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  • Greek Parliament Votes to Pursue Reparations from Germany for WWII Abuses
Published 17 April 2019

The proposal, which comes ahead of national elections in October, calls on the government to take "every appropriate legal and diplomatic action to satisfy Greece's demands."

The Greek parliament voted Wednesday to launch a diplomatic campaign to press Germany to pay billions of euros in damages for the Nazi occupation of the country in World War II, an issue Berlin says was settled long ago.

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Greece suffered hugely under Nazi German rule and a parliamentary commission in 2016 put the cost at more than 300 billion euros (around US$340 billion), though Wednesday's proposal, backed by both ruling coalition and opposition lawmakers, mentioned no figure.

At the time of the commission’s report, Germany’s Economic Minister Gabriel Sigmar described the it as “stupid,” saying he suspected the demand was just the country's attempt to squeeze some money from Eurozone countries to resolve its own debt crisis problems. “And this leeway has absolutely nothing to do with World War II or reparation payments.”

The vote, the first official decision by parliament on the emotive reparations issue, is likely to further strain ties with Germany, blamed by many Greeks for the unemployment and painful austerity measures imposed in return for bailout loans during its financial crisis.

The proposal, which comes ahead of national elections in October, calls on the government to take "every appropriate legal and diplomatic action to satisfy Greece's demands."

"This claim is our historic and moral duty," Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said at the end of a nearly 12-hour debate which concluded with the vote on the proposal submitted by parliamentary speaker Nikos Voutsis.

"To build a better future we need to close the open cases of the past and Germany needs to do the same," he said, adding that Athens would raise the issue diplomatically with Berlin.

In a visit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in January, Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos told her that, “As Greeks, we consider these demands legally active and (can be) judicially pursued and should be solved in the competent European forum, judicial forum.’

Merkel, however, responded, “We are aware of our historical responsibility, we know how much suffering Germany caused Greece during the era of National Socialism so the lesson for us is to do everything we can to ensure good relations with Greece and to support each other for the benefit of both countries.”

Germany has in the past apologized for Nazi-era crimes but has not been willing to reopen talks on reparations. Then-West Germany paid Greece the sum of 115 million deutschmarks in 1960 as reparations for its wartime suffering.

Greece has emerged in the past year from a decade of austerity imposed by international lenders in return for bailouts that kept it afloat after the debt crisis erupted in 2010.

Tsipras, a leftist, said his government did not want to link the two issues, responding to criticism over the parliament's delayed response to the report on the matter issued in 2016.

"We could never put the absolute evil of Nazism ... on a scale," he said. "No slaughter, no monstrosity, not even one drop of blood could be balanced against any bailout."

Nazi Germany invaded Greece in May 1941, raising the swastika over the Acropolis in Athens. About a thousand Greek villages were razed during the war, thousands died of starvation and tens of thousands of people were killed in reprisals by German forces trying to crush Greek resistance.

The parliamentary committee in 2016 assessed the occupation cost as at least 269 billion euros ($304 billion), rising to over 300 billion euros with the inclusion of an amount the Nazis forced the Bank of Greece to hand over in 1942.

That "occupation loan" also helped bankroll Hitler's military campaign in North Africa.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of the conservative New Democracy Party which is leading in opinion polls, said any future government led by him would seek to recoup that occupation loan.

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