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Greece parliament demand Germany pay WWII reparations

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Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on April 17, 2019.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on April 17, 2019. -
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Greek lawmakers voted on Wednesday to give a mandate to the government to seek reparations from Germany for the Nazi occupation during World War II, a move likely to exacerbate relations with Berlin.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told lawmakers that demanding reparations is "a historic and moral duty in memory of the heroes of the past...above all at a time when the extreme right, nationalism, and racism threaten Europe."

The vote, the first by parliament on the emotionally-charged issue, has tasked Tsipras' government to take "every appropriate legal and diplomatic action to satisfy Greece's demands."

Wednesday's proposal mentioned no figure but Greece's General Accounting Office estimated in 2015 that Germany owed it €278.7 billion in reparations with an additional €10.3 billion to reimburse a wartime forced loan.

The vote followed an election pledge by Tsipras in 2015 and comes ahead of national elections scheduled in October.

What is Greece's claim?

The war reparations issue gained traction in 2010 as the country's economy plunged into recession with creditors, including Germany, demanding reforms as part of a bailout programme.

A parliamentary report on the topic was commissioned and released in August 2016 but it was put on hold with the eight-year bailout programme — during which Greece received €240 billion in financial aid — believed to be the reason behind the two-year-delay.

But Greece successfully exited the IMF-sponsored programme last August. Since then President Pavlopoulos and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras have both stated the country's intention to demand reparations.

Greece's demands are twofold. First, they want compensation for the war crimes inflicted by Germany and Italy during their 1941-1944 occupation of the country. During that time, entire villages were wiped out, tens of thousands died of starvation and more than 70,000 Greek Jews were deported never to come back again.

The second part of the claims relate to direct and indirect financial costs suffered by Greece. By the time the Axis powers withdrew, the country's economy was in tatters with vast swathes of its infrastructure all but destroyed.

The state coffers had also been plundered as the 1907 Hague Convention stipulated that occupied states should pay for the living expenses and maintenance of the occupying troops. Greece also handed over 476 million reichsmarks as part of a forced loan which was then used to fund Nazi campaigns in north Africa.

What is Germany's position?

But Germany has repeatedly rejected Greece’s claims and says it has honoured its obligations, including a 115 million Deutschmark payment to Greece in 1960.

Berlin also claims that 70 years after the war any such claims have long-since “lost their justificatory basis.”

The issue is likely to sour relations between Greece and Germany. During the crisis, Tsipras blamed much of the country's hardships on Germany and austerity and had already sought to use the threat of reparations during negotiations.

Tsipras dismissed any link between the end of the country's austerity programme and the claim for reparations.

"We could never put the absolute evil of Nazism... on a scale," he told MPs on Wednesday.

"No slaughter, no monstrosity, not even one drop of blood could be balanced against any bailout," he said, adding: "We now have the chance to close this chapter."