uniform (see Appendix, Figure 7). Aside from its more obvious accusations, such as Merkel’s supposed embodiment of renewed Nazism, the article depicted the German-led second bailout as tools to extract Greek labor, ensuring suffering, and death through its austerity measures. By likening the Second Memorandum to the Dachau concentration camp, the article also construed German policies as being racially motivated: just as the Nazis aimed at the persecution and destruction of the entire Jewish race, so too were contemporary Germans attempting to do the same to the Greeks. As with past examples of graphical media during the euro crisis, this cover contributed to Greek public perceptions that the crisis demonstrated historical continuity with prior German domination over Greece.

VII.   Conclusion

A History of Mutual Misunderstanding

Greek understandings of the Greco-German relationship emphasize history: the formation of the modern Greek state that was achieved with the support of German intellectualism. Greece’s new state apparatus was filled with German intellectuals who became the architects of Greek state policies that shaped the new nation according to German conceptions of Greek identity. During the Second World War, Germans appropriated ancient Greek culture to create  racialized ideological foundations that supported the Nazi goal of European conquest, which Germany in turn used to brutally suppress Greece under the Occupation. To Greeks in the euro crisis, German-designed EU bailout packages, with their mandated austerity policies and structural reforms, simply represented the latest manifestation of German domination over Greece that has characterized the Greco-German relationship since its inception. Greek crisis-era criticisms of Germany appeal to this historical legacy of German dominion over Greece to explain the current Greek plight: Germans oppressed Greece during the crisis with their current economic ideology because, throughout modern Greek history, Germans have always oppressed Greece with their ideology, be intellectual, philhellenic, racial, military, or other ideologies.

Meanwhile, German understanding of the Greco-German relationship emphasizes culture: German philhellenism fixated on the supremacy of ancient Greek culture, and the German philhellenes contributed to the Greek War of Independence in hopes of orchestrating its rebirth in the form of the modern Greek state. Germans who arrived in Greece, however, were greeted by Greeks whose culture paled in comparison to the ancient predecessors whose art had served as the foundations of contemporary German intellectualism. In response, Germans sought to remake the new Greek nation in accordance with this supposedly superior culture. During the Second World War, Germans appropriated elements of ancient Greek culture to serve their own racial ideology, one which conceived of the modern Greeks as wholly inferior to their ancient forebears. Finally, in the euro crisis, Germans viewed Greek financial instability as a betrayal of European values — values shaped by the Germans themselves through their stature, both economic and political, within the project of European integration. German media then fixated on perceived elements of modern Greek-ness, such as “laziness,” “profligacy,” and “corruption,” to explain why the Greeks had descended into crisis. These characterizations were supported by equally reductive and stereotypical accounts of Greek behavior that explained this “degenerate” culture — a culture so far removed from that of the ancient Greeks, whose monuments serve as perennial reminders of lost grandeur. For the Germans, the modern Greek nation has always failed to live up to its cultural legacy, chiefly due to conceptions of the modern Greek state were born out of idealizations of ancient Greece. 

At its core, modern Greek history is a history of pseudo-colonialism, and appropriate interpretations of it demand acknowledging the numerous ways the Greek state, its people, and national culture and consciousness have been shaped by the hegemonic, oppressive, even brutal actions of Western civilization. The Greco-German relationship itself epitomizes this dynamic of pseudo-colonization: throughout the last two and a half centuries of Greco-German cultural interaction, Germany has continued to impress its own ideology, policies, and conceptions of Greek identity upon the Greeks themselves, without appropriately accounting for the features of modern Greek identity that affect the capacity of the Greeks to live up to these antiquated, idealized conceptions. This dynamic has forced Greece to carry the burden of its incalculable contributions to human cultural development while simultaneously exiling the country to Europe’s economic and geopolitical margins. 

The Way Forward

The very existence of modern Greece will always carry with it the burden of yearning to live up to the grandeur of the nation’s ancient cultural history. While there may be no clear path to reconciling Greece’s past and present, Greece and Germany must continue to move beyond their own “eternal recurrence” (a concept considered by both ancient Greek philosophers and the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche) of misunderstandings that have characterized their relationship throughout modern history, and these powers must work toward a durable rapprochement. Worsening economic conditions in Greece exacerbated much of the cultural hostility in both countries, so it follows that as Greece continues its path of economic recovery, these sentiments should subside. In this respect, Greece has made great progress, having hit several financial benchmarks in the ‘post-crisis’ era: Greece received its final crisis-oriented loan disbursement from its European creditors via the European Stability Mechanism in 2018 and reentered the international capital markets in 2019 with its first sale of bonds since 2010, before the first bailout. Additionally, the severity of the crisis in Greece was exacerbated by the lack of European policy options to facilitate Greece’s economic recovery; as Europe moves toward further integration, it can be hoped that the use of financial tools such as Eurobond issuance will shield Greece from a future financial collapse and renewed conflict with Germany.

These recent economic developments do not, however, change the fundamental nature of the Greco-German relationship. After all, the conflict between the two countries during the Euro Crisis had followed a period of calmer Greco-German relations. The Euro Crisis laid bare longstanding cultural tensions between the two countries, rooted both in diverging views of history and flawed perceptions of culture. One of the most important steps toward Greco-German rapprochement is challenging the cultural biases, stereotypes, and misinformation that distorted the Euro Crisis into a culture war between the two countries. For example, not enough people know that despite how some stereotypes regard Greeks people as “lazy,” Greeks worked more hours per week on average both before and after the Crisis than their German counterparts (Eurostat 2020). 

