Greek Alternate Foreign Minister on Germany 'Reparation Payments Remain an Open Question'

Greek Alternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas, 41, talks to SPIEGEL about his country's strained relations with Germany, possible reparations for the Nazi era and Athens' struggle to emerge from its debt crisis.

AFP

SPIEGEL: Many in Germany currently describe your country as a den of iniquity plagued by nepotism, corruption and tax evasion. Athens has responded with Nazi-related accusations. How strained are the relations between the two countries?

Dimitris Droutsas: Greece's relationship with Germany is excellent, as always. Over the past few days, the atmosphere has been characterized by tensions on a media level, on both sides. Our citizens are facing hard times, and they know that. They also have the feeling, however, that they have already achieved a certain amount. Nevertheless, they feel pressure and hear mainly criticism, sometimes also scorn and ridicule. This has caused emotions to boil over -- and led to misunderstandings.

SPIEGEL: Greece's deputy prime minister, Theodoros Pangalos, couldn't help mentioning that the German occupying forces during World War II took the Greeks' gold and "never paid it back." And the president of the Greek parliament, Philippos Petsalnikos, even summoned the German ambassador.

Droutsas: This shows that the Greek population felt genuinely annoyed. But I am certain that this does not reflect the true relationship between the two countries.

SPIEGEL: During the German occupation, Hitler forced the Greeks to grant a "war loan" to pay for the Wehrmacht, and when the Germans withdrew, the remaining debt was the equivalent of roughly €5 billion ($6.8 billion). Is the bill still unpaid?

Droutsas: When emotions come into play, feelings and recollections from the past tend to surface. The Greeks suffered greatly during World War II …

SPIEGEL: … which is why 66 Greek communities are still suing for some €11 billion in compensation for Nazi massacres, such as in Distomo and Kalavryta. Even the International Court of Justice in The Hague is hearing these cases.

Droutsas: As far as we are concerned, reparation payments from Germany still remain an open question -- that is correct. Prime Minister George Papandreou has also confirmed this in parliament. But we are in no way linking this to our efforts to improve Greece's finances.

SPIEGEL: Isn't the attempt to remind people of German history a diversionary tactic?

Droutsas: The issues are now open and on the table. And when a debate becomes so intensely emotional, they are exploited accordingly. But both sides will not allow themselves to be sidetracked by this debate.

SPIEGEL: Should EU countries like Germany and France step in if Greece does not receive sufficient money on the financial markets at acceptable conditions?

Droutsas: No, the Greek government has at no point in time demanded direct financial support from its EU partners, nor will it call for this. We are convinced that we can deal with this on our own.

SPIEGEL: And if not, what do you expect from the EU?

Droutsas: That they send a clear signal with a single voice: that Greece is on the right track with the measures it is taking. Our credibility is at stake here. We need absolute solidarity from our partners so that the financial markets calm down again.

Interview conducted by Manfred Ertel

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