An Interesting Discussion in Times of Crisis
The debt of Germany to Greece since the Second World War comes back to the news occasionally, accompanied by a cloud of false historians’ reports and wishful thinking, which usually creates more confusion than it provides information. The economic situation that has arisen in Greece as a part of the global financial crisis contributed to the problems’ coming back to the surface, now gaining a very critical economic and political significance. Furthermore, the attitude of the German government concerning the strict terms for giving loans to Greece makes the whole discussion much more susceptible to a dispassionate approach.
The recent decision of The Hague Court narrowed the scope of the requirements of Greece in terms of war reparations, leaving open only the scope of the claim for a compensation for the compulsory loan which was concluded between Greece and the Occupation Authorities exactly 70 years ago, on 14 March 1942. The attempts of the Greek State to claim the money occasionally encounters obstacles such as allegations of legal and political nature.
In order to clarify the facts of this case, Nicos Poulantzas Institute (NPI) organized an event in Athens, on 8 March. The subject was analyzed in a multidimensional way, by the historian Michalis Liberatos, the Professor of International Law Antonis Bredimas and Manolis Glezos, prominent figure of the Greek Resistance. The discussion was coordinated by Sissy Velisariou, Professor of English Literature and Vice president of NPI.
Michalis Liberatos presented the historical context and described the procedures that led to the conclusion of the loan. The Occupation Authorities, due to the Greek Resistance, had to keep in the country three times more soldiers than they had originally planned. This caused an extreme rise of the occupation expenses. In order to preserve the occupation army, Nazis started a seizure of all food supplies as well as of the precious metals. 100 kg of gold and 25 kg of silver were taken from the island of Crete alone. In 1941, the amount of money given from Greece to the Nazis was 1 billion Mark and it doubled in the next year. To get over some legal problems that were limiting the potential for exploitation of conquered countries, the financial assistance from Greece to Germany was transformed into a compulsory loan, the amount of which was 2.5 times the budget of the country. Mussolini said that the Germans took from the Greeks even their shoelaces and the prime minister and fellow of the Nazis General Tsolakoglou, went so far as to threaten that he would resign if things didn’t change.
Antonis Bredimas informed the audience about the legal characteristics of the subject, presenting the arguments that German governments support in order to avoid paying the compensation for the loan, since both the Italian and Bulgarian state have paid back to Greece their part. The first argument is that Greece has informally resigned from this right in 1958, through a secret agreement between the Prime Minister of Greece, Konstantinos Karamanlis and the German Kanzler, Konrad Adenauer. Prof Bredimas denied the existence of such an agreement since it was never proved, and added that secret agreements of this kind are not accepted by the international law. The second argument was that Germany has already paid for the loan. What is true though is that the compensation paid was just for the Nazi crimes against the Jews and Roma of Greece. In 1960, the Greek Ambassador clearly stated that the country still asks for the rest of the compensation. The third argument is that the debt was barred, since more than 70 years have passed since the agreement for the loan was signed. Prof Bredimas stressed, though, that no such procedure can take place, concerning one state’s debt to another. The last argument is that Germany has been funding Greece for many years, through the EU subsidies. But even the European Commission has declared that this money has nothing to do with the debt.
Finally, Manolis Glezos talked in his intervention about the ethical dimension of the issue. He stressed the fact that the time when Greece was obligated to provide the loan to the Occupation Authorities, becoming a lender for the first time in its history, was exactly when 400 people were dying every day due to starvation. He revealed that when the current Prime Minister, Loukas Papademos, was the director of the Bank of Greece, he had asked him to provide some clues about the Occupation loan, and he refused, saying that in order to do so he needed to get a directive by the government. Now, that Loukas Papademos is the Prime Minister, he doesn’t seem willing to give the directive to hand over the crucial evidence on the issue. Manolis Glezos also referred to the attempts by the party of Die LINKE in order to inform people in Germany on the issue and promote the Greek demands.
The end of the three speeches was followed by many questions from the audience and a long conversation.