A group of theologians from different churches in Germany calls for immediate debt relief for Greece and an end to the austerity policy.
Christians do not see the story from the perspective of those in control, nor do they see it from the perspective of the ‘institutions’ or of the German federal government or of a certain Mr Schäuble. We also do not view the prevailing circumstances from the perspective of the Greek oligarchy or the banks. God has promised justice to the poor and the weak. It is our duty to protect their rights (Ex 3:7-8).
What we are currently seeing in Greece is an unprecedented, all-out attack on the poor, the unemployed and the needy. The time has now come to focus the debate on the implications of the policies pursued by the EU – with our federal government leading the way – that are being forced upon the Greek people. 80% of all previous bailout payments given to Greece have ended up benefitting the banks and financial investors, and, what is more, each payment is tied to strict stipulations: pension cuts, VAT hikes, privatisation of public goods and allowing employers to terminate contracts with shorter notices. The reform of the healthcare system is now already leading to the closure of hospitals; up to one third of the population is no longer covered by health insurance, the unemployment rate has hit approx. 30% and poverty, both visible and hidden, is growing at a terrifying pace. And despite all of this, the IMF has just reiterated its demand for lower wages and further concessions when it comes to workers’ rights. The ‘Troika’s’ requirements are systematically rescinding the country’s basic and human rights, a fact that has even been criticised by the European Parliament.
“And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. ... do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High ...” (Lk 6:34-35).
A good life is only possible when everyone is able to live. Or, to put it in economic terms: Greece will only be able to produce enough for everyone when the people required to do so are not too ill or too hungry. In January the new Greek government suggested organising a European conference to discuss debt reduction. They proposed a clause which would link repayments to growth (i.e. beginning to pay back debt when the country was recording significant growth). “If I were a responsible Greek politician, I wouldn’t lead any debates over a debt haircut,” was the cynical response given by German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble.
If debts cannot be repaid and the population is becoming impoverished as a result, these debts have to be cancelled. According to the Bible, it is wrong before God for an individual to ruthlessly continue to collect debts that are unpayable. God forgives a man his debts when he forgives those debts that are owed to him. The Bible contains wisdom that has held for millennia and which still holds true for Greece today: unpayable debts destroy the life of the debtor. Asking God to “forgive us our debts” in the Lord’s Prayer requires man to refuse to abide by laws that lead to the destruction of his fellow men. For the sake of human life – to allow debtors to live – the Lord’s Prayer calls for resistance to the law stipulating that debts must be repaid.
Germany of all countries should understand this concept: after all, the London Debt Agreement of 1953 also gave us the chance of a fresh start when several legitimate reparation payments were initially written off. The fact that these repayments were only temporarily postponed was on Horst Teltschik’s mind when, in 1990 during reunification negotiations, he wrote to Helmut Kohl: “A claim for reparations of our former war enemies could be raised only after we would make commitments within the framework of a peace treaty or other agreement … We wish to avoid entering into these commitments under all circumstances.” Incredibly, this is the reason why no formal peace agreement was signed. So it is clear how Germany deals with debt repayments and its historical responsibility.
In 2000 the Christian churches called for Third World debt to be cancelled. Today, now that the issue has come knocking at Europe’s door, they remain silent even though both economic and Christian theories suggest that writing off Greece’s debt is crucial. They are silent because speaking out would mean having to face up to those who are profiting from austerity, in spite of the fact that it would make sense, after all the financial and debt crises of recent years and the social devastation they have wreaked, to take a stand against neoliberal capitalism and Europe’s austerity policies. Make no mistake, if we keep quiet on Greece, the social devastation will only rise further and this policy of austerity will continue unabated for years to come.
We, as Christians of various denominations, call for the organisation of a European debt conference so that democracy and the welfare state do not continue to be sacrificed for the sake of financial investors. We call upon our government and the EU to cancel Greece’s debt and to put an end to austerity!
Professor emeritus Franz Segbers, professor of social ethics at Marburg University
Dr Kuno Füssel, theologian and mathematician, Andernach
Dr Michael Ramminger, Institute for Theology and Politics / Münster
Prof. Ulrich Duchrow, Heidelberg
Werner Gebert, retired priest, Group for an ecumenical future (Plädoyer für eine ökumenische Zukunft)
Priest emeritus Norbert Arntz, Kleve
Ulrich Schmitthenner, retired priest
Dr Katja Strobel, theologian, Frankfurt am Main
Prof. Hermann Steinkamp, Münster
Prof. Franz Hinkelammert, Costa Rica
Günther Salz, former chairman of the Catholic Workers’ Movement (KAB) Diocesan Association Trier, Engers
Dr Julia Lis, Institute for Theology and Politics / Münster
Carl-Peter Clusmann, retired Catholic priest, Dortmund
Prof. Stylianos Tsompanidis, Professor of ecumenical theology / Thessaloniki, Greece
Dr Paul Petzel, Grammar school teacher in art and religious education, Andernach
Translation: Veronika Peterseil
Contact: Dr M. Ramminger, c/o Institute for Theology and Politics / Münster – Friedrich-Ebert-Str. 7 – 48153 Münster – E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org