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Who’s Sorry Now? Explaining (Non)Apologies in Post-Crisis Europe

Thu, August 30, 2:00 to 3:30pm, Hynes, 201


Following the post-2008 financial crisis, politicians and bankers apologized for their role in the crisis in some European countries but not others. While in Ireland former prime ministers, senior ministers, state officials and bankers offered their apologies for their actions or omissions in the run-up to the crisis, their counterparts in other European countries with similar background conditions, such as Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Cyprus, did not. To understand why, we draw on an in-depth comparative analysis of the most representative case of apologies (Ireland) and non-apologies (Greece). This is coupled with the analysis of a new repository of all recorded official apologies in six European countries, and dozens of interviews with national stakeholders (former ministers, state officials, bankers etc.). We argue that although the struggle for political survival and reputation repair is universal in times of economic stress, the perceived political cost/gain associated with apologies is mediated by political culture. While the public and academic debates on post-crisis accountability have been dominated by the absence of bankers’ prosecutions, very limited attention has been paid to the role of official apologies. Shedding light on the rationale (or lack thereof) of apologies in the aftermath of a financial meltdown is significant, yet understudied. As the paper shows, apology could be seen as a symbolic gesture aiming at restoring state-society relations of trust broken by the crisis. The paper contributes to the growing scholarly debates on official apologies by expanding the scope to include the hitherto unexplored area of post-crisis accountability.