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German FinMin rejects WWII reparations, Greek FM insists it’s an issue of international justice

German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble rejected any prospect of Berlin paying WWII reparations to Greece. Speaking to “Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung“,  Schaeuble argued “that was done long time ago” but refrained from giving exact documentation of his arguments – for a change.

Furthermore Schaeuble warned Athens saying the issue of allegedly legitimate reparations was misleading the people in Greece.

“I consider such statements to be irresponsible. Much more important than causing astray to people is to explain to them the path of reforms,” he claimed. “Greece has done a lot, but he also has a long way to go. Which should not distract you.” He saw no chance for reparations because the compensation issues had already been resolved.

Interesting enough, when the issue was first officially raised by Athens in September 2012, the German Foreign Ministry had rejected the Greek claims with the …striking argument  “The federal government assumes that after several decades, the question of reparations has lost its relevance.”

According to To Vima report published last Sunday experts from the Greek finance ministry found that Germany should pay Greece 108 billion euros for damage to infrastructure and 54 billion euros for a loan that the Nazi occupation forces obliged Greece to take in order to pay Berlin during the war.

Greece’s reaction to Schaeuble

Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos  rejected Schaeuble’s claims of ‘misleading the public’ or that the issue has been resolved. Replying to a journalists’ question, Avramopoulos said:

“No relationship exists or can exist, between the reforms made ​​in Greece and the issue of German reparations.

Besides, the German compensation is a matter that has emerged over many years by the Greek state.

Whether this issue has been resolved or not, this assumption is to be determined by the international justice, as by nature, this issue touches on international law and international courts.

Greece is not “disoriented” by the reforms policies, despite the great sacrifices borne on the shoulders of the Greek people. “

What do I think?

To tell you the truth, I am a bit surprised that rational-thinker and speaker Wolfgang Schaeuble did not bother to bring facts to crash the Greek claims  but he rather used the vague assumption of  German Foreign Ministry. It’s is the first time that I hear German argumentation is based on “assumption”.

When arguments fail, a distraction from the issue and correlation to other issues seems to be helpful and thus for the German public. Easier to digest…

 

Of course, accepting Greece’s claims would not only shock the taxpaying voters of CDU, it would also expose the German government for applying incredible austerity policies to the weak Euro zone member-states people, while Berlin owes money to these.

Do not get me wrong. I do not blindly support the claims of Athens, as I am not quite clear -or convinced- about the real motive of Samaras’ government to raise this issue now. Samaras is considered to be a friend of Merkel. Is this just an attempt to put some pressure on Germany and try to relax the loan agreement conditions? Or are the claims 100% legitimate? These questions I cannot answer.

However I think the disclosure of historical documents by both sides would finally solve the issue and make it clear whether it is political fanfare or legitimate claim.

PS I do really hope Greece’s can really document its claims, and we won’t be the joke of international community. Furthermore, I would propose, Greece could show its generous face and have Germany pay back its WWII 54-billion-euro loan in installments 🙂

 

 

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15 comments

  1. I agree that such a delicate issue literally begs for an objective and neutral evaluation, be that a European Court or a committee of wise men/women or whatever. It is simply not acceptable that one side can seriously claim “all taken care of” while the other side seriously claims that “you still owe us 300 BEUR”.

    For those who want to read analyses more sympathetic to the Greek side, I recommend googling Prof. Albrecht Ritschl, a German professor at the LSE. As you might expect, Ritschl has strong opponents in Germany.

    From what I have read about it, I derive the following: everything under the title of ‘war reparations’ would be a waste of time for Greece. Yes, there was that treaty stipulating that this issue would be revived following German re-unification (written at a time when no one could imagine that there ever would be German re-unification) and when re-unification came, Chancellor Kohl essentially told everyone to go and fly a kite (Greece correctly always made notes that it did not consider this issue as closed). But even if that issue were revived, Greece was awarded very limited claims by the Allied Commission after WW2 (I believe about 35 BUSD at the time), most of them to be settled in kind and not in money. Greece says they never received anything. The Germans say they made 2 shipments and both got lost during the Civil War. Whatever the case may be, that sounds un-resolvable to me.

    Individual claims by Greeks were settled for 115 MDM in the early 1960s, and that issue is settled (accepted by Greece).

    The clearer issue seems to be the forced loan. If it could be proven that this loan was a loan like any other loan, then it would still be legally valid. It should be easy to prove that this was a loan and that this loan was never repaid (however, I believe it carried a 0% interest rate). On the other hand, if it could be proved that this loan was part of war damages done to Greece, then it would no longer be a loan like any other loan. Instead, it would be considered as part of war damages whose reparations I have adressed above. Still, the consensus here seems to be that Greece would have a fair fighting chance.

    It shouldn’t be too difficult for people who have access to all the documentation to come up with a ruling. I guess one concern is always the setting of precedents where one does not know what avalanche one might be kicking off.

    That could be a concern to Greece as well. As is generally known (and no surprise when there are relatively brutal wars, civil or otherwise), there are political and/or ethnic groupings who claim that they have not been treated by Greeks in a terribly gentlemanly way (involving massacres, expulsions, etc.). Once there is a precedent that it pays to unbury old skeletons, a lot of others may decide to unbury old skeletons, too.

    Nevertheless, I still think that the most important thing would be to clear this issue up objectively and neutrally once and for all.

    • Typo: Greece was awarded about 35 MUSD (not 35 BUSD) after WW2.

