'Germany still owes Greece wartime reparations'
ATHENS - Reuters
German soldiers check the papers of refugees at a checkpoint in occupied France in this Nov 30, 1940, file photo.
Greece's new leaders may want to renegotiate the country's 130 billion euro bailout package with Germany and other lenders but a veteran icon of Greek resistance is pursuing a more ambitious goal with Berlin.
Manolis Glezos, an 89-year-old leftist politicians famed for climbing up to the Acropolis in May 1941 and tearing down the Nazi occupiers' swastika flag, says Germany still owes Greece more in wartime reparations than the entire cost of the bailout.
"We don't owe the Germans money, they owe us," he told Reuters in an interview in his central Athens office, sitting in front of a line of campaign posters for his radical Syriza bloc, which placed second in last Sunday's Greek parliament election.
"The total they owe us is 162 billion euros without interest. If you add 3 percent interest, it's more than a trillion euros. But we can accept a haircut on the interest."
Glezos says Germany failed to pay compensation to Athens for the Nazi occupation and looting of mainland Greece from 1941-44, or to repay a forced loan extracted by the Third Reich.
Germany denies it still has outstanding debts for war-era reparations. The long-dormant issue has resurfaced this year with increasing vigour as the Athens government lurches closer to bankruptcy and Berlin clamours for Greece to impose harsh spending cuts to balance its books.
Glezos's voice on the issue carries particular authority in Greece because of his wartime act of defiance, which earned a death sentence in absentia from the Nazi occupiers.
He remains a leading parliamentarian and topped the party list of candidates for Syriza in Sunday's election. Much in demand, he says he has given around 80 interviews to foreign media ranging from Japan to Venezuela in the past week alone.
The figure he uses for money Germany owes is made up of war reparations awarded to Greece at an international conference in Paris in 1946 ($7 billion at the time, adjusted for inflation to 108 billion euros in today's money) and the forced loan Greece made ($3.5 billion, adjusted to 54 billion euros today).
In February, 28 Greek parliamentarians tabled a proposal requesting a debate on war reparations owed by Germany. Then-foreign minister Stavros Dimas said the issue remained open.
The German Foreign Ministry replied at the start of April that Berlin acknowledged its responsibility for World War Two but had paid all reparations owed to Greece.
Germany had not only "shouldered its historical responsibility for the wrongs perpetrated by the Nazi regime" but had "additionally made reparations that went beyond its legal obligations - also vis-à-vis Italy and Greece," Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a statement.
Glezos, who was tear-gassed by riot police during a demonstration against austerity measures last February, insists Germany has not paid and says the issue has been given fresh force by Germany's demands for Greek spending cuts.
"Does Mrs. Merkel want revenge on the Greek people because they were the first in Europe to reject the Third Reich?" he asks mischievously, his eyes twinkling. "Does she want to take revenge on us because we overturned all Hitler's plans?"
The language might sound extreme but it reflects a strong strand of thinking on the Greek left. Stathis Stavropoulos, a leading newspaper cartoonist here, has won international attention with drawings of Germans as Nazi officials barking orders at hapless Greeks.
"Our dream of European Union was very different," Stavropoulos told Reuters in an interview. "It was a union of countries and peoples ... not a Fourth German Reich".
Reinforcing that analogy, Glezos recalled how in 1943, Nazi propaganda chief Josef Goebbels published an article in the weekly party newspaper Das Reich entitled "The Year 2000".
"In this article, he predicted that in the year 2000, German culture and civilization will be the most powerful in Europe. This estimate was only 10 years out."