On 6 April, 1941, German troops invaded Greece. It was the beginning of what is known as Katohi (Nazi Occupation of Greece), an event which ruined the Greek economy and brought terrible hardships to the civilian population and resulted in 40,000 civilians dying in Athens alone from starvation and tens of thousands being killed as a result of reprisals by Nazis and their collaborators.
On the eve of the 80th anniversary of the Nazi Occupation, the Greek government called for talks with Germany on wartime reparations which were estimated to be the equivalent of 279-289 billion euros following a Greek committee’s assessment on 8 February 2015, under the government of former Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras.
“The question remains open until our demands are met. These demands are valid and active, and they will be asserted by any means,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Alexandros Papaioannou, told the German news agency DPA.
The issue of war reparations has been raised numerous times, including in 2019 when the former SYRIZA (Radical Left Coalition) was in power. Now, the government of conservative New Democracy Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is seeking for the issue to be opened up. In January 2020, Mr Mitsotakis had said that the issue was an open one but had not at that point pressed Germany on the matter.
During a meeting of Greece’s Finance Minister Christos Staikouras with the Greek diaspora via the Open Dialogue Series, the Greek minister said the matter was a “sensitive issue”.
“In May 2014, as deputy minister of finance I set up a special committee to get the amount of claims of the Greek state from the German reparations and occupation loan, a needed step in order for the legal council of the state to formulate as a provisioned for the constitution a proposal to handle the case due to its special historical political and legal interest,” he said, adding that the work was completed on 30 December 2014 and is available in Greek Parliament.
“The issue of German reparations and the occupation loan remains open. Greece has never given up its demands. It is in an issue which both countries must approach with respect to historical truth and in a serious manner,” he said.
Germany has held steadfast on its view that the matter has been resolved due to the so-called Two Plus Four Agreement signed in 1990. According to the agreement, a united Germany was allowed to become sovereign the following year, however reparations were not explicitly mentioned in the agreement whereas Greece and Poland, invaded by Germany during WWII, were not included in the negotiations for the treaty signed by former East and West Germanies and France, the US, Britain and the Soviet Union.
German Bundestag released a report in 2019 stating that Greece’s claims did not carry legal weight, adding that the German government’s position was “by no means compulsory” under international law. The German government would rather fund reconciliation projects with Greece of an educational and commemorational nature rather than pay reparations.