Scapegoating the PIIGS?

A caricature in today’s (August 10th) “Hospodarské Noviny”, Slovakia’s largest economic daily newspaper caught my attention.

A raft carrying 4 well off men drinking champagne floats on some sea called the Eurozone, while a hand and a ragged sleeve sticks out of the sea. “Slovakia” is written on that sleeve while the on the raft are listed the names of four countries that have made news recently: Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

The debate if Slovakia should participate in the European safety net for debt stricken countries has been raging ever since the first aid plan. Slovakia’s people have made tremendous personal efforts during the post communist reforms: skyrocketing prices, unemployment, a struggling health and education infrastructure with a breakdown of what was in the past a very conservative society.

It is understandable that being asked to pitch in a State guarantee of almost 4,5 billion EUR makes people pretty angry. As was said at the time of the first bailout, Slovakia is a poor country, and has no resources to spare for countries that have not been able to finance themselves in a reasonable way.

That would be forgetting two important things: Slovakia is issued generous funding from the European Union for its development, infrastructure and education. 11,5 billion EUR are pre-allocated to Slovakia for 2007-2013 (for which 2,2 billion have been paid), and it would be unfair not to count it in the global European package, even if EU does not mean Eurozone.

The drawing does make me uncomfortable. Showing privileged fat guys drinking champagne on their boat while you drown does point towards the idea that the people on the raft are to blame for your demise. Firstly, I don’t think that nations that need the EFSF are “drinking champagne”: they are facing severe recession and high unemployment. They are probably going to live through the same hardships Slovaks went through: no-one remembers it as drinking champagne (a part for a bunch of well-connected moguls).

Now don’t get me wrong: I am as angry at politicians having mismanaged their economies for political gain than at the financial institutions that went bankrupt because of poor judgment. People who have elected politicians without thinking of what their promises were costing the country do need to tighten their belt as they are responsible for letting this happen. But let’s remember that the only reason Greeks managed to drown themselves in debt is that some people lent the money to them. Sounds familiar?

If the recession that has hit us since 2008 leads to a resurgence of nationalist finger pointing, the EU is in much more danger than I previously thought. This crisis is not so simple, and we need to overcome as Europeans, united and in peace.

3 Comments

Filed under Article, central europe, economy, European Union, Slovakia, Uncategorized

3 responses to “Scapegoating the PIIGS?

  1. Peter Svik

    Cher Monsieur,

    I am not used to reply to the opinion columns like this one, but I will do exception now.
    Although, personally, I am not against helping anyone in troubles, I have two problems with your piece.
    Very briefly:
    At first, I do not think that the present economic crisis and all that stupid talks on the PIIGS presents a return to nationalism because the nationalism is ever present reality in Europe since the second half of 18th century. Of course, due to tremendous experiences of the WWII, the most irritating aspects of nationalist “state of mind” were abandoned and condemned. Indeed, it would be a great mistake to suggest that the nationalism disappeared as it only moved into the background. Nonetheless, the crude fact remains that even a hallmark of de-nationalization in Europe, the integration, was partly motivated by an effort to keep the national goals. And, quite unsurprisingly, this way of thinking was the most prominent by the French decision makers.
    Secondly, and in this context quite logically, I just cannot abstain of thinking that the French – excuse me for a generalization – used to talk about European unity, reciprocity and solidarity especially in times when they face their own troubles. I understand that it will not be a nice look to see a venerable Société Générale on knees, but let´s call the things with their right names.
    Anyway, I am not against helping to anyone, but this is not a solution which can effectively help to preserve the status quo.

    • Dear Sir,

      Thank you for your reply and your historical view on nationalism for which you are well more informed than I am to make.

      I am not shocked by the opinion of some Slovaks to stay away from the EFSF rescue package. After all, it might not even work and Slovaks are some of the most courageous people I have ever seen for having gone through their own economic hardships. I was merely making a comment on illustrating the bankrupted nations as wealthy guys drinking champagne.

      Perhaps my point was this: You have brought up my nationality in your reply without knowing what I think about French policies, politicians or influence leaders in general.

  2. Peter Svik

    Cher Monsieur,
    First of all, thank you very much for your reply.
    Secondly, I would like to point out that it was not my intention at all to suggest that you made your comment only because of your nationality. This would be slightly reductionist and even stupid.
    I understand your reaction vis-à-vis the caricature, but you can find the similar stuff in the press elsewhere. Perhaps, I simply did not expect such a moralist stance from the HEC graduated (meant absolutely value-free!). Generally, I think that we need more critical thinking and realist solutions at the present moment.
    As I spent some nice time at the Rue d´Ulm, I am ever deeply interested to discuss things like this with the people like you.
    Voulez-vous agréer, Monsieur, l’assurance de mes sentiments très distingués,
    Peter Svik

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