On June 10, 1944, the picturesque Greek village of Distomo in Western Viotia became the scene of a bloody massacre: 218 men, women and children were killed by SS officers.
Monday’s anniversary of the event is a painful reminder of the atrocities committed by the Nazis in the Second World War, and comes at a time when relations between Greece and Germany are particularly strained. However, there may be some hope for healing relations by opening new channels of communication concerning Second World War reparations.
Although the International Court of Justice ruled against the Distomo residents’ case and upheld Germany’s immunity on the matter earlier this year, I was pleased to be part of the opening of a dialogue in Berlin last week on the subject of the German war reparations owed to Greece.
On June 6, I co-hosted a debate in Berlin with Annette Groth, chair of the German-Greek Parliamentary Friendship Group, in the presence of German media and other members of Parliament. The purpose of the debate was to explore Germany’s moral responsibility for Second World War damages and for the “war loan” that Greece was forced to grant. Up until very recently, it was a subject that had been discussed only in Greece; last week, it finally arrived on the doorstep of the Bundestag.
The main panelists in this debate were German historians Hagen Fleischer and Albrecht Ritschl, who presented evidence corroborating the debt Germany owes Greece. Dr Ritschl highlighted the position adopted by the United States after the war, which was to help indebted Germany back on her feet. Based on this example, he advised Germany to now take on the role once played by America.
The conclusions of this discussion led to the proposal of three very meaningful solutions: the first was for an open discussion on Germany’s responsibility and a willingness to make a gesture of recognition that would restore Greece’s dignity; the second was a haircut on the existing Greek debt, just as the international community had done for post-war Germany; and lastly, the clear participation of Germany in Greece’s economic recovery.
The panel suggested that this could be achieved through a development fund with money equalling what was loaned to Germany during the occupation (without interest). This last – and most effective – gesture would be extended under European auspices and would aid the structural reforms necessary in Greece at this moment. Such solutions would not only have a much-desired economic impact, but would also help restore Greece’s dignity on the issue.
What I took away from this debate was that the general goodwill and open dialogue that is appearing in the heart of Germany is very promising.
The members of parliament present, the media and staff of the German Foreign Ministry, were all interested in establishing contact with Athens on the issue of reparations. A development fund would be especially useful in helping the unemployed young Greeks, who are part of Europe’s future. Germany has a historic responsibility to help the EU overcome the crisis which it should not and cannot ignore.
Much work still needs to be done to fully understand the responsibility of the German side and the practical solutions that could be implemented. But the opening of this debate in Germany is a good start that could close the wounds still open between the two countries. Germany has to assume its historic responsibility: If there was ever a time to show solidarity to Greece, it is now.
* Jorgo Chatzimarkakis is an MEP