BERLIN (Reuters) - German newspapers attacked “ungrateful” Greeks for the hostile public reception they gave Angela Merkel in Athens and some criticised the chancellor’s generosity for promising they would stay in the euro zone - a message welcomed in Greece.
Pictures of a small group of Greek anti-austerity demonstrators dressed as Nazis, including one with a Hitler moustache waving a swastika, dominated German coverage of Merkel’s first visit to Athens since the sovereign debt crisis began three years ago.
“Germany does not deserve this!” protested the biggest selling Bild tabloid on its front page.
Merkel braved Tuesday’s protests to reaffirm her commitment to keeping debt-crippled Greece inside Europe’s single currency, but offered Prime Minister Antonis Samaras no concrete relief ahead of a report next month by the “troika” of international creditors on his government’s progress on savings targets.
In stark contrast to the German reaction, Greek newspapers hailed the visit as a show of support for the sacrifices of the Greek people and the reform efforts.
“With her trip to Athens yesterday Angela Merkel put an end to 2-1/2 years of Greek isolation,” wrote centre-left daily Ta Nea in a front page editorial with the headline: “She came... she saw... she promised.”
Conservative daily Kathimerini said it would be naive to expect that Greece’s problems could be solved in one visit, but Merkel’s positive message “indicates we are in the last phase, just before the cherished light at the end of the tunnel”.
But Germany’s Bild interpreted Merkel’s words as sending the message that “Greece can stay in the euro no matter what the numbers say or how little progress they make and despite the fact that we Germans were insulted as Nazis”.
“The Greece on show in central Athens yesterday does not belong in the euro,” wrote Nikolaus Blome, its top political commentator, who called the Greeks “ungrateful” for Germany’s large contribution to bailouts from Europe and the International Monetary Fund.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily agreed: “The Greeks will only see the light at the end of the tunnel that the chancellor promised when they understand that the ‘Fourth Reich’ is not to blame for their problems.”
But if one of Merkel’s aims was to reassure politicians at home that fellow conservative Samaras’ efforts deserve support but that she has no intention of relaxing the conditions for helping him, the chancellor may have achieved her objective.
“Yesterday’s visit sent a good signal in two ways, firstly in terms of friendly diplomacy, but also by showing there will be no loosening of the bailout terms. Greece has to fulfil the conditions and Greece agreed to this,” said Markus Soeder, finance minister of Bavaria’s conservative state government.
Merkel’s conservatives are hoping to win a third term in power in next year’s federal election.
From Germany’s opposition Social Democrats, the European Parliament chairman Martin Schulz said Merkel had struck the right balance between showing support for Samaras while also making clear there would be “no blank cheque” for Greece.
Merkel’s coalition and the SPD alike reserved special venom for the head of Germany’s hardline Left party, Bernd Riexinger, for joining protesters in the streets of Athens on Tuesday.
Gerda Hasselfeldt, parliamentary leader of the Bavarian conservatives, said she was “furious” at Riexinger for acting “against the interests of his own country”.
Additional reporting by Karolina Tagaris in Athens; Writing by Stephen Brown, Editing by Gareth Jones and Elaine Hardcastle