Banks are back, the stock market has reopened and all economic signs (including the banks and stock market) are disastrous. Normalcy has returned to Greece! The more serious truth is that the deal signed last month by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras â€" which includes new austerity measures in exchange for a third bailout to stay in the Eurozone â€" will have real effects on people's lives. The downside of the debt drama can be measured not only in its economic but also cultural and social consequences. Here are some signs of the times.
MUSEUMS SLOW DOWN
The crisis doesn't only affect the present and future of Greece, but also its past, as the country's 270 public museums have seen their budgets considerably trimmed in response to the mounting public debt. The annual allocation to Athensâ€™ National Archaeological Museum dropped 27% between 2010 and 2012 according to French newspaper Le Monde. The State Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki is also struggling with the lack of state funding. â€œIt only has enough funds to pay staff salaries. It cannot fund running costs and exhibitions, cover utility bills and pay for internet usage,â€ independent curator Katerina Gregos told The Art Newspaper. As for the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, it was momentarily closed on July 1. â€œThe cost of keeping it open will bankrupt the institution, making 20 staff redundant," said the museum's artistic director Denys Zacharopoulos.
STREET ART GOES UP
The debt crisis has been visible on the walls of Athens. As the majority of the Greek population rejected bailout terms in a referendum last July, they have made their despair heard via street art, with plenty of anti-austerity graffiti popping up around the capital. Graphic designer N_Grams painted an EU flag on which is inscribed four white capital letters: Nâ‚¬IN. â€œIt came to me the other day, so I went out straightaway and made it. Because this is it now, isnâ€™t it? Crunch time. The moment has come. Now we have to make the big choice, the really big decision. Perhaps this will make some people thinkâ€, the artist explained to The Guardian. Former photographer Cacao Rocks who made the graffiti â€œâ‚¬urope without Greece is like a party without drugsâ€ says this rush of socially engaged street art began â€œbecause of this big wave of anger that started in 2008 and just grew and grew. But also, as the crisis got worse, there were more and more closed shops and empty buildings. There were a lot of walls to paint.â€
Another repercussion of Greeceâ€™s situation lies in the spirits industry. Importing foreign alcohol has become difficult with the complication of moving money in and out of the country. And excise taxes on spirits have more than doubled since 2010, raising liquor prices for consumers.
But above all inhabitants want to spend as little money as possible even if it is for having fun. Diffordâ€™s Guide, a website dedicated to cocktail culture, met Greek bartender Chris Houseas: He explained that with the crisis people felt â€œreluctant paying 10 euros for drinking something special like a cocktail.â€ Beer consumption, in response, is up.
PETS PUT OUT
It's apparently not only humans affected by Greeceâ€™s slowdown. In Athens, hundreds of cats and dogs have been abandoned by their owners. As unemployment soared to 25,6% last June, fewer and fewer Greeks have the money to take care of their pets. A local student, Simon Throup, decided to set up a charity appeal to raise 25,000 pounds ($39,000) for animals to have â€œfood, medicine and homes,â€ he explained to Metro UK. â€œUnfortunately, dogs donâ€™t adapt too well to city living without owners and many die of thirst, starvation or disease.â€
TASTE OF GREEK-GERMAN HUMOR
In Berlin a restaurant called Z is serving up a ""Hellenic-European Drama"" menu. Its Greek-born owner Georgios Chrissidis, who moved to Germany in 1984, told Reuters that his homelandâ€™s financial troubles had inspired several dishes named after key protagonists of the Greek crisis.
Customers can thus, for example, order a starter called â€œTsipras darling,â€ made of Manouri cheese â€" which is neither soft nor hard just as the Greek Prime Ministerâ€™s approach during the negotiations with creditors. For dessert, you can choose a tart nicknamed Sweet Angie, in reference to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. â€œWhat I think is that Mrs. Merkel is the Iron Lady but she was able to very sweetly bring an end to the Greek crisis, the Greek tragedy. And as a reward I thought about a nice dessert which is also very popular. And the guests like it,â€ Chrissidis said.
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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