“Don’t Mention the War”

Don’t mention the War”, exclaims Investment Week as Greece creates a working group to assess how much Germany owes it in war reparations, in what is an astonishing twist to the Eurozone crisis.

In this War of the Roses between the mismatched Eurozone partners, with Germany calling for further and increased austerity measures upon the latter, the elder but much smaller Greece has signalled it is tired of being pushed around.

In a seismic shift full of ancient Greek irony and pathos, and with potential for the proverbial shoe to be well-and-truly on the other foot, Greece has come out fighting in a desperate but not-altogether unrealistic claim regarding Germany’s unsettled account with respect to war reparations to Greece for Nazi war crimes committed during World War II.

Whilst on October 3rd 2012, on the twentieth anniversary of German reunification, the Euro power will pay the last annual instalment to reimburse the outstanding interest that it accrued on its foreign debt from 1945 to 1952, as per the terms of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles.

Through a Foreign Ministry spokesman, the Euro heavy-weight said that in 2010 it paid $74 million to Greek victims of Nazi crimes under the Treaty, in addition to funds paid out to victims of forced labour under the Third Reich.

The reparations were set at the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919, by the Allied victors. Most of the money was intended to go to Belgium and France, whose land, towns and villages were devastated by the war, and to pay the Allies some of the costs of waging it. The sum agreed upon for war damages in 1919 (reduced from the initial 226 billion) was 132 billion Reichsmarks (£22 billion) and the 2010 German Federal Budget showed the remaining portion of that debt that will be cleared on Sunday, October 3, 2012.

Setting up a four-member “working group” to scour historical archives and tally how much Germany might owe in outstanding reparations for Nazi war crimes during World War II this time, the finance ministry has in recent years repeated that it reserves the right to claim reparations worth an estimated $US7.5 million, saying it was forced to accept unfavourable terms during negotiations in the 1950s.

Greece has been given international credit lifelines – 110 billion euros ($135.7 billion) in May 2010 and then 130 billion euros earlier this year, plus a 107 billion euro private debt write-off. Although Germany is the biggest single donor to Greece’s bailout packages, many in Greece blame Germany for the tough austerity measures currently being enforced, as it tries to climb out from under its debt mountain.

The working group is expected to submit its report by the end of the year. The potential for opening old wounds and the cost of doing so could be very interesting.

Of course that’s not quite how German’s see it. The German historian Professor Gerd Krumeich who told Der Spiegel:

“It’s a historical curiosity that the Versailles Treaty should continue to have a financial impact to this day […]. The central factor behind Hitler’s seizure of power was his promise ‘I’ll win this war in the end, I will undo this injustice and tear up this treaty and restore Germany to its old greatness’. There was tremendous frustration in Germany in the 1920s — this conflict that cost 2 million lives and left 4 or 5 million wounded is supposed to have been in vain, and it was all our fault? The reparations payments compounded everything. Not only was Germany given the moral blame, it was also supposed to pay an outlandish sum that most people had never even heard of).”

The Unites States Holocaust Museum website recalls how:

“…perhaps the most humiliating portion of the treaty for the defeated Germany was Article 231, commonly known as the War Guilt Clause, which forced Germany to accept complete responsibility for initiating World War I. As such Germany was liable for all material damages, and France’s premier Georges Clemenceau particularly insisted on imposing enormous reparation payments. Aware Germany would likely be unable to pay such a towering debt, Clemenceau and the French nevertheless greatly feared rapid German recovery and a new war against France; the French sought in the post-war treaty system to limit Germany’s efforts to regain its economic superiority and to rearm.

As the economy of Greece is dictated to by German paymasters who heap austerity on their Southern European neighbours whilst insisting Hellas purchase German weapons, there is the small matter of 70 billion euros outstanding from the war era. Greece remains the only country to which Germany failed to pay war reparations.

War hero Manolis Glezos, who famously climbed the Acropolis to remove a German Swastika in occupied Athens in 1942, campaigned hard for Germany to be held financially accountable. Ta Nea reported his response to the German statement:

“The response of the German Foreign Minister at a press question on the debt of Germany to Greece is historically groundless, false and outrageous. Historically groundless, since it ignores the decision of the Allied Commission of Paris in 1946, which charged that Germany must pay in Greece 7 billion one hundred million U.S. dollars 1938 purchasing power, i.e. 108 billion without interest. It ignores also the forced loan of $ 1.5 billion market value (1938), i.e. 54 billion euros today.

False, because they have not paid in respect of such debts a mark or a penny, a cent in Greece, and have paid each and every country with which they were at war. Outrageous, because it alone decides that there is now a destruction of the Greek economy by German troops and the death of the Greeks for the survival of the German people”, concluding “Crimes against humanity are not barred”.

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