Eurozone crisis: Schadenfreude, mon amour
13 April 2012
The financial crisis is at Spain’s doorstep, and all the other European countries can do is rejoice that this fate has not befallen them. This sentiment, so well expressed by the German word Schadenfreude, puts Europe itself at risk, warns a Spanish political scientist.
Now that all of Europe is speaking German, learn this word “Schadenfreude”. It means the “malicious enjoyment of someone else’s pain,” and because it has no translation in almost any other language, the other languages have adopted the original. This feeling is clearly not unique to the Germans. In fact, it is dominant throughout this sad Europe these days.
As recent statements by Mario Monti [declaring that he is “enormously preoccupied” with developments in Spain] and Nicolas Sarkozy [declaring that Spain has been “swept up in a crisis of confidence” and using it in his election campaign] have revealed, the misfortunes of a country bring substantial joy to others, who believe they can exorcise their own miseries this way.
We are not free of it either. Remember the relief we felt when the Italian risk premium rose above the Spanish, or when we thought that Greece’s misfortunes pushed us back from the abyss? Rather than look at our interdependencies, at what unites us, we are being led more by a push for narcissistic differentiation and by our emotions than by our heads.
Anger is more than justified
The negative feelings we are dumping onto the European Union are isolating us from what would have to be the logical reaction to a situation like this: to cooperate as effectively as possible in order to come up a joint solution. In this, Rajoy’s reaction to the statements of the leaders mentioned above has been the correct one.
The important thing is the euro, and great caution must be exercised when it comes to public declarations. Let everyone do their duty, and we will work out solutions for everyone. And, it should be added, there can always be disagreement over what the right measures are or how we’ll have to implement them. What we cannot afford, however, is to give free rein to the passions.
If there is anything that sparks a panic in politics, it is the subordination of politics to the emotions – and, moreover, to the darkest, like schadenfreude or the irresponsible desire to shift blame onto some for the evils of all. We apparently still need scapegoats for our misfortunes, something that comes almost naturally when we give in to nationalist self-absorption, so prone to playing the victim card. It is a constant of our European history.
At other times it was the source of almost all the wars on the continent, and it now threatens to wreck an inspiring project – perhaps because it tends to feed, as populist leaders well know, the most primal and radical reactions. It’s not a good sign that Marine Le Pen is, according to surveys, the candidate attracting a greater number of young French voters, and nor does it bode well that appeals to the “grandeur de La France” stand high on political platforms for the upcoming presidential elections.
In a way, it is logical that emotional resistance arises, even if only as compensation for the coldness of the markets, insensitive as they are to the social wounds they cause, and as a reaction to powerlessness in face of the unilateral nature of the apparent solutions. Under the current circumstances, a feeling like anger is more than justified; and it will always be better than fear, the ruling passion.
A European demos
What seems unacceptable, though, is that these passions cloud our faculties for deciding on the right action. Usually we end up doing better when a sound grasp of where our interests lie temper our passions. And no one doubts where, at this critical crossroads, our interests lie: more Europe and less statist solipsism.
It’s precisely the opposite of what, in our perception, prevails among European public opinion, urged on by irresponsible politicians and by a section of the media in many countries that believe they have struck a gold-bearing vein in this constant stimulation of the supposed national grievances. It’s also there in the preaching of catastrophe by some opinion leaders. A few days back, for example, Wolfgang Münchau wrote in Der Spiegel that Spain now is where Greece was two years ago. This amounts to laying the foundations for a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Under these conditions, one blinds oneself to all reasonable ways out of the crisis. There will be no more Europe if we do not walk resolutely towards the construction of a European demos, a goal we have slipped back from by several kilometres. It may be that the idea leaves us cold, that we will never feel “European” in the same way that our national ties warm us. Never before, however, has the need to temper our emotions under the imperative of self-interest been more clear. Passions and interests: life itself!
Translated from the Spanish by Anton Baer