The Price Of “Collective Trauma”: Greece At The Brink of Civil War

Wolf Richter's picture

Wolf Richter

“I’m wondering how much this society can endure before it explodes,” said Georg Pieper, a German psychotherapist who specializes in treating post-traumatic stress disorders following catastrophes, large accidents (including the deadliest train wreck ever in Germany), acts of violence, freed hostages.... But now he was talking about Greece.

He’d spent several days in Athens to give continuing education courses in trauma therapy for psychologist, psychiatrists, and doctors—for free, this being a country in crisis. He was accompanied by Melanie Mühl, an editor at the daily paper Frankfurter Allgemeine. And in her report, she decries how “news consumers” in Germany were fed the crisis in Greece.

It was “no more than a distant threat somewhere on the horizon,” defined by barely understood terms, such as bank bailout, haircut, billion-euro holes, mismanagement, Troika, debt buyback.... “Instead of understanding the global context, we see a serious-faced Angela Merkel getting out of dark limos in Berlin, Brussels or elsewhere, on the way to the next summit where the bailout of Greece, and thus of Europe, is to be moved forward another step” [also read... The Curse Of The “Irreversible” Euro].

But what is really happening in Greece is silenced to death in the media. Pieper calls this phenomenon a “giant feat of repression.”

And so they report their findings that cannot be dressed up in the by now normal euro bailout jargon and acronyms. There were pregnant women rushing from hospital to hospital, begging to be admitted to give birth. They had no health insurance and no money, and no one wanted to help them. People who used to be middle class were picking through discarded fruit and vegetables off the street as the stands from a farmers’ market were being taken down.

[I have seen that dreary activity even in Paris; if Mühl spent some time looking, she could see it in Germany as well. It’s not just in Greece where people, demolished by joblessness or falling real wages, are deploying desperate measures to put food on the table. And the largest consumer products companies are already reacting to it: The “Pauperization of Europe”.]

Heart-braking, the plight of the Greeks. There was an old man who’d worked over 40 years, but now his pension had been cut in half, and he couldn’t afford his heart medication any longer. To check into the hospital, he had to bring his own sheets and food. Since the cleaning staff had been let go, doctors and nurses, who hadn’t been paid in months, were cleaning the toilets themselves. The hospital was running short on basic medical supplies, such as latex gloves and catheters. And the suicide rate doubled over the last three years—two-thirds of them, men.

“Collective trauma” is how Pieper described the society whose bottom had been pulled out from under it. “Men are particularly hard hit by the crisis,” Pieper said, as their pay had been decimated, or their jobs eliminated. They’re seething with anger at the utterly corrupt system and a kleptocratic government that have done so much damage to the country; and they’re furious at the international bailout politics whose money only benefits big banks, not the people.

These men take their anger to their families, and their sons take that anger to the street. Hence the growing number of violent gangs that attack minorities. The will to survive in humans is enormous, Pieper points out, and so humans are able to overcome even incredibly difficult situations. To do that, they need a functioning society with real structures and safety nets. But in Greece, society has been hollowed out for years to the point where it is collapsing.

“In such a dramatic situation as can be observed in Greece, the human being becomes a sort of predator, only seeing himself and his own survival,” Pieper said. “Sheer necessity pushes him into irrationality, and in the worst case, this irrationality transcends into criminality.” At that stage in society, he said, “solidarity is replaced by selfishness.”

And so he wondered, “how much this society can endure before it explodes.” Greece is on the brink of civil war, he went on, and it seems only a question of time before the collective desperation of the people erupts into violence and spreads across the country. A ricocheting indictment of the euro bailout policies.

As the Eurozone flails about to keep its chin above the debt crisis that is drowning Greece and other periphery countries, and as the EU struggles to duct-tape itself together with more governance by unelected transnational eurocrats, Sweden is having second thoughts: never before has there been such hostility toward the euro. Read....  Sweden’s Euro Hostility Hits A Record.

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Gimleteye's picture

Coming soon to a USA near you.

From Germany With Love's picture

In other news -some rumors (admittedly) from Germany and people might want to take note of it.

