A long-standing debate over whether Germany still owes Greece war reparations stemming from the Nazi occupation erupted anew on Thursday in a spat between Greece’s foreign minister and Germany’s finance minister.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was quoted by German media as suggesting that Greece should focus on reforming its economy and that the issue of war reparations was definitively closed years ago.
“I consider such comments irresponsible. Much more important than misleading people with such stories would be to explain and spell out the reform path,” the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung quoted him as saying in its Thursday edition. “Greece has already accomplished a lot, but also still has a longer way ahead of it. One should not divert attention from that.”
Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos said the reparations issue was one for international law to determine, stressing it was completely unrelated to Greece’s international financial bailout.
Debt-strapped Greece has been dependent on billions of euros in rescue loans from other European countries and the IMF since 2010. Germany, the single largest contributor to the bailout, has been the most vocal in pressing Greece to take increasingly tough austerity measures during the financial crisis, and German official comments have often rankled in Greece.
“There is no relation, nor can there be, between the [financial] reforms being carried out in Greece and the issue of German reparations,” Avramopoulos said in a statement.
“Besides, German reparations are an issue that the Greek state brought up many years ago. Whether or not this case is closed is determined by international justice,” he said.
The issue of war reparations has been a contentious and legally complicated one for decades. Nazi Germany, which occupied Greece from 1941 to 1944, forced Athens to extend it loans and give up gold reserves. There was also the question of the destruction of infrastructure and compensation claims filed by individuals who survived Nazi atrocities.
In 1960, Germany paid Greece 115 million German marks (about US$330 million at today’s value) and soundly rejects any further calls for reparations, insisting that payment definitively settled all claims.
“Under different agreements, Germany has made reparation and damage payments on a high level. On that backdrop, the government therefore assumes that the question has lost its relevance,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Wednesday.