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Schiller’s Call for a Debt Moratorium
Enters Debate over the Debt Crisis

August 2011

Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) Ludwig von Beethoven.

Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805), the Poet of Freedom, has joined the debate over the European debt crisis and, naturally, supports debt moratorium. Under the headline "Every certificate of debt be abolished" ("Jeder Schuldschein sei zernichtet"), the leading German daily, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAZ Sunday Aug. 28th edition, and again today), on its front page, has a big color copy of a recently found Schiller manuscript, which contains five stanzas of his Ode to Joy.

Stating at the beginning that Schiller was not content with the Ode, quoting him saying "in spite of a certain fire in the sentiment it is a bad poem," FAZ states that nevertheless the Ode started its triumphant course. They remind their readers that Beethoven’s musical version in the Ninth Symphony became the anthem of "united" Europe.

The folded double-sheet of paper with the five stanzas, which will be auctioned off in October, has on the first page (which FAZ shows as a copy):

Duldet mutig Millionen,
duldet für die bessre Welt,
droben überm Sternenzelt
wird ein großer Geist belohnen.

Jeder Schuldschein sei zernichtet
ausgesöhnt die ganze Welt,
Brüder überm Sternenzelt
Richtet man, wie wir gerichtet.

The last stanza translates into English as:

Every certificate of debt be abolished
and the whole world reconciled,
Brothers, above the firmament,
It is judged, as we have judged.

FAZ Sunday edition front page with photo of cited Schiller manuscript.

FAZ notes the differences with the later printed version: "Schuldschein" ("certificate of debt") became "Schuldbuch" ("debt register") and "zernichtet" ("abolished") became the more modern "vernichtet" ("abolished").

FAZ’s last sentence makes the point that the issue of debt Schiller refers to holds for today as well, and should obviously be the policy of Euroland: "But that doesn’t change anything concerning the European reality of today, as Schiller described it in his time."

Surely if Schiller were alive today, he would support the call to burn the bank bondholders, a debt moratorium and Glass-Steagall.