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It's Got to Be Hard to Be Angela Merkel
I love the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray. One of my favorite scenes comes after Murray's character, Phil Connors, turns over a new leaf and starts spreading kindness to the people of Gobbler's Knob.
While performing his daily list of good deeds, Connors realizes that he's late for one of them. He sprints down a sidewalk just in time to catch a boy who, right on schedule, falls out of the tree he's playing in.
Having spared the boy from injury, Connors asks him, "What do you say? What do you say?"
Without saying a word, the boy scrambles out of Connors' arms and takes off running.
"You little brat!" Connors shouts, holding his back in pain. "You have never thanked me!"
As the boy gets farther way, Connors shouts, "I'll see you tomorrow.... Maybe!"
I was reminded of that scene last week when I read of how Greece’s left-wing prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, publicly called for Nazi war reparations right in front of current German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It is believed to be the first time a foreign leader has made such a demand inside reunified Germany.
"It’s not a material matter, it's a moral issue,” said Tsipras in Obamaesque fashion.
It was a clear slap in the face of Merkel by the leader of a country that Germany has been instrumental in bailing out of economic devastation over the past five years.
For those who may not remember, Greece was in an absolutely horrendous situation in 2010. Years of reckless deficit-spending by the Greek government, coupled with the affects of the Great Recession, had put the country in a position of insurmountable national debt, a dead economy, and a real chance of a default. The country's leaders were forced to plead for a bailout from the European Union's International Monetary Fund to address the catastrophe, the conditions of which forced them to cut public sector salaries and pensions.
Angela Merkel was one of the biggest EU supporters of getting those economy-saving funds to Greece, even with her country (whose government had made smart decisions and rebounded relatively quickly from the Great Recession) being on the line for the largest share of bailout funds. Merkel recognized the collapse of the Greek economy as having a significant, negative impact on all of Europe.
Though the bailout was deemed necessary for Greece's economic survival, a lot of Greeks were extremely unhappy over the concessions they would have to make. Many took to the streets, and violent clashes broke out with police. What started as a movement of unions and left-wing party supporters quickly gained momentum. This led to nation-wide strikes, hundreds of thousands of protesters marching through Athens, and the storming of the parliament building in Syntagma Square. Buildings were set on fire with Molotov cocktails, and images were broadcasted across the world of police in riot gear, pushing back crowds with flash bombs, smoke bombs, and tear gas.
For me, it provided a possible glance into the future of any country that let itself fall into the trap of runaway-government and the entitlement culture... even the United States. But that's a topic for another column.
Greece eventually did get its bailout, and has kept getting bailouts over the years while displaying a continued, fierce resistance to abiding by the fiscally-responsible conditions of those bailouts. In other words, they are the boy in Groundhog Day who keeps falling out of the tree, and the European Union keeps showing up at the last second to break their fall.
Greece has not grown its economy to a level of independence, and has actually tilted further left politically and culturally, with more of its citizenry looking to government for their livelihood. Merkel has become a villain within the Greek culture for insisting that Greece get its fiscal house in order, and actually take some responsibility for its own economic well-being, before receiving more money.
Alexis Tsipras even won his election two months ago on campaigning against "Merkelism." The prevailing mindset in Greece now seems to be that their lenders should just give them money with essentially no strings attached.
This leads us to the current situation where Tsipras and Merkel are butting heads over the latest bailout package, required to avoid state insolvency in Greece. Apparently, Tsipras is now so desperate to squeeze condition-free money out of Europe (specifically Germany) that he's now ringing the "social justice" bell and calling for fresh financial reparations from a war the ended 70 years ago.
What a great way to butter up someone whose help you desperately need!
Keep in mind that Tsipras is an actual leader of a country... not some half-cocked street protester who sleeps in his parents' basement.
I was about to write that I've never heard of anything so insane, but the truth is that this mindset isn't all that far removed from that of the liberal movement in America. One has to only look as far as Occupy Wall Street, MSNBC, and President Obama's successful 2012 campaign strategy of vilifying the makers and victimizing the takers to hear similar rhetoric.
Though I admit I'm often confused by European politics, and probably don't have the best understanding of it, most of what I read has convinced me that Merkel is the only leader over there that has any common sense at all.
One has to wonder if that common sense will one day compel her to let the boy that is Greece fall from the tree and hit the ground, and then deal with whatever consequences come from it.
It wouldn't make for the happiest of film endings, but it would at least let the characters in that movie finally move on to the next day.
—— If you’re interested in a signed, personalized copy of my novel “From a Dead Sleep” you can order one from my website. It also makes a great gift!