From an open letter to Angela Merkel  (translation into English mine, original and source below):

'And those worries are well-founded: Last Sunday I was at the open house presentation of the bourse of Düsseldorf and talked to representatives of the Bundesbank, Baader Bank AG and Deutsche Bank, among others. They talked frankly of "costs of the crisis which our children and children's children will have to pay", of " creeping disownership of citizens through inflation and taxation", of "social spending reduction on all fronts" [nothing new up to her so far, right? FGWL], there was even speculation about radical measures such as Lastenausgleichsgesetz (enforced taxation of housing and equities), prohibition of ownership of gold and government-enforced maximum interest rates. A rep of Deutsche Bank didn't rule out distribution fights right on one's own doorstep.'


Just rumors but still worrisome.



'Und die Sorge ist begründet: Letzten Samstag habe ich den Tag der offenen Tür der Börse Düsseldorf besucht und mich unter anderem mit Vertretern der Bundesbank, der Baader Bank AG und der Deutschen Bank unterhalten. Dort wird unverblümt von „Krisenkosten, die noch unsere Kinder und Kindeskinder belasten werden“ gesprochen, von „schleichender Enteignung der Bürger durch Inflation und Steuern“, von „Sozialkürzungen an allen Fronten“, sogar über radikale Maßnahmen wie das Lastenausgleichsgesetz (Zwangsbesteuerung von Immobilien und Aktien), das Goldbesitzverbot und staatliche Höchstzinsgrenzen wurde gemutmaßt. Ein Vertreter der Deutschen Bank schliesst in den nächsten Jahren „Verteilungskämpfe vor der Haustür“ nicht aus.'

SmittyinLA's picture

hogwash they're good as long as they keep the lights and heat on, and food on the table . (Those cuts are coming)

Rustysilver's picture

So, a German predicting a war (in Greece). Is it going to be on the two fronts.

This kind of bull$shit is hard to read. THERE WILL BE NO WAR in Europe.

European are broke. You need money to conduct a war. U.S. has over 100K soldiers in Germany. So don't expect France attacking Germany again.

They may be some skirmishes in Balkans or elsewhere on periphery.  But that is it.

Putin has his hands full in Russia. I don't expect anything from there.

ME will always be ME.

OC Money Man's picture

People used to talk about Europe as such a non-violent society.  Historians might say that is because the continent purges the urge every 70 years by killing 50,000,000 or so.   

Stratfor Reports makes interestering comments this week:

"The creation of a banking union is part of the European strategy to address the financial aspect of the crisis. The creation of the European Stability Mechanism -- a permanent European bailout fund -- and the announcement that the European Central Bank is ready to buy troubled countries' bonds are part of that strategy. The promotion of fiscal discipline in member countries is also a key element of Brussels' approach. According to the European Union, all these measures will contain the crisis in the short term and create a healthy financial environment in the long term. In this new financial environment, banks would provide cheap credit and countries would be able to borrow at reasonable costs, something that would eventually lead to economic growth.

Europe's problem is that it is running a race against time. It is not clear that these strategies lead to growth, and if they do, the benefits would only come in the long term. In the short term, most European countries will probably see their economies shrink and their unemployment grow, especially in the periphery of the eurozone. This situation is already leading to growing social unrest and a deepening of the crisis of political representation in Europe, with Greece being the most advanced example. This year, European leaders have made ??progress in containing the financial side of the crisis; the political and social side of crisis, by contrast, remains largely unaddressed."

malek's picture

Too bad the writer didn't bother to translate another part of Melanie Mühl's article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine.

She states:
"In Griechenland wurde die funktionierende Gesellschaft so lange ausgehöhlt, bis sie schließlich zusammengebrochen ist wie ein marodes Haus. Die Krise hat den Sozialstaat zerstört. [...] An die Stelle der Solidarität tritt Egoismus."

In Greece a working society had been undermined until it collapsed in itself like a ramshackle building. The crisis has destroyed the social state. [...] Solidarity is replaced by egoism.

The highlighted term displays the real rot, with Mühl's underlying thinking representing most of Europe's population.

Her implied thinking goes along these lines:
The most important thing is a social state! The state has to enforce solidarity, because without enforcement there would never be any solidarity! Now that the social state is collapsing, we need an even stronger state to righten/rebuild/recreate the social state!!