      • Hi Klaus,

        My understanding was that for any country who accepted US Marshall Plan money, that Germany was given a pass from them, and no claims should ever be put to Germany, but apparently this may not be the case? What I’ve been told by a old retired US military guy here in Greece who actually was in Greece in the 1950s, was that during that time Greece received much more through the Marshall Plan then they would have received from Germany through reparations. So, if any money flows from Germany, it should flow to the US treasury since we paid all Greek bills after WWII.

        • keeptalkinggreece

          I suppose the US Marshall Plan aid to Greece was help for being on allies side and also it covered infrastructure damages. However the “loan” the Nazi regime enforced from Greece’s central bank was not covered by Marshall Plan. or was it?

          • Unfortunately I do not know. Curious to see what Klaus says. But, for sure, talk of reparations makes Greece look silly in the international press.

          • To be sure, I have no first-hand info on this. Only what I have read about it in different places, some more and some less professional.

            It seems undisputed that the 1953 agreement tabled the issue of ‘war reparations’ until after German reunification. When reunification took place, Greece (but not only Greece) wanted to raise the issue and they were essentially shut up by an overbearing Chancellor Kohl who argued that such trivial issues of the past should not stand in the way of profitable future business relationships. Greece desposited notes that they saw it differently and so did Germany. Strictly from a formal standpoint, the 1953 agreement does not yet seem to have been complied with to the full extent. As I said before, whether raising the ‘war reparations’ issue again would yield any material results is a totally different question (most writers say ‘no’).

            The forced loan issue, as far a I know, has never been addressed formally and was not part of any agreement. To me, that should be a relatively easy issue to resolve, i. e. whether an obligation to repay it still exists or not. Again, even if it were determined that an obligation still exists, near-endless debates would probably result as to how that obligation should be calculated in today’s terms. I don’t want to sound cute but the Germans could say ‘ok, you made a loan in Reichsmark; that currency was wiped out and so is your loan’. The Greeks could say ‘that loan was originally equivalent to x% of our GDP; our GDP today is y and x% of it is z’.

            What I have found interesting so far is that on these issues, I have not yet seen any German commentary which unequivocally stated that Greece has no point whatsoever. If it were really such a clear-cut case, I would have expected such unequivocal statements, certainly from Germans.

          • keeptalkinggreece

            1) “Chancellor Kohl who argued that such trivial issues of the past should not stand in the way of profitable future business relationships” LOL
            2) “Germans could say ‘ok, you made a loan in Reichsmark; that currency was wiped out and so is your loan’. similarly any debt in Drachmas should be wiped out when Drachma was wiped out? sorry, this doesn’t sound like a rational argument to me.

          • The Drachma wasn’t wiped out, it was replaced by our beloved Euro. And, all loans in Euro to Greece have a “drachma” clause in them, just in case Greece gets funny ideas and tries to tell the EU where to go. All loans to Greece (and the other hold-up, sorry bailout countries) are also governed by British law, which has, as part of its debt collection laws the anti-terrorism clause, allowing for the confiscation of sovereign propety as collateral should Greece or any of the others fail to bleed to death, sorry pay up, as ordered…

          • keeptalkinggreece

            Drachma was wiped out the same way Reichsmark was ‘wiped out” to Deutsche Mark.

          • Not really. When the Deutsche Mark was introduced in 1948, every German in the 3 Western zones was allowed to draw 40 Deutsche Mark on their ration card. 2 days later the Reichsmark was declared invalid, and there was no exchange possible. They could not exchange old Reichsmark for a certain amount of new Deutsche Mark. The Drachma was exchanged for Euro at a specific exchange rate, it wasn’t declared invalid as such, it was taken out of circulation but people weren’t left with nothing. Not then anyway…

    • giaoýrti giaoyrtáki

      So now one can figure that Krautland always will explain sumthang. For one half of nay-sayers it goes like: “Everybody thought ‘after the re-unification’ will be just a few years and therefore these claims are not serious anymore and for real they are not even claims” bla, bla and yet we see the perfect new other version: Everybody knew Wiedervereiterung will take too long, haha.
      And yep, here comes a even better version, fresh out of kitchen hell: “The shit got lost in civil war”. Civil war was over in 49 and the treaties were made in 53 and regarding Manolis Glezos not even high ranking German officials tried this ridiculous lies:
      http://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article115121884/Es-geht-nicht-um-Geld-sondern-um-Gerechtigkeit.html
      But that’s a developement ‘kuz half a year ago it was “Greece must pay for Troy” and even the (former?) Anti-Greek Focus seems to back the claims:
      http://www.focus.de/finanzen/news/staatsverschuldung/tid-30503/reparationen-kollaborateure-clans-mit-nazivermoegen-griechen-schuldenabbau-mit-deutschen-weltkriegs-milliarden-wie-aussichtsreich-sind-die-forderungen-_aid_956511.html

  2. “The federal government assumes that after several decades, the question of reparations has lost its relevance.”

    Unless you are Jewish.

    Nothing wrong with that, but we are all humans. Just because the Germans feel guilty for the holocaust they still pay to victims of the holocaust damages done to them.

    The rest they call get lost. Is that right Mr Schaueble. And Germany.

    Ja vie take your, gold und treasures und money. Und ja vie kill your people und knock your buildings down. But das var ein long time ago.

  3. Whether this issue has been resolved or not, this assumption is to be determined by the international justice, as by nature, this issue touches on international law and international courts.

    As long as the courts are fair and not biassed and persons bribed by the Germans or others who are on the German side. Because as we have seen over the past 10 years international courts of justice are one sided. Just as was observed at the courts in the Hague with the trial of the Jugoslav war. Where only the Serbians were convicted of all the bad stuff and the Albanina UCK, Croatians and others were let off free to become politicians.

  4. Is there a problem with my comments.