Are we 'Nazi Germans' or 'Lazy Greeks'? Negotiating International Hierarchies in the Euro Crisis

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This chapter argues that to understand international hierarchies, we need to examine not only the type of hierarchy, but also processes of internalization of – and resistance to – hierarchies. We will then discover that many hierarchies are not simply imposed from above, but that subordinate actors are often complicit in the ongoing production and negotiation of hierarchies. I begin this argument with the simple observation that some international hierarchies are taken for granted. Today, it seems obvious that there is a hierarchy in the Eurozone with Germany at the top and Greece at the bottom. Scholars, politicians and media see Germany as the leader and economic power-house of Europe, while Greece is represented as ‘bankrupt’ and ‘dysfunctional’ with high levels of unemployment. What we often overlook, however, is that it was not inevitable that these particular countries would occupy these positions in the hierarchy. Why Greece and not Italy, Spain or Ireland? We cannot explain why Greece became the poster boy for the Eurozone crisis based purely on its economic troubles – because Spain and Italy share similar debt problems as Greece and are just as closely monitored and subordinated to the austerity measures imposed by the IMF, the EU and international lenders. Likewise, while the German economy has been doing relatively well, it suffers from structural problems, including a growing number of working poor. This first part of the chapter explores why hierarchy appears awkward in multilateral institutions emphasizing sovereign equality. It shows how hierarchies are produced, upheld and challenged through stigmatizing and stereotyping labels. The second part of the chapter presents a survey of how German and Greek newspapers label – and thereby also rank Germany and Greece – and react to the way in which their countries are ranked themselves in a period of three months during the height of the euro crisis. The labels include Germany as ‘Nazi oppressor and colonizer’, ‘strict teacher’ and ‘naïve victim’ and Greece as ‘colonized and oppressed – and possible neo-Nazi resistant’, ‘immature pupil’ and ‘moral sinner’. Each label positions the state very differently. Based on an in-depth analysis and contextualization of the stereotyping of self and other, the chapter suggests that rather than merely consolidating Germany’s (and Northern Europe’s) economic and political superiority and sustaining the subordination of Greece (and other Southern states); the euro crisis generates a series of more complex, self-reflective national debates and political gestures of repair and embarrassment. These dynamics reveal a deep concern in both Greece and Germany about how they are perceived on the international scene. The chapter concludes with reflections on how international status struggles are more interactive and self-reflective than usually assumed, suggesting different ways in which hierarchies may change from within.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHierarchies in World Politics
EditorsAyse Zarakol
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Publication date2017
ChapterPart II - How Actors Experience; kap. 9 Hierachies
ISBN (Print)9781108416634
Publication statusPublished - 2017

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Social Sciences - International Relations Theory, Hierarchy, Social, Germany, Greece, Euro crisis, Status, National Identity, European Union, eurozone, Negotiations, sovereignty, European Integration, constructivism, Nazism, Fascism, Stigma, diplomacy

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