Resolution of the Reparations Issue

ATHENS/BERLIN (Own report) - The Prime Minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras has announced a new initiative to force Germany to pay reparations and compensations to Greece. During a memorial service for the victims of a massacre committed by the German Wehrmacht in the western Greek village of Kommeno, on Tuesday, Tsipras declared that, should the Germany government persist in refusing to pay reparations, Athens will seek "through diplomatic channels - and if necessary at the judicial level - " to take action against Berlin. In early September, the Greek parliament is scheduled to discuss a recently completed report quantifying the German reparations debt at 269 billion Euros. German government assertions that the reparations issue has been "closed" are unfounded. In fact, payment of the binding 1946 reparations sum, recognized by the London Debt Agreement of February 1953, had been deferred, but not annulled. Only a fraction of it has been paid. As confirmed by Horst Teltschik, former advisor to Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Bonn had sought to evade its reparations obligations by explicitly not qualifying the 2 + 4 Treaty a "Peace Treaty." It had been feared that, with a peace treaty, suddenly "reparations demands from over 50 countries would land on the table," Teltschik explained.

If Necessary, at the Judicial Level

The Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, has announced a new initiative to force German reparations and compensations payments to Greece for crimes committed during the World War II German occupation of that country. Tsipras reiterated that his government would do "everything necessary" to impose reparations - "at the diplomatic, and, if necessary, at the judicial level."[1] He made this announcement in the course of a memorial service for the victims of a massacre committed by the German Wehrmacht on August 16, 1943 in the western Greek village of Kommeno. Within a few hours, 317 defenseless civilians aged from one year old to 90, where abruptly awakened and murdered by the German occupiers. Referring to the Greek parliamentary committee's final report, completed in late July, the Prime Minister explained that this represents the first time that a "national strategy" for dealing with the issue of reparations and compensation payments exists, and is scheduled to be debated officially in parliament at the beginning of September.

269 Billion Euros

The committee's final report has listed the reparations and compensation claims still pending. According to the list, Athens can raise claims for "reparations for material war damages and confiscated property," along with the restitution of the forced loan, the German occupiers extorted from Greece. In addition, reparations are demanded for the victims and their families of German war crimes, and not least of all, the demand for the return of hundreds of stolen archeological artifacts.[2] It is reported that private individuals' claims for reparations is already calculated "at more than 107 billion Euros - before interests." Germany also still owes Greece 9.2 billion Euros in World War I reparations. The forced loan to the Nazi government is usually valued in today's currency at more than 10.3 billion Euros. Altogether, the parliamentary committee arrives at a total of 269 billion Euros in reparations and compensation payments.

To The Hague and the UN

The final report also proposes measures the Greek government could take. According to the authors, a Greek parliamentary delegation should inform parliamentarians of the German Bundestag and the parliaments of other nations of the claims. In a note verbale, the government in Athens should call on Berlin to enter negotiations, they write, and the European Parliament should be called upon to intervene. The conflict could be taken to the United Nations.[3] Should the German government remain intransigent, the case must then be taken before the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Athens must also consider the possibility of executing the rulings already handed down by Greek courts and confiscate German property in Greece. Greek courts, in principle, have awarded surviving victims of German war crimes in Distomo, Egio and Rethymno reparations, however, cannot impose the execution of the ruling. The only possibility would be to nationalize the Goethe Institute's Athens' subsidiary and compensate the victims from those proceeds. Under massive German political pressure, the Greek government, so far, has not taken this step.

Berlin's Double Strategy

Since some time, Berlin has been responding to Athens' demands for reparations with a sort of double strategy. On the one hand, Germany claims that there is no legal basis for reparations. The case is "closed." On the other, Berlin offers cheap concessions, from its cultural policies abroad reserves, destined to strangle any further reparations demands. Thus for example, the German government is officially promoting the German-Greek Future Fund - which began functioning September 12, 2014, during a visit of Greek President Karolos Papoulias - as "serving reconciliation and historical analysis between Germany and Greece."[4] This project does not cost 269 billion Euros, but rather annually a million, only the smallest fraction of which actually reaches the victims and their descendents. However, selected historical projects are supposed to give the impression that finally Germany's historical crimes will be comprehensively dealt with. Projects, such as these, are usually administered in the context of cultural policy abroad, not only for the purpose of promoting the image of an alleged "reflective" Germany, but primarily to stave off reparations demands - at the expense of the victims of the Nazis.

Confirmed, then Postponed

Berlin is particularly interested in subduing reparations demands because, contrary to the official German standpoints, these demands remain applicable under international law. The fundamental necessity of reparations payments was confirmed in February 1945 at the Yalta Conference. The first general guidelines were laid down in the Potsdam Agreement on August 2, 1945. November 9, 1945, negotiations began in Paris on their concretization, during which, Greek reparations claims valued at US $7.1 billion - based on the 1938 buying power - were confirmed. Today, this is worth a multiple of that value, even without interests. Experts estimate the value - in 2010 currency - at around US $106.5 billion.[5] In the January 14, 1946 Reparations Agreement of Paris, Greece had been allocated a certain percentage of Germany's available reparations reserves. In fact, Athens received non-cash benefits with an estimated value of only US $25 million.[6] Since signing the London Debt Agreement on February 27, 1953, Bonn has refused to pay any reparations at all. That agreement made an indefinite deferment of reparations for the Federal Republic of Germany. However, it explicitly also provided for a future "final ... settlement of the reparations issue."

Demands from 50 Countries

Throughout the cold war period, the Federal Republic of Germany had turned down demands for the payment of reparations, using the London Debt Agreement as reference, and declaring that reparations claims can only be negotiated after the "reunification" with the German Democratic Republic and the ensuing finalization of a peace treaty. However, Bonn has deliberately qualified the 2 + 4 Treaty, signed September 12, 1990, not as a peace treaty, "not least of all, because of the risk of reparation demands," as former Chancellor Helmut Kohl's advisor Horst Teltschik explained in March 2015. "Not only Greece" could be demanding reparations. "As is known, the Nazi regime was at war with over 50 countries around the world. ... Just imagine, in the context of a peace treaty, we would have had reparations demands from over 50 countries on the table."[7] That is what had to be avoided. However thereby, the "final ... settlement of the reparations issue," stipulated in the London Debt Agreement, which for decades the Federal German government made conditional on a formal peace treaty, was simply postponed further into the future. Should the Greek government carry out Prime Minister Tsipras' announcement, it would now be placed on the agenda.

More on this topic see: Legacy without a Future.

[1] Tsipras zu Reparationen: Werden "alles Notwendige" tun. 17.08.2016.
[2], [3] Giorgos Christides: Wie Griechenland von Deutschland 269 Milliarden Euro einklagen könnte. 10.08.2016.
[4] "Deutsch-Griechischer Zukunftsfonds" nimmt Arbeit auf. 12.09.2016.
[5] Karl Heinz Roth: Griechenland am Abgrund. Die deutsche Reparationsschuld. Zweite Auflage. Hamburg 2015.
[6] Hagen Fleischer, Despina Konstantinakou: Ad calendas graecas? Griechenland und die deutsche Wiedergutmachung. In: Hans Günter Hockerts, Claudia Moisel, Tobias Winstel: Grenzen der Wiedergutmachung. Die Entschädigung für NS-Verfolgte in West- und Osteuropa 1945-2000. Göttingen 2006. S. 375-457.
[7] "Alle Forderungen erledigt". 14.03.2015.