Greece’s hopes for World War II reparations for Nazi damages got an unexpected ally in German President Joachim Gauck who broke with his government’s refusal to pay.
President Joachim Gauck, as does the Greek President, has essentially only a symbolic role with power invested in Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has rejected any more payments, saying the matter was settled decades ago.
But Gauck, in an interview in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, threw the force of moral weight behind his assertion his country still owes for atrocities, infrastructure damage and forced loans and stolen gold from Greece by the Nazis.
“We are not only people who are living in this day and age but we’re also the descendants of those who left behind a trail of destruction in Europe during World War II – in Greece, among other places, where we shamefully knew little about it for so long,” Gauck said.
“It’s the right thing to do for a history-conscious country like ours to consider what possibilities there might be for reparations,” he said.
Greece’s demand for 278.7 billion euros ($312 billion) in reparations have either been ignored by German officials or rejected out of hand.
The call comes at a time the coalition government led by Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras is also asking for Merkel’s support in dealing with international lenders, including Germany, the biggest contributor to 240 billion euros ($260 billion) in two bailouts. Merkel demanded harsh austerity in return.
Last month, German Economy Minister and Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel called the demand “stupid” and said Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was using it as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB).
“This leeway has absolutely nothing to do with World War II or reparation payments,” he said.
German officials have previously argued that Germany has already honored its obligations, including a 115-million Deutsche Mark payment to Greece in 1960.
Gauck, a former East German pastor, is provocative. He recently condemned the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turkish forces a century ago as “genocide,” a term that the Berlin government had long rejected to pacify Turkey, which reacts furiously to the use of that word.