March 12, 2010 / 1:50 PM / 9 years ago

INTERVIEW - Greek minister sees no joke in German debt humour

BERLIN (Reuters) - German attempts to inject some humour in Greece’s dire economic troubles, such as tongue-in-cheek suggestions to auction the Acropolis, may raise a chuckle in Germany, but Athens is not laughing.

Greek Cultural and Tourism Minister Pavlos Geroulanos gives an interview at the ITB tourism fair in Berlin, March 11, 2010. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

“No, I don’t think it’s funny and I don’t think it’s a joke,” Greek Tourism and Culture Minister Pavlos Geroulanos told Reuters in an interview.

“I think the suggestion is absurd,” said Geroulanos when asked about an idea floated by some backbench members of the German parliament that Greece sell uninhabited islands to raise cash.

Germans are overwhelmingly opposed to providing any financial support to Greece even though the two countries are linked through their common currency, the euro.

German comedians have feasted on the debt crisis, but the jokes are falling flat for many Greeks especially in the lead up to the prime summer holiday season.

“I think comments like that are unfortunate and not building trust between the people,” the minister said at the ITB Berlin, the world’s biggest travel fair.

TOURISM

About one in five Greeks work in tourism, which accounts for roughly 20 percent of the nation’s 250-billion euro economy. Revenue fell by about 16 percent in 2009, partly because fewer Germans visited — down 4.2 percent to 2.26 million tourists, and there are fears for the current season.

Geroulanos said he believed protests in Greece against the government’s severe spending cutbacks would abate by the summer because the overwhelmingly majority of the population back the austerity measures. Social unrest could damage tourist numbers.

“The situation is quite fluid right now and it’s not the time to make predictions,” Geroulanos said, adding he hoped Germans would not be put off by the debt crisis or protests.

“The demonstrations are peaceful,” he said even though stone-throwing youths clashed with police in Athens on Thursday as tens of thousands of strikers protested against the cutbacks.

“Because most Greeks are supporting the measures of the government and understand they are absolutely necessary, we believe that by the summer things will have quieted down.”

The strikes have been organised by labour unions representing half of the country’s 5 million strong workforce. They are protesting cuts in civil servants’ income, tax hikes, a pension freeze and plans to raise the retirement age.

“We’re expecting them (Germans) to come to Greece,” he said, adding:

“They will find nothing less than Greek hospitality.”

That Greek hospitality does not extend to people making fun of them. Last month the German ambassador to Greece was summoned to the Greek Foreign Ministry to receive an official complaint about a German magazine.

The publication, Focus had a photo montage on its cover of an ancient Greek statue making an obscene gesture next to the headline: “Cheats in the euro family.”

Additional reporting by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Matthew Jones

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