Fuck no! We need more solidarity, but voluntary not enforced by some corrupt state.

(By the way in my opinion that is the same "more state is the solution" fallacy the OWS movement overwhelmingly falls for. Another fantastic example how correctly identifying the main ills needn't lead to a sensible "solution.")

americanspirit's picture

If you feel the need to kill someone choose carefully and pick someone who has spent their life making life miserable for others. They make themselves hard to get to because they know that they deserve to die. As a general rule stay away from women and children and normally from people in uniform - although there are major exceptions to that. Generally those in uniform who are high ranking are a much better bet to be worth killing than the grunts. A few suggestions - expensive car, yes. Way to big a house, yes. Corporate title, yes. Politician, yes. Banker in corner office, yes. Anyone in any of the predatory Federal agencies, yes. Anyone eating a $100 meal in a restaurant, yes. Anyone wearing clothes worth more than a normal person's week's salary, yes. Anyone with lots of bling - yes. Anyone with a record of molesting children or beating up women - definitely. See - plenty of worthwhile targets, so stay away from schoolyards if you're feeling like you just gotta kill someone. Otherwise you're gonna wind up a just a dead loser. At least if you use your head you will leave this world having made a positive difference.

Sockeye's picture

It's comments like this that make me hesitate to ever forward ZH links.

Dr. Sandi's picture

Maybe this isn't a good place to be then.

Dr. Sandi's picture

Specifically, what do you disagree with? Or can I assume you're on the list?

steve from virginia's picture




A civil war in Greece would be a tragedy and unnecessary.


Greece and the rest are bankrupt b/c of their automobiles and 'American Style' suburbanized way of life obtained from Big Business, financed by Wall Street.


The Greeks have borrowed tens of billions of euros to buy cars and fuel for the cars. Neither the cars nor fuel pay for themselves. The only collateral for new loans is used cars and smog. Nobody will lend any more to the Greeks because the costs have become excessive


The doctors and the nurses are cleaning toilets, doing for themselves. Cleaning toilets is the first step. Next is for all the Greeks to figure out what else they can do for themselves with the resources they have ... without the fuel, the cars and the lifestyles. This can be done because Greeks -- and others -- have done these things quite well for thousands of years. 


As soon as the Greeks start figuring this out their crisis is on the road to ending. Until the Greeks -- and others -- start figuring this out the pain will intensify. Greece is too poor to fight wars, it can slowly disintegrate and its people starve or emigrate.  For what is such a price being paid?


To drive a car. There has been the choice presented to citizens in modern countries since peak oil ... which occurred in 1998 (!) You can either drive a car ... or have a job. You can drive a car or have a competent government. You can drive a car or have a pension or get a good education. The choices become more existential as the wrong choice is made over and over: drive a car or have medical care. Drive a car or live in a house. 


The choice is always made to drive the car, drive the car, everything else is thrown to the wolves and the country disintegrates. Greece is destroyed by peak oil: unaffordable cars, unaffordable fuel ... and the unaffordable credit needed to gain these things.


The choice to come: Drive a car or have something to eat. At the end of this road there are no cars and no food, either. No country, nothing, a void filled with ruin and despair. Life is simple: you get to repeat your mistakes until you learn not to do so.


Get real Greeks, get rid of the cars. All of them. Now.

sun tzu's picture

You're pretty stupid, even for a simpleton . Very few people in Greece own cars. The country is very small, so they would not need so much fuel anyway.

The country is broke because high tax rates forced them into a black market economy where nobody paid taxes. Then the politicians promised free shit to everybody. On top of that they turned the country over to Goldman Suchs banksters.

hexile's picture

I think cars are a metaphor.

steve from virginia's picture


The cars are real, they were and still are the axle around which the Greek economy rotated/rotates.


The Greeks embraced the euro because it gave them access to imported Middle-Eastern fuel at a discount. The Greeks ... who supposedly had few cars ... guzzled 450,000 barrels of crude per day.


@Sun Tzu: Greeks cannot earn, only borrow, have done so for 10 years and are now bankrupt. Driving a car does not pay for the car, nor does it pay for the fuel: taxes are irrelevant (especially if they cannot be collected, ipso facto).


