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4th Feb 2023

Greece to seek war reparations from Germany

  • Tsipras (r), in Brussels with German leader Angela Merkel and France's Francois Hollande (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras has put the painful question of German war reparations back on the table, saying his country was never paid for the infrastructural damage inflicted in World War II.

In a highly emotive speech before parliament on Tuesday (10 March), peppered with references to Nazism, the Third Reich, and the Holocaust, Tsipras said Berlin had an "unfulfilled moral, as well as material historic debt".

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He acknowledged that Germany paid 115 million deutschmarks (€59 million) to Greece in 1960, but said this went only to individual victims of Nazis and did not compensate for the "destruction" of the country.

"This agreement, however, provided compensation only for the victims of the Nazis in Greece and not for the damages inflicted on the country itself," he said.

"And of course it did not relate either to the obligatory occupational loan or the claims for damages due to war crimes as a consequence of the nearly total destruction of the country’s infrastructure and the economy’s disintegration during the war and the occupation".

He accused Berlin, which has long said it has honoured its war obligations, of using "legal technicalities" to get around paying.

"They see the mote in their brother's eye but not the beam in their own," he added, quoting a passage from the Bible, and speaking of a "moralistic tone" in Europe in an apparent allusion to Berlin's statements on Greece.

He also said that a parliament committee on "claiming the German debts owed to Greece" is to be reconstituted and upgraded and that his government will offer "political and legal assistance" so that its efforts "bear fruit". The motion to re-establish the committee was then backed unanimously by parliament late on Tuesday.

Assets seize

For his part, Nikos Paraskevopoulos, the Greek justice minister took the rhetoric a stage further on Wednesday by saying that German property in Greece could be seized as compensation.

He said he is "ready to approve" a Greek Supreme Court ruling in 2000, which ordered Germany to pay around €28 million to the relatives of 218 civilians in the village of Distomo, massacred by Nazi forces in 1944. The ruling said that assets such as property could be seized as compensation.

"The law states that the minister must give the order for the Supreme Court ruling to be carried out ... I am ready to give that order," he told Antenna TV, reports AFP.

The Greek statements come after weeks of uneasy relations between Berlin and Athens since the Greek far-left/nationalist coalition government came to power in late January.

Tsipras' first move as PM was to vist a memorial honouring Greek resistance fighters killed by the Nazis in 1944 - a symbolic gesture that did not go unnoticed in Berlin.

Since then, the Greek government has sought to make good on its election promises to restructure its debt and to end EU-imposed austerity.

But tough negotiations with its creditors have seen it win only small concessions, such as renaming the hated Troika (representing its three international creditors) as "the institutions".

Contrary to what it wanted, the government was forced to extend an existing bailout - by four months - and is currently trying to reach a deal on which reforms it needs to carry out to get the next tranche of cash.

Germany is at the forefront of those saying Athens must stick to its prior commitments on reforms.

Rhetoric between the two countries has turned nasty on several occasions since Athens' first bailout in 2010, with Greece - wracked by high unemployment and low growth - viewing Germany as too single-minded on austerity and with Germany seeing Greece as slow to undertake major changes.

The current talk from Athens is much harder than anything before, however.

It comes amid criticism of Tsipras by his own, hardline backbenchers, who expect him to deliver more of his campaign pledges.

Tsipras' defence minister Panos Kammenos, from the nationalist party in the coalition, also recently threatened to "flood" Europe with migrants if Greece does not get a debt deal.

"If they [the Eurogroup, a body which oversees eurozone governance] strike us, we will strike them. We will give to migrants from everywhere the documents they need to travel in the Schengen area [the EU's passport free zone], so that the human wave could go straight to Berlin."

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