JR’s Press Review (Europe): Resignation, Self-Pity, Defiant Pride, Public Diplomacy

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.

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Notes

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.

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Updates

» Growth all but impossible, M Pettis, Febr 25, 2015

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2 Comments to “JR’s Press Review (Europe): Resignation, Self-Pity, Defiant Pride, Public Diplomacy”

  1. This anti-German nonsense is only really prominent on the far-left here in the UK at the moment, for whom Greece (or Venezuela, or Cuba, or Nicaragua, or Cambodia, or Vietnam, or China, or the USSR, or whoever their favoured country of the moment is) is a more real and meaningful country than their own. Ironically, this is the same far-left that has for so long trumpeted countries like Germany as an example, though normally only because they over-hype things like Berlin’s rent-controls: they’d scream blue-murder if anyone in the UK tried to replace the NHS with an insurance-based system such as that used in Germany.

    Pretty much everyone else can see it for the desperate nonsense it really is – an attempt to guilt-trip Germans into handing over more of their money. I’m not sure what a union of equals looks like, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t consist of one country handing another large sums of its tax-payer’s money that will not be paid back whilst the elected representatives of the beneficiaries of this largess insult their benefactors as “fascists”, “criminals”, and “terrorists”. I’m also pretty sure that in a real union of equals Slovak pensioners would not have to contribute to the far higher pensions of Greek pensioners.

    Here in Britain, of course, as the “naughty child” of Europe, we have grown used to having various European officials belittle us as xenophobes and so-forth, although never anything as bad as the invective that has been directed at Germany by Greek officials. Of course, many now see the Eurozone crisis as a vindication of much that was said in the late-1990’s and early 2000’s by centre-right politicians here in the UK (especially William Hague’s 1998 warning that the Euro would prove “a burning building with no exits”).

    Not only in the UK, but also in countries like Poland, the Euro is recognised as a total disaster, one that might easily have been avoided had people been less eager to attack those who warned against it as xenophobes, or quick to rush into a currency union out of the belief that political union would inevitably follow – a political union that almost no-one wants. At least in Poland Eurozone accession has been kicked pretty much permanently into the long grass.

    At the same time the UK remains very active in the European sphere, contributing far more to ensuring peace in the Balkans than countries far closer to that area, doing more to deter Russian aggression than other countries closer to Russia. Politicians on the continent may make dark warnings about “anglo-saxon influence” or whatever, but few here pay any real attention to it, and there is no real substance behind it.

    I might speculate that a Sinn Fein-led govenrment in Eire might make things much more difficult for the UK since they would be sure to apply much the same rhetoric in power against the UK as they always have, but the voters in the Republic seem likely to return a Fine Gael-Labour government. At any rate, Eire has pretty much recovered so it is hard to see a Sinn Fein government causing the same kind of disaster in Eire that Syriza managed to cause in Greece.

    The real threat to British engagement in Europe is local parochialism of the kind embodied in Nigel Farage’s UKIP. David Cameron’s Conservatives have (happily) backed away from demanding restrictions on the freedom of movement, and with that they should not find it to gain some token concessions in negotiations with the EU, campaign to stay in, and (if current opinion polls are correct) win handily. Hopefully UKIP’s amateurishness and closet racism will be sufficiently exposed in the referendum campaign (as it was during this year’s election, when barely a week went by without some UKIP candidate having to resign because of a racist comment they had made) to permanently neuter them.

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  2. This anti-German nonsense
    is hardening public opinion in Germany, just as a lot of anti-Greek nonsense has hardened attitudes in Greece. On both sides, the press has kept the public informed about every insult that’s good enough to make peoples’ blood boil.

    That’s from a cookbook for absolute beginners in propaganda: turn your public against another country, rather than against your “elites” who created much of the mess. (One decisive bit of the mess has been to allow banks to be “too big to fail”, Foarp. And next time, too, they’ll be too big to fail.)

    I think Yugoslavia has shown how quickly “Old Europe” can be brought back to life. Now we are getting another example of how easy that is.

    It seems to be pretty much the same approach worldwide; the measures the CCP propaganda took in 2008 to portray protests abroad against the regime as slander against the country were surprisingly much the same. Frankly, I’d think that Cameron, Li Keqiang, and Merkel are pretty much part of the same jetset – there’s a lot to negotiate, but nothing to argue about.

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