Debt-ridden Greece made a scheduled payment of 450 million euros ($497 million) on its bailout on Thursday, ending weeks of speculation that the anti-austerity administration of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras might default on its loans. Greece was able to make the payment after raising $1.1 billion through the sale of bonds earlier in the week, and the government has announced another initiative that would go a long way toward solving its money woes: asking Germany to pay more than $300 billion in reparations for the Nazi occupation of Greece during World War II.
According to the BBC, “Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras raised the reparations issue when he met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin last month.” While no further details of that conversation were given, Merkel’s administration has shown little enthusiasm: Her economy minister called the demand from Greece “dumb,” and a budget spokesman characterized the reparations debate as “closed, politically and legally.”
Germany says that it made good on the Nazi damage done to Greece with a payment in 1960 of 115 million Deutschmarks (roughly $230 million in 2014 dollars), while Greece counters that it was never compensated for wrecked infrastructure or a “loan” extracted by force from the Bank of Greece.
Using World War II reparations from Germany to wipe out Greece’s debt is not a new concept: A Greek survivor of the Nazi occupation, who became a leader in the anti-austerity party that propelled the current prime minister into office, floated the idea back in 2012.
Manolis Glezos, an 89-year-old leftist politician famed for climbing up to the Acropolis in May 1941 and tearing down the Nazi occupiers’ swastika flag, says Germany still owes Greece more in wartime reparations than the entire cost of the bailout.
“We don’t owe the Germans money, they owe us,” he told Reuters in an interview in his central Athens office, sitting in front of a line of campaign posters for his radical Syriza bloc, which placed second in last Sunday’s Greek parliament election.
“The total they owe us is 162 billion euros without interest. If you add 3 percent interest, it’s more than a trillion euros. But we can accept a haircut on the interest.”
Speaking in the midst of a “charm offensive” in Moscow, Tsipras refrained from bringing up the possibility of giving Merkel a discount on Germany’s alleged Nazi occupation debt, saying instead that an “honorable compromise” is necessary to assure Greece has access to the bailout funds it needs to keep functioning.
Correction, April 10, 2015: This post originally misstated that 115 million Deutschmarks in 1960 was worth $23 million in 2014 dollars.