The revival of the Greek claim for reparations from Germany for losses suffered during World War I and the Nazi occupation and from a loan Greece was forced to take from Germany is not just a legal matter; it also has an ethical and political dimension. It is moreover an issue that is not about to be settled any time soon.
However, the agitation that the re-emergence of the claim caused German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and the raw manner in which he responded to reports in the Greek media reveal that the issue is very serious indeed.
The Greek government, finding itself in a very uncomfortable position vis-a-vis its lender, is trying to boost the nation’s frayed morale, even if it may not mean any money coming into state coffers. On the other hand, reviving the issue seems to have served a purpose in terms of informing German public opinion. A number of German media outlets do not seem to share Schaeuble’s blunt rejection of the Greek claim.
To begin with, it is not a one-sided issue. One part is about reparations for personal injury and infrastructure damage, on which the Paris Conference ruled in favor of Greece in 1946. The amount of these two categories came to $7.18 billion, but its payment was put off by the London Debt Agreement in 1953 in favor of a peace treaty being signed with occupied and fragmented Germany. Thanks to the write-off of its debts in 1953, the defeated and destroyed country was able to get back on its feet and go on to do great things. In 1990 Germany was unified and peace was brokered with the four occupying forces. Yet Germany refused to extend to its former victims and present allies the kind of generosity they had extended to it in 1953.
The second part of the war reparations issue relates to the loan that a starved Greece was obliged to provide to the Nazis in the 1942-44 period. On this matter, the government of the Third Reich had started repaying the loan in installments, but postwar Germany is refusing to live up to its obligation. On this latter issue, Greece can and ought to push the matter all the way.