Kill the Greeks Redux

A couple of years ago I wrote a post called Kill the Greeks. I wrote it out of frustration after a day on which I was exposed to anti-Greek racism several times in a row. I felt genuinely threatened and revulsed, as one does in such situations. Despite the emotionality of the article, I don’t think there’s anything intellectually wrong with it. There is a ton of absurd propaganda about Greece in the media, anti-Greek racism is widespread, and Germans should know better.

As far as I was concerned, the post was simply me expressing how unpleasant and disturbing it was to be in Germany at that point in time. But rather unexpectedly, even though I’ve written about Greece many times here and elsewhere, this post attracts a lot of attention. Look at the latest comment, for example:

You are moronic and insignificant creature. I wish you an epidemic brain cancer in your family and as well as yourself and die the worst way possible. Obviously you don’t know what in the world are you talking about. You can’t even recognise the difference between German Press, German Goverment and German citizens in general. You suffering from a serious case of mental disorders. You called my history “stupid” which indicates the fact that you had to resort on extremely disgusting insults to achieve your “goals”. Your country’s corruption and disgusting ethnocentric egomania have nothing to do with GLORIOUS German history which is more than 2000 years old. The average German citizen doesn’t give half of his/her faces for stupid childish stuttering morons like you. We don’t care, stop lying. It’s just the whole world goverments and media which exploit and humiliate you because they find you easy victims. You are worth for YOUR fate. I pitty you, I can’t find something positive upon you. You have NOTHING. I am ashamed that I had to waste my precious time in front of a worthless rubbish like you. I am pretty much ashamed really. Goodbye, I hope you change your melevolent behaviour.

This is pretty fantastic, isn’t it? It’s obviously not worth responding to in and of itself, but it’s hard to resist taking it apart.

The most preciously ironic aspect is the contrast between these statements:

I wish you an epidemic brain cancer in your family and as well as yourself and die the worst way possible.

Goodbye, I hope you change your melevolent behaviour.

I mean, wow. The irony is almost tearing apart my screen. You wish death not only upon myself, but upon my completely-unrelated-to-your-political-objections family, and then you accuse me of being malevolent? Not even the dumbest Will Ferrell character would come up with that. But it certainly makes it obvious that this person doesn’t object to any kind of malevolence. It should also be noted that I didn’t actually wish anything bad upon Germany in the original post, I only said how stupid and frustrating it was that it is still so racist despite its history. I said I felt like leaving, but I didn’t say Germany should be wiped out. If anything, my post expressed that I wish things could be different.

Then comes another precious pair of sentences:

Your country’s corruption and disgusting ethnocentric egomania have nothing to do with GLORIOUS German history which is more than 2000 years old.

GLORIOUS German history! Because statements like that aren’t, you know, ethnocentric egomania.

If this person is indeed arguing that German history is more than 2000 years old (assuming this isn’t just a case of attempted sarcasm and a lack of language skills), then we’ve entered particularly bizarre territory. Because of course German history isn’t 2000 years old. German history is actually rather brief, because the concept of “Germany” as we know it is fairly recent. Germany is really an agglomeration of rather different groups that not too long ago still considered themselves distinct – and in some cases still do. (Just look at Bavaria.) The nationalist drive to create a common identity and language is recent, historically speaking.

But the crux of the matter is this: it doesn’t matter. This isn’t a competition to see who has the longest continuous history! I’ve never believed that Greeks should feel any personal pride at the achievements of their distant ancestors. Yes, Greece has a remarkable history and a remarkable historical and especially linguistic continuity, but so what? It’s something to appreciate, but it’s not a personal achievement. Nationalist pride is always dangerous and inherently xenophobic. Which is why this comment is so very revealing.

You called my history “stupid” which indicates the fact that you had to resort on extremely disgusting insults to achieve your “goals”.

