The Invocation of Past Debt: Who is to blame for the Greek Debt Crisis? Political Discourse Analysis of Intellectuals during the Euro-crisis

Aristotelis Agridopoulos (Institute for Social Research, Frankfurt)

1) Introduction
The specific role of intellectuals in Greek-German relations during the Euro-crisis

The Euro-crisis, the Greek debt crisis as well as the austerity programs of the Troika have been extensively dominating the public, political and media discourse in Europe since 2009/10. Especially in Germany a public debate was triggered by the question whether Greece should still receive credits or not. In return for credits the German government demanded radical structural reforms and austerity policies from the Greek government. In this context, both, German and Greek politics and journalism evoked different moral frames for sometimes crude mutual allegations regarding the cause of the crisis:

1) In the German discourse a tendency of blaming the Greeks for an excessive lifestyle, frauds, dishonesty and laziness became overt. The German government repeatedly insisted that the Greeks have to do their “homework” correctly, pushing for their willingness to reform Greece profoundly.
2) A part of the Greek discourse, in turn, displayed a moral narrative as well, referring to an open German war debt for Nazi occupation during the Second World War. Thus, Greek reparation claims grew ever louder. Additionally, a critique of the hegemonic role of Germany within the EU became prominent, accusing Germany for being the main profiteer of the crisis.

The Greek elections of 25 January 2015, which the left-wing party Syriza won by a landslide, eventually mark a special event in the political system. Syrizas victory put an end to the bipolar system of Pasok and New Democracy and forced them simultaneously into opposition for the first time. Syriza made a pre-election promise to Greek people to stop austerity and the humanitarian crisis, and to negotiate with the creditor states about debt alleviation. For the first time in the recent crisis a Greek government rose up against the creditor states and the institutions of the Troika. What happened seven days after the OXI in the Greek referendum in Brussels is well known.

2) Starting assumptions

•    Past debt and guilt is a fundamental topos in the discursive conflict between Germany and Greece.
•    This topos of the discursive conflict is often used in journalism and produces differentiated yet intertwined dimensions (economic, moral, juridical) of debt/guilt.
•    Behind the predominating economic-moral dimension lies a fundamental political dimension of antagonism.

3) Research Questions

•    How is debt and guilt presented in German and Greek intellectual discourses and their mutual indebtedness framed?
a) before (cf. published research findings) b) in 2015
•    Which narratives do German and Greek intellectuals choose to construct collective subjectivities regarding their creditor-debtor-relation?
•    How do these narratives frame the different dimensions and depoliticize and/or politicize them accordingly?

4) Theoretical and Methodological Framework
Qualitative research method: Political Discourse Analysis + Frame and Narrative Analysis
The framework draws together concepts from political theory, discourse theory and media studies. With the Essex School approach for discourse analysis (Laclau/Mouffe, Howarth/Stavrakakis, Martilla, Nonhoff) I want to investigate the various antagonistic dimensions of debt/guilt discourse to figure out articulations, nodal points, empty signifiers, constitutive outsides, chains of equivalences, logics of difference. Furthermore, I want to explore the referential context of central signifiers in the debt/guilt discourse and the interrelations of various signifiers within this distinct signification process.

Object of research: Discourse of intellectuals in books, tv, interviews, newspaper/magazine articles

•    Selection criteria for the German and Greek discourse:
1) selected works  2) statements, media performance  3) interviews 3) political alignment/leanings
•    Content based selection criteria of articles: coverage of past debt, guilt, responsibility, duty, obligation, democracy, technocracy etc.

5) Objectives
In a comparative manner, my project investigates this particular intellectual discourses of debt/guilt that has a predominantly negative impact on today’s relations between Germany and Greece. Moreover, I want to elaborate on political dimensions of debt discourse and their discursive articulations.

Writings: articles and special issue