Greece mulls demands for war reparations

While the topic of war reparations is a closed matter to Germans, many Greeks hope to be repaid for damages caused during the Nazi era. The Greek Finance Ministry has established an expert group to look into the issue.

Greece is evaluating asking Germany for reparations for the destruction of Greek villages and towns as well as for Nazi crimes during World War II and for the repayment of a loan worth billions of dollars the Bank of Greece was forced to make to Germany in 1942 and which has not been repaid.

A working group has been set up and the government has been going through the state archives for relevant documents, according to Deputy Finance Minister Christos Staikouras. Initial results should be available by the end of the year. Many observers, including those in Greece, have wondered if potential demands for reparations, almost 70 years after the war, are still justified.

Stelios Perakis a professor of international law at Panteion University in Athens, has called for reparations to be paid as soon as possible. These claims have not been made due to the international treaty situation after the war, but this, he said, in no way means Greece has forfeited its rights.

“The London Agreement of 1953 allows for such payments to be deferred until the final settlement of the reparations issue – that is the German question,” Perakis said. “This came about in 1990 with the Two-plus-Four Agreement, which is not called a peace treaty, but serves precisely the same function because it restores Germany’s full sovereignty.”

In November 1995, Greece reminded the Germans of the reparations, but its efforts were unanswered. There were only political statements indicating that the question had lost its legitimacy, Perakis said.

Fear of foreign policy damage

Greek survivors of Nazi massacres and family members of war victims did not expect the government to aggressively pursue their interests – probably out of fear of damaging its foreign policy. Many filed suits in Greek courts. The survivors of a massacre in the village of Distomo were awarded 30 million euros in damages, but a warrant against the German treasury was blocked with the intervention of the Greek minister of justice.

Something similar happened in Italy where the claims in a suit by the survivors of the victims of a Nazi massacre in Civitella in Tuscany were upheld in local courts. Then, Germany invoked the principle of state immunity and complained to the International Court of Justice. In the proceedings, Greece intervened as a non-contending party. Perakis represented Greek interests in The Hague and argued against granting absolute immunity. The court, however, ruled in favor of Germany.

“It was not a good decision, the principle of absolute immunity dates back to the 19th century, but today we have gone beyond it, especially in cases of war massacres and crimes against humanity,” he said.

But the court also highlighted the significance of negotiations between the two countries, which means the reparations issue is not off the table, he added.

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