It’s amusing that “stupid” gets classified as “extremely disgusting” – as opposed to wishing people a slow and horrible death. More important perhaps is the use of the possessive pronoun “my”, another clue as to the commenter’s mode of thinking. And of course the insinuation of some greater agenda beyond simply opposing racism.

But let’s examine a more interesting passage in the beginning:

Obviously you don’t know what in the world are you talking about. You can’t even recognise the difference between German Press, German Goverment and German citizens in general.

This almost sounds like an argument! It is quite characteristic of nationalist thinking to fail to make a distinction between the people and the system. (Herr Schaedel, the evil quasi-German skull in The Sea Will Claim Everything, has dialogue that makes it obvious he does not represent all Germans.) The German government is not the same as the German people, and not entirely the same as the German media. But the racism I was exposed to that day came from all three directions at once. Racist modes of thinking are still very pervasive in German society – perhaps even more so now than a decade or two ago. Are the media and the government to blame for that? Partially, yes. But not exclusively. A tendency towards blind obedience, towards prim-and-proper snobbishness and a sense of cultural and moral superiority, is deeply embedded in German everyday culture. This mode of thinking is not all there is to German culture, in fact I would say it is precisely what is holding modern German culture back, and much of it has historical roots in the annihilation of left-wing thought by Nazi murderers and Stalinist traitors… but it’s still there, and it is currently coming to the forefront once again.

I say this as a German. Yes, that’s one thing these commenters always fail to pick up on, because they only read this one post. My mother is German, I was born in Germany, and though I was raised in Greece, I went to a German school. I don’t use it for creative purposes, but German is one of my native languages. My wife is German. Whatever my affiliations may be, I was raised as part of this culture. And I believe that this culture isn’t going to get any better if it doesn’t become aware of its problems.

The average German citizen doesn’t give half of his/her faces for stupid childish stuttering morons like you. We don’t care, stop lying. It’s just the whole world goverments and media which exploit and humiliate you because they find you easy victims. You are worth for YOUR fate. I pitty you, I can’t find something positive upon you. You have NOTHING.

The most interesting aspect of these sentences is the grammatical ambiguity of the word “you” – is it a singular or a plural? At first it seems to be a singular, related to the previous statement that

You suffering from a serious case of mental disorders.

So the commenter seems to believe that anyone who accuses Germany of racism must be a mentally deficient, stuttering, stupid, childish subhuman. But what at first seems to be an individual failing – Jonas is mad for suggesting Germany could ever be racist – soon seems to become a more general statement about Greeks, whose infantile nature makes them easy victims. Here we start going into a kind of Social Darwinist mentality: the commenter actually acknowledges that the Greeks are being exploited, but it’s OK because they deserve it.

The last two sentences are ambiguous again – do I personally have nothing, or does Greece? Either statement is obviously wrong, but it is clearly strongly felt. The subject (either the Greeks as a whole or the individual Greek) has no redeeming features at all, he or they are completely dehumanized and thus worthy of extermination, presumably via brain cancer.

The statement that precedes the one about exploitation is also interesting:

The average German citizen doesn’t give half of his/her faces for stupid childish stuttering morons like you. We don’t care, stop lying.

Here the objection seems to be that racism would imply that Germans actually cared about this situation, when in fact they don’t. Previously the commenter had accused Greece of being corrupt (it is, of course, and we’ll get back to that), and in the next sentence the exploitation will be attributed to “the whole world goverments and media” – which strongly suggests that the German government is engaging in predatory behaviour towards Greece, but since the Greeks deserve it, the German population has no objection to that. Germany can go ahead and engage in economic imperialism, as long as it is against those who deserve it. A remarkably antidemocratic sentiment.

But what is it that drove this person to get so angry as to wish horrific suffering upon someone? You will have noticed that at no point does the commenter actually state that racism against Greeks doesn’t exist; in the beginning of the post the argument seems to be that it’s unfair to conflate the people and their government, but by the end we are told that not only do the people not care about what their leaders are doing, they are actually right not to care, because the Greeks’ inherent weakness means they deserve to be exploited and humiliated.

