Facing a growing debt and demoralizing austerity measures, newly elected Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has demanded Germany pay World War II reparations.
The demand comes amid fractious relations between the two countries. Strict austerity measures in Greece are largely blamed on the European Union, in which Germany carries considerable influence.
Greece has “a moral obligation to our people, to history, to all European peoples who fought and gave their blood against Nazism,” to claim repayment, Tsipras said in his first major parliamentary speech.
Tsipras and his anti-austerity Syriza party claim that Germany owes Greece around US$183 billion— roughly equal to half of Greece’s current public debt of US$356 billion.
Germany’s economy minister Sigmar Gabriel flatly denied the demand of payment, saying, “The likelihood is zero.”
During WWII, Nazi Germany occupied Greece for four years. As was customary for countries occupied by the Nazis, Greece was forced to pay for the costs of occupation and exports were controlled. Furthermore, the Third Reich forced Greece to give an interest-free loan that was harmful to the country’s finances.
In 1960, Germany paid 115 million deutsche marks to Greece—one of 12 compensation deals Germany signed with Western nations. Greece, however, claims this was only an initial payment, to be followed with further payments after German reunification.
Germany claims that all matters of war-time debts were legally put to rest 25 years ago with the Treaty on the Final Settlement with respect to Germany. The treaty, signed by the former West and East Germanys and the four WWII allies (the United States, U.K., USSR, and France), put to rest any possibility for future repatriations. The treaty was approved by Greece, among other states.
This isn’t the first time that WWII reparations from Germany have been pondered in Greece. In 2013, a previous government reviewed the issue, but did not pursue it.