Contributed by Adam Carlton
Greece’s SYRIZA government led by Alexis Tsipras has moved to recover damages for the German Nazi occupation during the Second World War. This was adopted by a vote of the parliament and although no figure was given in the motion, it is understood to involve more than 300 billion Euros.
This is a formidable sum. It would go a long way to counter the nation’s debt and provide a chance to set the economy towards a more positive future.
Greece is suffering under the pressure to pay up quickly. And the only means allowed so far, is to cut government expenditure. This has meant reducing government services, at a time when many Greeks are still suffering from the bailout package conditions imposed in 2015.
Loans had been provided by the Eurozone and the International monetary Fund (IMF) to pay debts to the banks, much of it to German ones, for previous loans provided at a high and unsustainable cost. Strident austerity was demanded to raise the funds to pay this back. The banks have mad a fortune out of it, and this has not gone down well in Greece.
Many Greeks, and with good reason, believe that unfair financial arrangements are a big part of their economic crisis. SYRIZA had won the 2015 election on the promise to bring an end to austerity and build a new economy that would serve the interests of the majority.
Instead of achieving this, the Tsipras government has been locked in a corner. Being a small country Greece lacks the power to overcome the conditions imposed. The age of austerity has not been able to be ended, and this has made it necessary to find a way out of the impasse.
Attempts have been made to lessen the burden of the debt, through an arrangement that would provide much more time for payment and make austerity unnecessary. The holders of this debt have refused to soften their hard-line demand for quick payment, and Greece finds it cannot move forward under these conditions.
Germany has been at the forefront of the hard line stance against Greece.
This is why Alexis Tsipras said the following about pushing for reparations. “This claim is our historic and moral duty,” and that “to build a better future we need to close the open cases of the past and Germany needs to do the same.”
Germany has responded, by insisting that all such claims were settled long ago. This threatens to sour further the already less than cordial relations between the two nations. Nevertheless, the diplomatic effort will continue.
Tsipras and SYRIZA have no other choice. Their sudden rise and coming into government took place in the context where most Greeks had turned on their traditional political parties, because they had taken part in in imposing the burden on them and had refused to change course.