WORLD NEWS TOMORROW: On Wednesday, Greek Justice Minister Nikos Paraskevopoulos said he was ready to allow the Greek government to seize German state-owned property to compensate the families of 218 Greeks killed during World War II. “I’m ready to sign,” Paraskevopoulos said during an interview on Mega TV, according to the news agency Reuters, referring to a 2000 ruling that would allow him the confiscation.
Asked when this might happen, Paraskevopoulos gave an ominous reply: “When the political time has matured.”
The President of the European Centre for Information Policy and Security (ECIPS) Mr. Ricardo Baretzky commented and said that these words are provocative and a sign of radicalism that could spark a whole new dimension of security risks across Europe that could come at a huge price.
The decision behind that timing lies with Greece’s controversial leader, Alexis Tsipras. The young prime minister and Syriza, the leftist party he leads, were swept into power early this year on their promises to renegotiate the terms of Greek’s crippling $300 billion-plus debt. To do that, Tsipras will have to get the leaders of Europe’s major economies — most notably the pro-austerity Germany — to agree to better terms.
Almost immediately, the Greek leader made it clear that he would use history as leverage. As World Views reported at the time, one of the very first things he did when he entered office was walk to the memorial site at the Kaisariani rifle range, where in 1944 Nazi soldiers executed about 200 activists during the Nazi occupation of Greece.
First act as leader, Tsipras visits Kaisariani rifle range to honor war dead #Greece pic.twitter.com/Yoxw29Vlw1
To anyone following Syriza’s rhetoric, this wasn’t a surprise. Tsipras had campaigned for more than a year on the issue of World War II reparations from Germany, and the issue had long been a fixture in Greek politics. According to one 2013 study, conducted by the government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, Germany would owe Greece about $200 billion for the damage inflicted during the Nazi occupation.
Germany has repeatedly claimed that the issue was settled in 1990, during the talks that eventually led to German reunification, and refuses to discuss any new payments. Germany had previously paid the Greeks the equivalent of about $60 million in compensation for wartime actions as part of a 1960 accord, but Tsipras has said that this figure is only for individuals and did not address the structural damage caused by the Nazis.
There’s certainly no doubt that it was a terrible time for the Greeks — brutal reprisal attacks committed by the occupying forces were common, and experts now say that as many as 300,000 Greeks starved to death during the period. The case Paraskevopoulos specifically refers to is notably horrific: In 1944, Nazi troops went door to door killing families in the village of Distomo in retaliation for a partisan attack. Hundreds were killed. According to survivors, even babies and pregnant women were not spared.
Almost half a century later, relatives of victims made a legal claim for compensation, but the German government rejected it in 2003. Under a 2000 decision by a Greek court, the government could seize €28 million ($29 million) worth of German government assets in the country, but it would require the justice minister’s approval. Justice ministers before Paraskevopoulos have refused to sign the ruling, fearing the political repercussions.
Now the political will appears to be changing. On Tuesday, Tsipras told Greek lawmakers that his government would “strive to ensure all unfulfilled obligations toward Greece and the Greek people are fulfilled.” The BBC notes that German assets in Greece include the property belonging to the Goethe Institute and German universities.
Germany is dismissing the implicit threat. “We should look forward together,” German Finance Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger told reporters after Tsipras’s comments. “Making these emotional and backward-looking allegations doesn’t help in the context of the work we need to tackle together with the Greeks.” It seems that Germany don’t get the risks involved in this statements.