Greece’s tourism slogan is “a masterpiece you can afford.” But when they coined the phrase, they were probably not thinking of selling Greek islands at cut-rate prices.
As Prime Minister George Papandreou heads to Germany tomorrow to ask German Chancellor Angela Merkel for help in the Greek debt crisis, two members of her coalition have some advice: sell off your islands to pay off your debt.
The comments, by two members of the German parliament, were published in the German newspaper Bild under the provocative headline: “Sell your islands, you bankrupt Greeks! And sell the Acropolis too!” One parliamentarian, Frank Schaeffler, told the newspaper, "the Greek government has to take radical steps to sell its property – for example its uninhabited islands.”
With Communist-party affiliated unionists occupying the Ministry of Finance and gray-haired pensioners scuffling with police outside his office, Mr. Papandreou may feel he’s been radical enough. Speaking to Greeks yesterday after a raft of new austerity measures were announced, he said that with the tough measures, Greece had done its part and that now it was time for Europe to come to the country’s aid.
But the comments by the German MPs are likely to further inflame growing anti-Germany sentiment here.
On the right and left, Greeks have been angered by the way they’ve been portrayed in some German media as cheating spendthrifts who lied their way into the European Union. Greek politicians and newspapers responded by dredging up the specter of World War II, and Germany’s brutal occupation of Greece.
On its website, the leftist Greek newspaper Eleftherotypia ran a photo of the Acropolis with a "for sale" sign superimposed
Dimitra, a 25-year-old student and part-time nanny who was occupying the Finance Ministry Wednesday afternoon and declined to give her full name, thought the German MPs comments were a joke – but in very bad taste.
“Are they crazy?” she said, with a shake of her head.
But like many on the left, she doesn’t necessarily think Germany should bail out Greece. Instead, she says the money should come from big companies and international banks. “The working classes, in Greece or Germany, should not be forced to pay. Those with money should pay."
About 2.5 million Germans come to Greece each year to sun themselves on the country’s beaches or tromp through its ancient sites. Tourism is one of Greece’s largest industries and Germans among the country’s best clients
But this year, if Germany’s government doesn’t lend a helping hand to Greece, German visitors may get a frostier welcome. Greeks say they’ve forgiven the war, but they haven’t forgotten.