Ex-victim Blinders Syndrome: “A pretty fuckin’ low” way to handle the Greek crisis

Society places much importance on learning and learning from history. It provides its youth with compulsory history lessons, funds archaeological excavations and historical museums, protects its cultural heritage, and offers struggling English graduates a second chance through teaching and text-book writing. The importance stemming from a broadly held view that history repeats itself, and so some knowledge of it may assist current players to better manoeuvre the political chessboard. Or, put another way, help avoid World War III.

Yet, despite these widespread efforts to extract wisdom from bygone days, a phenomenon that we shall take the liberty to call ‘Ex-victim Blinders Syndrome’ exists, in which – much like capture-bonding on a national scale – one nation or people will go on to enact on another the very tragedies they or their ancestors fell victim to. All the while blind to the existence of any similarities between the past and present.

The most blatant example of this is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It goes without saying that people of Jewish faith have been one of the most persecuted minorities in history. They experienced the defencelessness of being both landless and stateless; fell victim to an ideology that perceived them as lesser beings; had their freedom and dignity stripped from them in prison camps; and were indiscriminately killed at the hands of a stronger world power. The context, era and landscape may be  different, but the policies and violence inflicted by successive Israeli administrations on the Palestinians since 1947 bear some resemblance to the discrimination and repression suffered by their forefathers. The Palestinians have been dispossessed from the majority of their land; some have been herded into a strip enclosed by concrete walls on one side and sea on the other; their freedom and dignity have been largely undermined; and, when violence ensues, their lives are at the mercy of a much stronger military power.*

Ironically, another example of this inability to empathise with fellow victims can be found in the country that was largely responsible for the afflictions of millions of Jews. As the most influential negotiator on the table of Greece’s creditors, Angela Merkel and her administrations’ wilful disregard of the combined debt relief and aid that Germany received in 1953 from the US Marshall Plan and a group of 20 creditors (including Greece) is nothing short of brazen. Again, we are speaking of a different context, era and political landscape, but the rules of economics and logic remain the same. Its undeniable that Germany’s debt relief and aid went a long way to helping the troubled nation rebuild its infrastructure, shed its pariah status, and become Europe’s leading economy. In contrast, when Western powers chose to shun Germany after the first world war and discipline its people, economic strife and unemployment set the stage for World War II.

Some advocate that post-war Germany deserved debt relief, whereas Greece doesn’t. BloombergView’s Leonid Bershidsky argues that despite Germany having accumulated its debt through the financing of a vast programme of human oppression, war and genocide, it had shown humility and a strong will to reform itself afterwards – and, hey, the Nazis were no longer the ruling party so it was all water under the bridge. Ultimately, “the creditors felt they needed to help that effort.”

Greece, on the other hand, accumulated its debt through rampant government overspending and then lied about its deficits to join the Euro. Despite meeting the conditions of a 5 year long austerity-led bailout programme, Bershidsky’s message is loud and clear: the Greeks do not deserve debt relief because, unlike Germany in 1953, there’s no distinction between the current government and the previous ones responsible for creating Greece’s deficit. When Chancellor Konrad Adenauer demonstrated “harsh self-imposed discipline and penitence,” Greece’s fast succession of recent prime ministers have only demonstrated “profligacy.”

“There is a not-so-subtle difference between voluntarily taking on debts made by previous, rogue governments at a currency rate favorable to the creditors — and heedlessly accumulating debts of one’s own while concealing the true size of budget deficits. In the first case, the implication is harsh self-imposed discipline and penitence. In the second case, profligacy.”

Leonid Bershidsky, BloombergView, January 21 2015

Are we really basing a decision on whether a country will be tossed into poverty on who deserves to be disciplined and who doesn’t? On who has shown more genuine penitence and who has not? All the while turning a blind eye to what many economists, and (now) the International Monetary Fund, have said time and time again: that Greece will not be able to recover from a debt 175% of its GDP without debt cancellation; that further austerity without debt relief will spiral the country towards ruin; that a Greek exit from the Euro and the EU will be even more costly to the Europeans than accepting Greece will not be able to pay all or part of its debt?

Should Eurozone finance ministers vote to negotiate a new bailout package for Greece today, they should finally feel the need to help Greece’s efforts to reform by accepting to put a debt relief option on the table. And if Germany, as arbiter of Greece’s fate, should wish to act on passion rather than intellect, then let it do so based less on retribution and more on empathy. Because, wearing blinders to help you impose an ineffective plan of misery that you yourself have at once lived and been saved from is, to borrow the words from Quentin Tarantino’s Django, “pretty fuckin’ low.”

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* The anti-semite slurs can now begin; but please be considerate and use the hashtag #ExVictimBlindersSyndrome in any tweets. Thank you.

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