A Greek parliamentary committee set up by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government to demand reparations for the Nazi occupation of Greece began work on Wednesday, in a move likely to heighten tensions between Athens and Berlin.
Greece’s emotive campaign for war damages has been waged for decades by governments and private citizens alike. But it has gained momentum in recent years as Greeks suffered under the German-backed austerity imposed by the European Union and the International Monetary fund in exchange for financial bailouts.
Tsipras has frequently blamed Germany for the hardship stemming from the imposition of austerity, and he has angered Berlin by threatening to push for reparations in the middle of talks to unlock aid for Greece.
Without the aid, the Greek government will run out of money by April 20, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters last week.
Tsipras’ leftist Syriza party has also submitted a proposal to parliament to set up a committee looking into the circumstances under which Greece entered bailout agreements with its lenders and other bailout-related issues.
The committee that began work today will claim German debts include war reparations, the repayment of the so-called occupation loan that Nazi Germany forced the Bank of Greece to make and the return of stolen archaeological treasures.
Tsipras has accused successive German governments of using legal tricks to avoid paying compensation. Germany dismisses the claims as a distraction from Greece’s financial difficulties. It says it has honoured its obligations, including a 115 million-deutsche mark (60 million euros) payment to Greece in 1960.
Relations between the two countries have frayed since Tsipras’s government took power in January seeking to ditch previously agreed bailout promises of austerity measures such as steep cuts to wages and pensions.
The Nazi theme is popular among Greek media in taking potshots at Germany, the country’s biggest creditor. German officials like Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble have been depicted in Nazi uniforms or with Hitler moustaches.
Hundreds of villages were destroyed, thousands of civilians executed and huge sums looted from the Greek central bank during the Nazi occupation. The Greek government has not officially quantified its reparation claims.