The hint is in the possessive pronoun. My history. My GLORIOUS history. It is precisely the commenter who cannot distinguish between the individual and the social construct. Thus also the ambiguity about hating me versus hating all Greeks. The anger comes because Germany has been accused of something, not because of what it has been accused of, and so the commenter strikes out in a confused, self-contradictory way, at the same time confirming and denying the accusation, attempting to remain blameness while taking pride in the cause of the blame. It’s not our fault but you deserve what we’re doing to you.

All of this is a more extreme version of the attitude I find most common in Germany. A sense that something might be wrong with what is being done to Greece, but really they deserve it, it’s their own laziness and corruption, and it’s definitely not our fault. If anything, many (but not all) Germans tend to see themselves as the victims, much like many Americans see themselves as a threatened little country under constant attack by mighty forces of evil, instead of an economic and military behemoth trampling through the world… and eating its own children on the side. After all, it’s not like Germans aren’t being affected by the policies of their government. Sooner or later the German worker will have to “outcompete” the Greek worker’s quality of life, and that was far lower in Greece than in Germany to begin with.

There is a further ironic twist to this story. Greece is, of course, not blameless in this situation. As with most countries, the present disaster is the result of the actions of entrenched political elites that serve global capital, and also of decades of political stagnation and apathy. Racism is an issue in Greece, too, especially with the rise of the Golden Dawn (a Neonazi party) and the increasingly open racist actions of the police forces, which are sympathetic to and deeply interconnected with such fascist elements. But that wasn’t the point of the original post, and why should it be? That there are internal problems in Greece does not excuse the catastrophic policies of the German government – or any form of racism.

In fact, and this is where things get ironic, the very things that the commenter complains about in terms of Greece are strongly supported by the German government. When there appeared to be any chance of the current two-party system being abolished, German and European forces openly interfered with the Greek democratic process. Even though there is ample evidence that members of both PASOK and Nea Dimokratia have been responsible not only for disastrous economic choices but also for massive personal corruption and outright theft (to the tune of hundreds of millions), Europe and especially Germany insisted that the very same people must continue to rule. To this end they even created an unelected and unconstitutional “government of national unity” that included the radical right-wing party LAOS, legitimizing openly fascist politicians and paving the way for the Golden Dawn. Then, during the next election, when a moderately left-wing, pro-EU, pro-Euro party called SYRIZA looked like it might win the elections, both politicians and media went into overdrive, demonizing the party and going so far as to openly tell Greeks what to vote.

The German government did not create corruption and ethnocentric thought in Greece, but it did everything it could to give it as much authority as possible. Because these groups serve the same interests.

And the people who voted for them? They are the same people as the person who left this comment.

“But how do people find these posts and write such things?” my mother asked me after the last time someone posted to tell me that I deserved to die. Well, you know how? They search for it. Here are some of the search terms from my site statistics since the original post:

kill greeks – 36

kill the greeks – 35

greeks are greedy – 16

kill all greeks – 14

lazy greek bastards – 7

kill all the greeks – 7

kill a greek – 6

greek racist jokes – 6

kill the greek – 5

Given the recent Neonazi murders of immigrants in Germany (and the well-documented interconnection of the Neonazis and German intelligence agencies), the search term that I find the most disquieting is “kill a greek”. Because clearly there are more than enough people who would like to.

Leave a comment

12 Comments

  1. Matija

     /  August 6, 2012

    That is quite… unsettling.

    Here in Croatia the general atmosphere of apathy and mild dislike towards Greece makes it hard to come by any useful information on the matter by way of media, and the only ‘outside’ information that is fed to us is that coming from hostile Western media.

  2. Lin

     /  August 6, 2012

    I clearly chose the wrong day to catch up on the blog, didn’t I?

    And to think I’ve been trying so hard post-elections to numb my disgust and stop myself from being sick to the stomach all day long. I had to change my diet, throw my TV out the window, avoid other people, it was getting quite tiresome. Thankfully there are nice folks out there willing to kill me. That would simplify matters.

