By Lois Woestman, Guest Contributor
Dr. Lois Woestman, both a Greek and US citizen, currently works as EU-Liaison Officer at a German university. She previously worked as Lecturer and as EU-Liaison Officer for two universities in Greece, as well as as a research/policy advice consultant (including for UNWOMEN, Europe-based WIDE+ Network, and the global Association for Women in Development – AWID).
After a somewhat euphoric long weekend in Athens when I, along with many other Greeks, voted for and celebrated a Syriza win in the polls, my return to the German heartland has been a hard landing.
“I witness a growing call from a number of member states to stick to the legal framework that is in place now,” the German Finance Minister said on Tuesday, my first day back. “Changing the rule book would require a huge struggle to get the people on board in Germany, but also in other member states.”
What would it take to get people on board in Germany?
Talks with coworkers the week since my return suggest that Syriza faces multiple challenges, not the least “Greek fatigue,” skepticism and cynicism, austerity fixation and cultural blinders.
Tuesday morning the German university where I work had its annual new year’s reception for the administration. The Chancellor spoke of 2015 as being the year of the sheep in Chinese astrology. He underscored his desire and expectation that this would be a peaceful year, one without major upheavals or crises, as predicted by Chinese astrology. I could not help wondering: Does he not live in the Eurozone? Did he not follow the Greek election? I soon found out that my German colleagues shared this sentiment. Whereas in Athens over the weekend many of us sensed a whiff of revolutionary change in the air, my German colleagues were not interested in having their peace and quiet disrupted with “yet another Greek crisis.”
Over drinks after the talk, as we spoke about our weekends, I mentioned that I had been in Greece. When I asked if they had heard that we had had a vote, a colleague replied – with a strained look on his face: “How could we not? We are bombarded with it.” And then he clammed up. Another said: “Oh, the Greek problem” – as if that were already enough words wasted. All seemed to be suffering from a case of “Greek fatigue” - giving me glances that one usually saves for a precocious child that has pulled another stunt.
Colleagues more sympathetic to me as a person (whom they regard as flamboyantly Greek) and my political position – German leftists, some quite actively so – were more willing to talk, their glances showing pity as well as skepticism. The person I most expected solidarity from said she was sympathetic to the Greek people's plight. But then added that she found it a pity that the Greek position was always presented so emotionally. “Greeks present their economic woes so emotionally, instead of coming up with logical proposals for how to change things. And anyway, these people were part of the system – did not pay taxes...” And then she said: “In any case, I wish you luck. Greece has very little room for maneuver.”
This reaction highlights another important challenge for Syriza vis-à-vis potential solidarity from German leftists. Many Germans brand views expressed with passion by “others” as illogical, hence not deserving of a serious hearing – as the information I was giving them about the elections, as the information Greeks interviewed on the street were also providing. At the same time, Germans remain blind to their own emotional reactions to “the Greek crisis.” Disaffection, skepticism and cynicism, amongst others. It does not bode well that a German leftist accustomed to thinking about how people are stuck in a system, and to supporting them when they try to change it, would be unable to feel solidarity because she was disaffected by perceived excessive emotion.