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War reparations for Greece?

March 17, 2015

Leaders from the junior partner in Germany's coalition government have lent their support for Greek war reparations. They said Germany's moral and legal duties should be separated from the Greek debt debate.

Brauchitsch auf Akropolis
Image: picture-alliance/akg-images

In an interview with German news magazine Der Spiegel published Tuesday, leading politicians from the junior partner in Germany's governing coalition have lent their support to the idea that Germany should pay reparations from World War II to Greece.

"It's about recognizing the fact that we committed a serious injustice in Greece," Gesine Schwan, chairwoman of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) values committee, told Spiegel.

The damages in question date back more than 70 years. Under the German occupation in WWII, thousands of Greeks were murdered, infrastructure was destroyed, and Greece's central bank was forced into giving Germany a loan. Germany never reimbursed individual claims.

Matter closed for Berlin

The German government has repeatedly pointed out that 115 million deutschmarks were paid out under an agreement in 1960 with several European governments. Furthermore, Berlin argues there was an extensive system of compensatory measures in place that Greece also benefitted from.

Germany has stood fast in its belief that any outstanding claims to war reparations were settled in the "Two Plus Four Treaty," agreed upon between Britain, France, the former Soviet Union, and the United States as Germany moved toward reunification.

The SPD's deputy chair Ralf Stegner said "we should hold a discussion about reparations," adding that there were decades-old human rights issues to be cleared up and "we shouldn't connect the matter of reparations with the current debate about the euro crisis."

The opposition Greens' parliamentary leader Anton Hofreiter also lent his support to paying Greek war reparations, telling Spiegel: "Germany can't just sweep the demands of Greece off the table. Morally and legally, this chapter is far from complete."

Until now, only the opposition Left Party in Germany had supported the idea of paying war reparations to Greece. German Chancellor Angela Merkel's vice-chancellor, the SPD's Sigmar Gabriel, had ruled out that reparations would be paid to Greece in comments last month.

Last week, Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seifert said: "It is our firm belief that questions of reparations and compensation have been legally and politically resolved."

Strong words from Schäuble

In the current discussions regarding Greece's debt repayment obligations to its international creditors, including Germany, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble fired strong words toward the Greek government on Monday night in a speech at the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.

"They won't get their debts paid by conjuring up German obligations from World War II," Schäuble said.

Schäuble added that trust in the Greek government had been "destroyed," and said Athens wasn't being honest with its citizens by placing the blame for the country's debt problems on Brussels, Berlin, and the rest of Europe.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is scheduled to travel to Berlin on Monday for talks with Merkel.

mz/rc (AFP, dpa)