Greece has almost zero domestic fuel production. Since the euro was introduced, the country enjoyed a 'boom' of development, highways, suburban 'villas' ... resorts, vacation 'destinations' all over the country ... Olympic games. All of this was 'paid for' with credit. There were towns in Greece with the highest rate of Porsche ownership in the world ... now what do the Greeks have? The women have to give birth in their houses by themselves, there is no medicine in the hospitals, the unemployment is over 50%.


It isn't just the Greeks, they were the first into the pit, the Spanish, Irish, French are close behind ... then comes the Germans, Japanese and Chinese.


Time to lose the Ayn Rand ideology and smell the coffee. Our collective waste is coming to get you and it is taking no prisoners.



hexile's picture

Steve, I am well aware that the cars are also real. I see them every day, since i live in Greece. 

What I tried to point out with that simple phrase in the above post is that the "car" can be seen as a symbol for the freudelent needs and (western) lifestyle alltogether that Greece encapsulated once it entered the Eurozone. In the name of the common currency the greek market was deregulated prior to the entrance to the Euro by the same people that today are taking orders from the European Commission, IMF, Berlin, Fraknfurt and god knows who else. Greece was forced to borrow because every government served foreign interests in exchange for materialistic and not favours. Plus, the borrowing part is not, as you say, solely a "cosa nostra".

Estrella's picture

And where is her husband? How about her mother? Her husbands mother? In the community she lives, no women know how to birth? Your kidding, right? And why ate the doctors cleaning the lavatory? Are there no relatives of patients? Civil war? Against whom? The people are rioting in the street demanding more government not a change or less.

ElvisDog's picture

I don't think it will be a civil war in the sense of the U.S. civil war - relatively evenly matched sides. It will be more like the French Revolution civil war. The revolution will be against the foreign banks. The number of Greeks who support the status quo is small. Come on, Greek people, do it. Default on all foreign debt. Throw the troika out of your country for good. Declare the IMF to be war criminals. Nationalize everything inside Greece. That is the path forward. Do it.

Madcow's picture

why not just drop nukes all across the continent and be done with it ? 

at least the EU has the balls to swallow a deflationary collapse and not resort to hyperinflation - 

sooner or later the bond markets will figure that out - 



Gordon Freeman's picture

Oh, please, Testy, your breakin' my heart...

If you substitute the phrase "out-of-control alcoholic on a terminal bender" for pre-crisis Greece, and "Existential hangover" for what is happening now, would we still be engaging in all this grotesque hand-wringing??  The GREEKS are responsible for their plight (and the French, Spanish, etc), and everyone with any common sense knows it.

ItsDanger's picture

People here say its their fault.  There is a lot of blame to go around.  Certainly there are many people who always paid their taxes as they were told and saved money.  They were lied to and are now paying the consequences.  Not everyone is at fault.

sun tzu's picture

It is their fault for allowing the government to become such a big part of the economy that a collapsed government brings a collapsed economy.  We are in the same situation in the US. Since when did the federal budget decide the fate of the economy? We have put all of our eggs in one rickety old basket being carried by the retards in DC

mind_imminst's picture

There are a couple of themes here of course. Keynesian financialization and the "debt as money" system has wreaked havoc. The big banks and EU should just eat the losses (Greek Bonds). They did know better. I know some think it was the plan all along (to suck wealth out of society - Greeks in particular). However, there is a lesson for people (Greeks on the front line of learning) as well. Money does not grow on trees. You cannot print or borrow your way to wealth. Bloated governmnet and union salaries have to be paid by someone who is generating actual wealth - real prosperity. I see it all the time in the U.S. as well. Federal government unions think that money grows on trees and the the taxpayers (who on average make less than half in compensation and benefits) can continue to support increasingly lavish benefits and wages. I can't see things ending well in the U.S. either. People need to learn basic math.