  3. Dreab

     /  August 7, 2012

    I’m sorry, Jonas, but I believe that you just fed a troll.
    The obviously faulty logic, the creative insults, the lack of arguments, even a grammatical mistake here and there – all of this looks just too deliberate to be written by an angry idiot.

  4. Actually, I don’t think so. Just look at the statistics – people really do feel like this. I’ve heard similar sentiments expressed in different contexts, too.

  5. MKS

     /  August 13, 2012

    it’s amazing just how much meaning some people can put into a bit of dirt, whether they call it “America” or “Germany” or “Greece”…humanity truly is an amazing species…

    I guess another lens to look at this is through Howard Bloom’s books: The Lucifer Principle for starters…

  6. jm

     /  August 13, 2012

    Would you read: “A tendency towards laziness and shallow leisure is deeply embedded in Greek everyday culture.” as a racist statement?

    what about

    “Germans are blindly obedient, snobbish and have a sense of cultural and moral superiority”.

    Your wording may be different so that your statement it doesn’t sound as absolute, but in the end, going by your definition, your description of Germans is racist.

  7. @jm:

    a) There is a major difference between talking about cultural trends and attributing characteristics to everyone. “Doesn’t sound as absolute” is a big deal.
    b) Then there is the not-so-simple-but-still-relevant question of truth. Just because cultural trends exist doesn’t mean you can just ascribe them to anyone and under any circumstances.
    c) Finally and most importantly, there is the question of what type of trend one can rationally talk about. There is nothing peculiar or unique in the culture of an imperial centre promoting ideas of superiority; this is a phenomenon as old as time. But this is a matter of self-understanding and self-presentation, of philosophical and political positioning, of media-created narratives and national(ist) mythology. It is also a matter that has been studied and written about extensively in the context of many powerful nations and empires; applying these ideas to Germany is actually fairly obvious from an academic point of view. That’s a world away from calling an entire people “lazy” and perpetuating other ethnic stereotypes. In fact, the study of how the imperial centre justifies its actions to its population shows just how characteristic precisely these stereotypes (laziness, greed, an inability to self-govern) are of such discourses. Because they serve the exact same purposes: implying that one group is superior to the other and has not only the right, but even the obligation, to govern.

    So yes, both those statements are racist, but I made neither of them. You can’t remove context and detail from this discussion.

  8. jm

     /  August 13, 2012

    And this is where the whole problem of perception comes in. Because I find the whole situation uncomforting too, but I don’t see it as a expression of racism. You know, people made some dumb jokes about Greece in my presence. Same as I make dumb jokes about Polish people in front of them. And then we laugh. Its not hatred, but harmless fun – not that there are exceptions, because Germany has its fair share of xenophobia and closet racism, though not in a greater extend than most other European countries. The only time in my whole life in Germany I was threatened two times on the street, both from Turkish youth. I never felt a problem from Germans because of my background, heritage, religion, political beliefs, whatever. And trust my, I never shy away from them.

    I contributed a major part of my studies to post WWII-Germany and graduated on the subject, and I still don’t see how “applying these ideas to Germany is actually fairly obvious from an academic point of view”. They exist, but they are not an integral part of modern German culture, nor do they lie at its core.

    The problem, as I said, is one of perception. You know, my sympathy lies with Greece, and how couldn’t they? Greece doesn’t have a history of mass murder, countless wars started and genocide. The country, since its modern foundation and before that, has been mostly a play ball for major powers. Greece are the historical victim, German the aggressor. So of course, seeing this game play out again, it’s easy to fall into stereotypes and brand mark Germany for its racism. But by doing this, you are applying terms that wholly misrepresent the situation. For whatever reason, you see this as the rise of anti-Greek racism.

    I should trust you to have better judgment. Take the stuff for example you quoted in this blog post you see it as an expression of what you want it to be. Modern German racism. I would categorize it as trolling – it is pretty obvious, BTW. The guy probably had a good laugh over your reaction. I know I won’t change your mind, but just try to relax a bit, don’t suspect racism behind everything.

