A wave of hatred against Germans is rolling through Europe, writes Germany’s Die Welt, a (comparatively) conservative paper. In an article published on Sunday, its European correspondent calls on Germans to learn from Britain how to handle hatred from others. It doesn’t work, the correspondent suggests, “to pay still more” (Wir können uns also zerknirscht an die Brust schlagen, weil wir nicht noch viel mehr bezahlen).
Hang on – how much have we paid yet? How much have we earned from Euroland? And who is we?
Obviously, no propaganda will work without some aspects of truth, but it has to be far-fetched if you want to argue like Die Welt: for example, it is true that the storm in “social media” about Angela Merkel comforting a teenage refugee, but keeping to her party line all the same, was silly. (But why mention this when Greece is the topic?)
It is also correct to point out that other countries welcome a German scapegoat so as to deflect criticism on failed policies at home.
But to be kind of convincing, Die Welt shouldn’t talk the same talk as those it tries to criticize. Yes, painting Germany as “nazi”, as is done by some of Germany’s critics, is propaganda. But what hurts German elites is hardly the crude message itself. You don’t become a top politican or press man if you take this kind of stuff to heart. The effectiveness of the message is their real problem. Die Welt is now painting Germans who keep to the – once near-unanimous – idea that a European Union must be a union of equals as wussies who can’t handle their world-war-two guilt complex. That move is as stupid as painting Wolfgang Schäuble with that moustache.
The Tagesspiegel reminds its readers of a message by German federal president Joachim Gauck from the Munich Security Conference in 2014, when Gauck allegedly said that Germans needed to “grow up” (Erwachsenwerden). That too was in a different context – more military engagement. Gauck didn’t even talk about growing up. But the word was used in many press interpretations of the speech, and the Tagesspiegel appears to have become used to it.
Sueddeutsche Zeitung tries a kind of constructive approach: “How Germany can improve its image”. More public diplomacy is needed, the paper quotes experts. More and more countries would otherwise distance themselves from the concept of a united Europe.
Maybe some public diplomacy at home wouldn’t hurt, for a start. If you have one foreign, and one domestic message, it won’t work either way. The problem is that clichés, rather than facts and causes, rule the debate. To some extent, this kind of press may actually satisfy the readership, or at least meet an existing demand. But above all, it saves the press from the need to discuss real issues.
Swiss paper 20 Minuten (online) linked to all the above three German press articles yesterday, plus the Guardian, and La Stampa. “Social media” get a mention. 20 Minuten tries to keep neutral, calling the Hashtags #BoycottGermany and #ThisIsACoup “more poisionous” than the British and Italian press samples, but also referring to some German reaction patterns as resignation, self-pity, and defiant pride.
» Growth all but impossible, M Pettis, Febr 25, 2015