Element's picture

No, really, they got bailed-out wolfie.

rsnoble's picture

Unfort people can endure way too much abuse as all of us US citizens will be fighting a civil war with homemade, primitive weapons if these stupid shootings keep going on.  Amazing the number of people who will still rip your head off in the US for mentioning the gov't wants to protect itself and really doesn't care about it's tax cows.  I assure you there are many psychopaths in office who are estatic with the recent gifts to them, rather or not they weren't self-gave gifts like 9-11 im not sure.

rsnoble's picture

Or self-given or whatever appropriate term might be correct this hangover has me in no mood for the unemployed english scholar comments this am,  which btw ill hire you as a proofreader for .001cents per post.

User 3461's picture

Parking some fiat in bed sheets, latex gloves and catheters seems advisable. Then again, at this point, I'm starting to think buggy whips, fly swatters and shovels will be the next growth industry.

Widowmaker's picture

Violence is coming like a freight train, and all the stupid fucks chanting in the streets want gun control?

The author dances around the necessity of assault arms, almost perfectly.

sun tzu's picture

The fiscal cliff might be a good thing. It will defund the military and federal police thugs that the tyrannical leaders rely on to control us

Winston Churchill's picture

You are naive if you believe that.

That spending will not cease until the last breath of the Federal gov.

Just as it still is in Greece.If and when the police/army dont get paid,is when

the fireworks really start.

User 3461's picture

It's hard to imagine that gun control isn't just around the corner. Yesterday, NPR's blathering [leftist] contributor pulled a very exciting / innovative / unexpected stunt: "gun control is too {toxic or something like that}, we need gun safety". So, you can guess where this goes.

overmedicatedundersexed's picture

slowly it may happen that those who see more of the power elite crimes the common man who today has advantages (just like the elite control tech has advantages)..information is available still (how much longer?)to produce weapons that can be used in new ways ..much like civil war and wwI war making is seen as stupid today.

there are ways that this war on elite will be fought that are new and not based on old tactics, we are all waiting for the true enemy (the NWO elites) to get it's first bloody nose. 

this is why we have DHS and TSA being built up as quickly as possible in USA. the elite's experts on security know the time is greece the time is now. 

sun tzu's picture

You should clarify that elite does not mean some schmuck making $200K a year with a small trucking company. The elites are the billionaires and federal overlords in the bureaucrazies.

ZeroPoint's picture

It will only be war when the UN 'Peacekeepers' arrive.

Snake's picture

An article about the "collective trauma" of a country in trouble, today (12/16/12) is very tellling.

One can do a very interesting excersise with this article, just replace "Greece" for "US" ... and see:

And the suicide rate doubled over the last three years—two-thirds of them, [here add: "soldier"] men.

“Collective trauma” is how Pieper described the society whose bottom had been pulled out from under it. “Men are particularly hard hit by the crisis,” Pieper said, as their pay had been decimated, or their jobs eliminated. They’re seething with anger at the utterly corrupt system and a kleptocratic government that have done so much damage to the country; and they’re furious at the international bailout politics whose money only benefits big banks, not the people.

These men take their anger to their families, and their sons take that anger to the street. Hence the growing number of violent gangs that attack minorities. The will to survive in humans is enormous, Pieper points out, and so humans are able to overcome even incredibly difficult situations. To do that, they need a functioning society with real structures and safety nets. But in [the US] society has been hollowed out for years to the point where it is collapsing.

“In such a dramatic situation as can be observed in [the US], the human being becomes a sort of predator, only seeing himself and his own survival,” Pieper said. “Sheer necessity pushes him into irrationality, and in the worst case, this irrationality transcends into criminality.” At that stage in society, he said, “solidarity is replaced by selfishness.”

In psychoanalisis this is called "projection": "From a psychoanalytic viewpoint, projection is an intrapsychic process that creates or shapes a perception (or a collection of perceptions) with reference to an object in the outside world, which, although the subject believes he or she is perceiving it "objectively," is actually being perceived according to the subject's own characteristics".

Also, and slightly off the subject.  Greece should (and probably will) follow Argentina's example.  The last 24 hours have been very interesting.  Argentina did not pay a cent to the vultures, and got the frigate back.  Thus the country, lead by Cristina Fernandez, is in fact guaranteeing international laws and regulations for the restructuring of sovereign debts, especially of Greece and other probable European countris of the so called periphery, no?



malek's picture

You missed one point here.

This article was written by a German modern emancipated woman, so stabs in "it's all the men's fault" style are a necessary ingredient to all discussions on serious topics.

