(Photo taken from businessinsider.com)
by Kathrin Beck
A possible “Grexit”, another deadline for the next tranche of Greece’s credits to pay back, and the ongoing debate about reparation payment from Germany – there is a lot at stake for the Greece government. And the climate between Greece and Germany is frozen.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Minister of Finance Giannis Varoufakis travel far to find possible investors for Greece; flirting with Russia in order to raise new credits. It is a split between keeping its promises to pay back the loans to the EU as well as to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the promise to leave the past of the former governments; raising taxes on wealth and turn back some of the harsh cuts in social spending. They are on a mission: Leading Greece out of its misery and find a way to set up a new economy.
Tsipras and his Minister may have honorable aims, but the current ambitions are overshadowed by a debate that leaves a bitter aftertaste on German-Greek relations. Midst an already heated debate about how and under which condition Greece could pay back its debts pounds the claim of over €240 billion reparation payments from Germany. Tsipras’ government is demanding Germany to pay back a forced loan taken from the German Wehrmacht during the Greek occupation plus interests.
The debate reveals a dilemma: On the one hand, the Syriza-government is looking for new ways to meet its debts. On the other hand, the demand for German reparations is touching upon the refurbishment of an important chapter in Greece-German history. Both issues are eligible and worth an open public discussion. Connecting one to the other however, is dangerous and not helpful for any of the parties to make progress in the current crisis.
Besides legal concerns on the justice or injustice of Greek compensation demands, the debate – as it is recently held – takes away the importance of the subject. The German Wehrmacht occupied Greece between 1941 and 1945, and was responsible for a numerous massacres and crimes against civilians. Although Germany has recognized its historic responsibility for the victims, compensation payments were widely denied.
The debate between Greece and Germany also raises questions of moral nature. Does Greece has right to use Germany’s historic guilt to raise capital? And can the German government wipe away those claims, arguing that they have been barred with Greece recognition of the Four-Plus-Two Contract? No. They cannot – neither of them. The Tsipras-Government in Athens has to find and develop strategies of paying back its debts without losing its face. It has made flowery promises in the electoral campaign and will be measured among them. But – not at any price. The question whether or not Germany has to pay back the forced loan from 1942 cannot be related to this attempt.
At the same time, the Greek claim should be seen as an opportunity for Germany to review the way it is dealing with its history. Refusing any form of compensation by saying it was too late cannot count as the final answer. In order to rewarm the relations between Berlin and Athens, all parties are well advised to refocus what is actually at stake.