Mass protests in Greece welcome Angela Merkel
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Today is German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s first visit to Greece since the eurozone crisis erupted three years ago. The visit comes as Greece prepares to pass $17 billion of new cuts to qualify for more bailout cash. The backlash against Angela Merkel on the streets of Athens is fuelled by growing resentment towards the German government for pushing hard for spending cuts as a condition of any Greek bailout.
It’s a flying visit — six hours in total — but along with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, Merkel has been greeted by thousands of protestors in central Athens who are not happy about her visit and the 7,000 police officers on duty to control them.
The visit is a gesture of European solidarity, and Merkel will have a difficult diplomatic game to play. Merkel needs to send a signal to the rest of the world of a united Europe, but if she looks too confident it could offend the Greeks. In this way, the visit plays a dual role — to help soften Greek resentment towards German-led austerity and provide breathing space for Merkel at home with voters. This morning Merkel noted Greek fiscal achievements and reasserted her hope to keep the euro zone intact.
Marios Efthymiopoulos, a Greek analyst at Strategy International, says many Greeks are already thinking back to the second World War when they think of their relationship with Germany today, “I think many Greeks are basing their current opinions on this past history with Germany,” and this tension will be playing into the dynamic of Merkel’s visit to Greece today.
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