A German government fund meant as a gesture of atonement for Nazi atrocities in Greece during World War II is languishing as the two countries spar over Greece’s future financing, German officials say.
With Greece and other euro-area governments deadlocked over completing the nation’s 240 billion-euro ($270 billion) bailout and possibly starting a new aid program, the German initiative begun last year is unlikely to get off the ground before a deal is in place, said two German government officials who asked not to be identified since their discussions with Greek counterparts are private. Greece’s government hasn’t proposed any projects yet, one official said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has ruled out war reparations to the Greek state, which Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government tallied in April at 278.7 billion euros. Instead, she’s backing the idea of joint projects with German money through a “fund for the future” with an annual budget of 1 million euros.
Merkel and Tsipras are grappling with Germany’s wartime past as she fends off demands by Greek politicians for reparations while trying to resolve Greece’s immediate financing crisis and keep the country in the euro. When the two leaders met in March in Berlin, Tsipras said war claims are “not primarily of a material nature” but rather a “moral issue.”
German officials say Greece is among the countries that suffered the most under Nazi occupation, with some 200,000 dead between 1941 and 1944. Parliament set up the fund last year, saying the two countries need to develop a joint “culture of remembrance” and promote reconciliation, including through youth exchanges and historical research.
Germany is ready to fund civic projects in Greek villages where Nazi soldiers massacred civilians and to help Jewish communities, including the one in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second- biggest city, the Foreign Ministry said in September.
German President Joachim Gauck initiated the effort on a visit to Greece in March 2014 that included a trip to Ligiades, a mountain village where German soldiers killed men, women and children in 1943 in reprisal for a guerrilla attack.
Though Greek demands for war reparations intensified after Tsipras took office in January, previous governments also upheld the claims.
Gauck, whose post is mostly ceremonial, asked forgiveness for the Nazi atrocities and voiced shame that postwar Germans “knew and learned so little about Germany’s guilt toward the Greeks.”
“I don’t want to take up the legal matter of reparations, but let me say that we don’t deny our moral guilt, nor do we want to belittle it,” he said in an interview with Kathimerini newspaper at the time.