Tsipras Makes Election Year Bid for German WWII Reparations

FILE - Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras attends a Cabinet Meeting inside the Greek Parliament in Athens, on Monday, Jan. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS – After cozying up to Chancellor Angela Merkel to get her support to keep helping Greece recover from an economic crisis, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras – with elections coming – has revived a bid to make Germany pay World War II reparations.

The call was joined by rival parties who said they, too, want compensation for the Nazi’s destruction of Greece’s infrastructure, looting of the banks, gold, and treasures and atrocities, but who said Tsipras was taking a stance after kowtowing to Germany, whose banks put up the bulk of 326 billion euros ($366.9 billion) in three international bailouts.

Tsipras said his ruling Radical Left SYRIZA government, far behind in polls to the major opposition New Democracy, would file a formal note verbale demand for reparations although Merkel and German officials said it’s a dead issue.

Tsipras said that now Greece has exited its bailout programs, in which Germany was a key creditor, it can’t be accused of trying to offset its massive debt with the reparation demand.

He told a special parliamentary session that Greece will make use of European and international law to back its demand, which Germany has repeatedly rejected.

“We will await the German government’s response,” Tsipras said. “But whatever that response is, this time we must not allow the issue to lie dormant … this time we will insist,” without explaining why he didn’t during his more than four years in power.

He added that “our main aim is to agree with Germany to start a dialogue as equal partners, as friends and allies,” while demanding money from a government which wasn’t the enemy.

A Greek cross-party parliamentary committee in 2016 set the country’s claims from Germany at a minimum 292 billion euros ($330 billion) for WWII, with an additional 9.2 billion euros ($10.35 billion) for World War I. A different estimate in the same report set the total at close to 400 billion euros ($450.19 billion.)

The sum for WWII includes reparations for material damage and human suffering and a forced loan exacted by Germany during the 1940-44 occupation. The parliamentary committee calculated the sum due for the loan at about 10 billion euros ($11.25 billion.)


Parliament voted by a broad majority in favor of a motion for Greece to act on the committee’s findings. In Berlin, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Germany’s position on the matter has not changed.

“And this position is that the question of German reparations has been conclusively settled in legal and political terms,” he told reporters ahead of the Greek parliamentary session.

“We know . how much suffering Germany and Germans caused Greece in the time of Nazism,” he said. “The lesson that we draw from this is to do everything so that Germany and Greece have good relations as friends and partners, and so that they support each other for the good of both countries.”

New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the occupation loan Greece was forced to pay out to Nazi Germany during World War Two is “legally open and politically feasible,” and its repayment should be made a priority, said Kathimerini.

Speaking in Parliament, he said the demand for war reparations is “legally complicated,” but that Greeks who were the victims of Nazi atrocities have the right and should claim reparations. “We knew and know that the legal path is expected to be difficult,” he told lawmakers.

Mitsotakis said that although it was first tabled in parliament in 2016, Tsipras delayed bringing it until now with elections required to be held by October and the Conservatives holding big leads.

Mitsotakis said Tsipras didn’t bring up the reparations either in a number of meetings with Merkel where he was beseeching her to keep helping Greece after his party had declared her an ideological enemy.

In 1941, Nazi Germany forced Greece’s central bank to pay out an interest-free loan of about 476 million Reichsmarks. Germany used the money to finance the “cost of occupation” of Greece and its military operations in North Africa.


(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)