BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany dismissed Greek demands to pay World War Two reparations after leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras accused Berlin of using legal tricks to avoid paying compensation for the Nazi occupation of his country.
Resurrecting the highly-charged issue has done little to soothe already strained German-Greek relations as Athens strives to persuade euro zone partners to renegotiate terms of a 240 billion (170 billion pounds) euro bailout.
Compounding tensions, a Greek minister said he was ready to endorse a court ruling allowing Athens to seize German state-owned property to compensate victims of a World War Two Nazi massacre of 218 Greek civilians in the village of Distomo..
Berlin is keen to draw a line under the issue and officials argued on Wednesday that Germany has honoured its obligations, including a 115-million deutsche mark payment to Greece in 1960.
“It is our firm belief that questions of reparations and compensation have been legally and politically resolved,” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Wednesday.
“We should concentrate on current issues and, hopefully what will be a good future,” he said, adding that the dispute did not, however, affect euro zone talks with Greece on its bailout.
However, German media jumped on the demands to highlight the depths to which relations have plunged. Top-selling Bild daily, critical of Greece’s failure to implement reforms, splashed “Greeks Demand Billions for Nazi Crimes” on its front page.
Politicians also expressed exasperation, with Bavarian conservative Hans Michelbach saying: “The subject has been closed since the 1950s. If it came to Greek violations of German property, Germany would know how to defend itself.”
Resentment in Greece about Nazi atrocities runs deep and the Greek media have depicted Merkel and her finance minister in Nazi uniforms. Nazis destroyed hundreds of Greek villages and killed more than 20,000 civilians between 1941 and 1944.
Germany argues that the 1990 “Two plus Four Treaty”, signed by then-East Germany and West Germany and the four World War Two allies before reunification, draws a line under future claims.
Not all Germans agree. Annette Groth of the radical Left party said Berlin should honour 11 billion euros linked to an “occupation loan” which Nazi Germany forced the Bank of Greece to make.
“It is Germany’s moral duty to pay the money, even if there are different opinions on international law,” she told Reuters.
Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke and Gernot Heller; Editing by Mark Heinrich