Yamaha's picture

How we forget history. Rome fell due to money printing and when Napolean came into the city it was aready in ruins with the hungry and desitute.

When the military conquests ended there was nothing to support the huge social programs and imported grains - starvation, desperation and death soon followed.

This great empire fell - the politians were to blame as they are today.

willwork4food's picture

Rome did not fall due to money printing-there was no such thing. They devalued much of their silver & gold ccoins with base metals and could not extract enough silver and gold from the mines to make up for their expenditures.

When Napolean came into the city in the 1800's Rome was still there and doing very well:The Holy Roman Church, which had massive amounts of money.

 What are you talking about?

sun tzu's picture

The people who put those politicians into power are to blame.

unirealist's picture

Similar stressors are at work here in the US.  And, as in Greece, stressed and depressed people take it out on their families, themselves, and occasionally on 6-year old schoolchildren or theater patrons.  Instead of the financial pirates who ran the game on them or the mealy-mouthed sycophantic bureaucrats who enabled the piracy.

Sad, sad.  I don't expect it will be like that forever, though.  One of these days some mad dog is going to head for Wall Street or the Hamptons to express his pain and anger with his AK47.

On that day, everything is going to start changing.  And fast.  Because 6-year old innocents are expendable.  Bankers and their uber-rich masters are not.

Won't be anything stealthy about your loss of freedoms after that.  No sir.  That kind of behavior will be stomped on hard.

But like Mubarak and Saddam learned the hard way, and Assad is learning now, it's already too late when the people have recognized the true enemy.  You can't unsee something once you've seen it.

This will not end well for any of us.

Notarocketscientist's picture

Mubarak was a creation of America and Irael.

Have a look at this documentary from CTV in Canada  -  see how America murders decent leaders - and installs thugs - all in the name of enriching American corporations

sun tzu's picture

They decided to get rid of him and are now arming the Muslim Brotherhood with F-16 fighters. More wars in the ME/NA means more military spending abroad and more police state at home

Dr. Sandi's picture

It might create a police state. But at least there will be more U.S. jobs building stuff that blows people and their possessions to kingdom come.

And that's a good thing, right?

Optimusprime's picture

Wrong about Assad.  He is being attacked by Israeli/US-led terrorists.  Benghazi attack was AFTER Stevens had packed and shipped Gaddafi's old weapons to Turkey's border to Syria.  The struggle in Syria is NOT a "civil war"--that is US propaganda.

Joe A's picture

How sympathetic I am to the plight of the average Greek who is suffering, the society as a whole has only itself to blame. Endless borrowing, corruption, a civil sector which is too big, 14/15/16 months yearly salaries, tax avoidance, etc. In the meanwhile people kept voting for the same politicians which them all gave the above. Everybody complained about the system of kickbacks and bribes but nobody did something about it. Demonstrating and bringing your anger to the street will not change a thing. It will only amuse the political and economical elites of that country and in Brussels.Nevertheless, the suffering is real.

People need to rebuild their society. Come together on a local and regional level. Don't have a job? You won't get one anytime soon so why not volunteer in a hospital and clean the halls and toilets. Do some other form of community service. Nothing will piss off politicians more than people who mobilize themselves and help themselves and each other because it will mean that the politicians have lost grip on the people. Check out the potatoe movement in Greece who mobilizes people and bring them together, wihthout any political affiliation (they refused to become part of Syriza). They organize food fairs where consumers and producers are brought together to buy and sell food directly, cutting out the middle man. The Greek have an opportunity to recreate democracy which can serve as an example to the rest of us.

tango's picture

Wonderful summation.  Movements as you described are hopeful but we should remember that Europe is not a republic. Whereas The US replicates government at the local, city, county, state and national level, Europe has mostly a city, national type. The idea of local control has given way to dependence.

The paradox is that we want folks to make choices and yet when they choose a pathway that leads to destruction, we make excuses, blame bankers or politicians or outsiders.  There must be consequences.

TahoeBilly2012's picture

You gotta break the men down, tag them and bag them to bring in the New World Order. Greece is the test bed for the next dominoes. Their plan seems to be coming along just fine.