A Greek Chorus, With German Accompaniment

The ancient Greeks invented drama, and in Europe today they are trying to revive it.

The “dialogue” between the European Union and Greece over the latter’s imminent bankruptcy has become increasingly heated and vindictive in recent weeks since the election of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. The left-wing government has refused to sign on the dotted line of another raft of economic reforms which it says will worsen what is already a humanitarian crisis in the country, while the EU says it can’t be blamed for what happens to Greece if the Greeks won’t at least promise to help themselves.

Much of the carefully crafted dialogue is between Greece and the EU’s main “paymaster,” Germany. Civility has given way to mutual recrimination. Tsipras has revived demands for reparations for the Nazi German occupation of Greece in World War II, which he estimated at 279 billion euros ($303.5 billion) — more than its 240-billion euro bailout from the euro zone and the International Monetary Fund.

The response from Berlin was not one of contrition. The Germans said they have already paid the bill, citing a 1990 agreement with the World War II Allies that put an end to war claims. Indeed, the 40-year-old Tsipras, unless he is an even bigger novice than anybody thought, could hardly have expected any other answer from Germany. More likely, he meant it as a rhetorical ploy, hoping, if not to throw the Germans off balance, at least to win kudos at home.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has been composed and correct in her dealings with the obstreperous young Greek. “Everything must be done to prevent [Greece running out of money],” she said, after talks with Tsipras last week. “On the German side, we are prepared to provide all the support that is asked of us. But of course reforms must be done,” she added.

While the reparations argument is a non-starter, it could be suggested that Germany be reminded of another episode from World War II and its aftermath — the Marshall Plan. That multi-billion-dollar act of generosity saved Western Europe, including her country, from the brink of starvation and communist takeover. Of course, it was not pure altruism; it was certainly in the U.S. national interest to have a strong European bulwark against Stalinism, along with its major markets for American goods.

Similarly, Germany and the EU might take a lesson from the Marshall Plan. An enlightened generosity toward Greece might elicit a more cooperative attitude from the ailing nation that would surely prefer to stay in the EU than to go crashing out.

Of course, it may just be that the EU and its bankers have made up their minds not to give Greece another euro more — and don’t let the door hit them on the way out.

Ancient Greek drama was noted especially for its tragedy, unhappy endings foreordained. Let’s hope that’s something Tsipras will not revive.