Within both countries, governments and media institutions should seek to present sympathetic, open-minded accounts of both their own national policies and their understanding of their counterpart nation. Similarly, national representatives on both sides should seek greater collaboration and mutual understanding, instead of resorting to cultural scapegoating. Most importantly, both countries must strive to cultivate an understanding of modern Greece as a country whose ancient legacy is the source of much cultural pride, but whose ancient and modern identities are markedly distinct. While modern Greece may fail to reflect the idealized culture of its ancient counterpart, the Greek people are undeniably entitled to be the principal determinants of their national identity, and they deserve to do so in their own way.


Figure 1.         The Myron discus thrower and German decathlon-champion Erwin Huber from Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia – The film of the 11th Olympic Games Berlin 1936

Figure 2.         The “Greek” torchbearer from Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia – The film of the 11th Olympic Games Berlin 1936

Figure 3.         European Media Coverage of Greece in political opinion-forming newspapers

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Newspapers Represented: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Süddeutche Zeitung (Germany), The Times and The Guardian (UK), Le Figaro and Le Monde (France), Il Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica (Italy)

Figure 4.         Focus covers from February 22, 2010 (no. 8) and May 3 (no. 18).


Figure 5.         Der Spiegel cover from May 14, 2012 (no. 20).


Figure 6.         Eleftheros Typos issue from February 23, 2010.

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Figure 7.         Dimokratia issue from February 10, 2012.

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[1] Winckelmann’s views on Ancient Greece and its art are perhaps best summarized: “From all this it appears, not only that Greece furnished the noblest and most graceful models for perfecting the arts now under consideration, but that the Painters and Sculptors had, from the turn of the Grecian manners, and the nature of their public institutions, the best possible opportunities of deriving from these models all the instruction they were adapted to administer. These opportunities returned constantly with their shews, games, and festivals, which were very numerous” (Winckelmann 1766, 31-32). 

[2] See Marchand 1996, 29: “[Humboldt] argues that the Greeks had developed the most natural, and at the same time, the most ideal sculpture; poetry that like no other raised reality to ideality; religion stripped of idolatry and idealizing man; universally enviable mores; and a polity that fostered good breeding and wealth without plunging itself into oligarchy or plutocracy.”

[3] See Penn 1938, 642: “His sympathy and generosity made Munich one of the most active centres of propaganda and relief work. He encouraged Greek studies, the publication of Greek news, gave money, assisted refugees, allowed his officers unlimited leave of absence to serve in the war, and was generous in the matter of educating Greek children…During 1827 King Louis gave 100,000 francs in addition to sums contributed previously, and also in addition to funds being collected in Geneva. Nor did his interest flag as the struggle grew more and more protracted.”

[4] See, also, Marchand 1996, 10: “Winckelmann described the art of the Greeks as an entity unto itself, with its own rules and properties. Making art dependent on its surrounding climate and geography, as well as on the political culture in which it developed, Winckelmann implied that only certain nations of temperate climate and suitable racial stock could produce beautiful art; and only certain facial types, he argued, made fit subjects for beautiful art.”

[5] See excerpt from Vlachos 2005: “You – they always say – will try to invade Greece. And we? We are a naive nation still and we do not believe this. We do not believe that an army with a long history and tradition – which even its enemies do not deny – will want to soil itself with a horribly wretched act. We do not believe that a heavily armed State of 85 million people fighting to create “a new world order” will ask for an attack on a small Nation that is fighting for its freedom against an Empire of 45 million…If called upon, the army of Greece, whatever it is that remains free, will stand in Thrace the way it stood in Epirus. It will fight in Thrace as it did in Epirus. It will fight hard. It will die. And it will await the return from Berlin of the runner who came here five years ago and took with him the flame from Olympia, only to return with a torch to light a fire that threatens this land which may be small but is also great. This land that taught the world to live will now teach it how to die.”

[6] In March 1942–an era characterized by Germany and Italy’s demand for Greek loans–Greek budgeted yearly income was roughly 14 billion drachmae. The ensuing inflation continued until Greece’s liberation from occupation, and is estimated to have been even more severe than the inflation in Germany during the Weimar Republic (Stassinopoulos 1997, 148).

[7] Greece had previously hosted the Games in Athens in 1896 – the first occurrence of the modern Olympic Games – making Athens one of only four cities to have done so twice.

[8] The fiscal criteria required national inflation below 1.5 percent, a budget deficit below 3.0 percent, and a debt-to-GDP ratio below 60 percent. At the time of the euro currency launch, Greece’s national inflation was 2.1 percent (Council on Foreign Relations, 2018; International Monetary Fund 2020). 

[9] At the time of Greece’s adoption of the euro, national inflation was around 4 percent; despite being publicly proclaimed to be 1.5 percent, the actual Greek budget deficit was 8.3 percent; and Greek debt-to-GDP ratio was 116 percent (Little 2012; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2019). Greece’s financial misrepresentations would not be revealed until 2004, when then-Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis revised Greece’s 2000 budget deficit from 2 percent to 4.1 percent, and indicated that Greek deficit figures had increased by at least 2 percent each succeeding year (Carassava 2004). 

[10] Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio had increased from 80.1 percent in 1992 to 102.9 percent by the conclusion of 2004; the Athens Olympics cost Greece a total of 8.954 billion euros, approximately 4.6 percent of Greek 2004 GDP (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2019; Embassy of Greece 2004). 


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Greek citizens gather in Syntagma Square on July 5, 2015 to protest the proposed third bailout (photos by Robert Crystal)