Collective Remembrance and Private Choice: German–Greek Conflict and Behavior in Times of Crisis

When does collective memory influence behavior? We highlight two conditions under which the memory of past events comes to matter for the present: the associative nature of memory and institutionalized acts of commemoration by the state. During World War II, German troops occupying Greece perpetrated numerous massacres. Memories of those events resurfaced during the 2009 Greek debt crisis, leading to a drop in German car sales in Greece, especially in areas affected by German reprisals. Differential economic performance did not drive this divergence. Multiple pieces of evidence suggest that current events reactivated past memories, creating a backlash against Germany. This backlash also manifested in political behavior, with vote shares of anti-German parties increasing in reprisal areas after the start of the debt crisis. Using quasi-random variation in public recognition of victim status, we show that institutionalized collective memory amplifies the effects of political conflict on economic and political behavior.

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License CC BY
Type Journal Articles
C-ID POLS 130 - Comparative