  9. I can’t agree. I think you’re trying to make things harmless that aren’t. (And if this is a troll, I have seen and heard plenty of people express the exact same sentiments, online and in person. What about them? And if you heard the stuff Golden Dawn supporters post on Greek websites, you’d think they’re trolls, too.) I think you are simply projecting your own attitudes and those of the people you were surrounded with here in Germany onto the country as a whole. Basically you are assuming that because you are relaxed about these issues, everyone else is too. But I don’t think you’re representative at all.

  10. So of course, seeing this game play out again, it’s easy to fall into stereotypes and brand mark Germany for its racism. But by doing this, you are applying terms that wholly misrepresent the situation. For whatever reason, you see this as the rise of anti-Greek racism.

    Actually, this seems to contain a misunderstanding. I don’t think Germany’s political attitudes and actions towards Greece are caused by racism. I think racism is used to justify these actions to the population and make them feel that their interests are being defended, when in fact the German population will just be one of the next victims. This is made easier by certain tendencies in German culture.

    (Greek culture, on the other hand, also has problematic tendencies, including a deep-seated nationalism and machismo, both of which make people support parties like the Golden Dawn.)

    I know I won’t change your mind, but just try to relax a bit, don’t suspect racism behind everything.

    I think you are thinking of racism as the term is generally used in Germany – the kind of thing only represented by Nazis, an open all-out hatred of foreigners. Much of the rest of the world (at least in academia and activism) sees racism as something pervasive and often embedded in cultural norms, with many people holding on to racist ways of thinking without ever thinking of themselves as racists.

    Furthermore, I am not suspecting people of racism. I am describing racist use of language.

    (And I don’t think the people who were searching for “kill the greeks” on Google were doing it as a joke.)

  11. Giorgos

     /  August 13, 2012

    i am greek-albanian living in germany, i have heard much worse things than this said to me, if he is a troll there are many trolls where i live.

  12. Lin

     /  August 14, 2012

    I think there is a serious problem with the common habit of branding casual racist references as “matters of perception”, “dumb jokes” or “harmless”. I was linked this fantastic little blog post today, that’s funny, smart and puts casual racism on the spot. Here’s a quote:

    “[..] the fact remains that terms like this are, indeed, racist — they’re just casual racism. Racism in a tattered old pair of jeans and a hoodie on laundry day. Racism that you’re not exactly dating, you just call it up sometimes when you’re drunk and sort of lonely on a Friday night, and ask if it’s busy and wants to come over. Racism that you indulge in socially but you’re sure you can quit anytime you want. You don’t have a problem, because it’s not Real Racism — it’s caaaaasual. Not a big deal. Certainly not worth analyzing or pointing out, lest we make anyone uncomfortable.

    It would be awesome if racism was one of those things — like the hiccups, or an Internet troll — that eventually goes away if you ignore it long enough. But this is not so.”

    And she goes on to say:

    “It’s so easy to say these things without thinking — that’s what makes them casual. It takes effort to build awareness of them.

    They don’t have the same shock value as walking up to a person of color and calling them a racial slur. It’s not like being stung; it’s like being slowly burned, by a heat so gradual you barely notice it’s happening. ”

    (The article refers to the US specifically, but I found it a fun and interesting read nonetheless. You can find it here: http://www.xojane.com/issues/casual-racism-matt-lauer-indian-giver)

    Obvious, in your face, racism is The Big Evil. Which is why it’s so easy for everyone to agree to disapprove of it – while remaining racist. Most conservative parties all over the world manage this balance brilliantly, and so do many clearly nationalist and racist parties, the greek and german ones included, with a varying degree of subtlety. Casual racism on the other hand is deemed “harmless” and “no big deal”, though it is much deeper ingrained, much more difficult to uproot and just plain harmful in a myriad “under the skin” ways.