Under what conditions should reparations and restitution claims be accepted?

Representatives of Greece are using the opportunity – their sailing along the shore of insolvency – to claim reparations, or interest rates for forced state loans from the German government during WWII. Germany has so far resisted these requests.

How many decades, or centuries, back is there a possibly legitimate basis for such claims? There are still the comfort women in Korea and China, asking Japan for justice payments. There are the successors of former slaves in the US and aborigines in Australia. In a more general sense, mutual territorial claims are one of the core issues between Israel and Palestine. Is it simply politically and socially wise to accept what happened in the past, mourn, and move on, giving up on all potential claims?

  1. Alexei Voskressenski 2 weeks ago

    An old anecdote says that when the Soviet government introduced limitations on buying vodka, only those who brought a veteran certificate could receive an additional bottle. To bring a certificate of a WW2 veteran was not a problem, but once an old man claimed an additional bottle of vodka for being a veteran of WW1, saying that his certificate was lost because a long time had passed since the war. The seller’s answer was: “but even Tatars are bringing certificates” – meaning that Tatars were bringing veteran certificates from the Tatar-Mongol invasion of Russia in 1237-1242. So for some a thirst for spirits may have no time limit. Can this principle be applied equally to reparations and restitution? For a considerable time in the early stages of my career I worked as an expert on historical border issues between the USSR and China. I also participated in a sustained dialogue on Nagorno-Karabakh. One of the conclusions that I came to over years of involvement in these issues is that if one really wants to conclude an agreement, history must not be an obstacle for a rational political decision. It is clear that Greece wants Germany to pay more, reducing Greece’s share of financial burden. History in this issue is only a pretext and a tool for lowering the responsibility of Greek politicians for their financial policies. The German problem is to calculate, soberly, to what extent these additional claims are realistic and how they can be converted into strengthening German leadership in Europe. It is clear that German concessions, if any, may only be voluntary. They have no legitimate basis.

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  2. Shen Dingli 2 weeks ago

    Germany and Greece cut a deal in 1960 regarding the restitution payment, set at DM115 million. At the governmental level, it seems that the official war reparation was made at that time once and for all. However, it is necessary to check how that agreement was written. If it made clear that Greece would give up any future claim, then the Greek government now has no legal basis to raise a new demand. If not, there may be additional room for the two sides to draw up a final settlement.
    At any rate, a deal of DM115 million in 1960 seems short of a reasonable final settlement, so the German side might conceive of an additional arrangement to seal the final reparation case. But if they paid what the Greek government is now claiming – €278.7 billion – it would invite more contention. Such a demand would rather deter Germany from revisiting the case, at least for fear of triggering even more countries to follow Greece’s lead.

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  3. Andrey Makarychev 2 weeks ago

    This question can be better answered in the context of the ideas of global governance. As in a society composed of human beings, in international society the most delicate and explosive issues between states have to be relegated to international – or supranational – authorities. If Greece can afford hiring the best international lawyers and pay them for bringing the case to court, it could have some (though very limited) legal perspective. Yet if the Greek government just wants to keep it at a purely rhetorical level or as a potential means to put moral pressure on Germany, this is a futile idea with no practical consequences apart from the self-alienation of Greece from Europe. Adding a political conflict with Germany to the already existing conflicts with Turkey and Macedonia would be too much for Greece and will certainly damage its reputation in trans-Atlantic institutions. And, of course, this would be an illusion to deem that Russia, being under severe economic sanctions and in a deep conflict with Ukraine, can be a source of substantial material assistance to the ailing Greek economy.

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5 Comments

  1. AW 2 weeks ago

    Post-War reparations and territorial disputes are a very sensitive question indeed.A UN resolution governing these issues would probably the best, but absolutely impossible way to go. I strongly believe, that at least members of such big integration projects such as the EU should agree before entering the integration block, that there are no territorial or financial post-conflict issues between them and other members.
    As for territorial disputes, I strongly believe, that “the winner takes” it all, this is why Kurile Islands belong to Russia and Golan Heights alongside other territories Arab countries have lost after their aggressions in 1967 and 1973 do now belong to Israel, even though they did not according to the original UN resolution.
    Now Varoufakis is fundamentally wrong – after the WWII there was a agreement, that no reparations will be imposed on Germany by Western countries, as this strategy did not work put (to put it mildly) after the WWI. Germany might have to pay smth to individual persons in Greece, survivals of concentration camps and similar, but I suppose, it already has done so (no idea, though, its not my subject). This claim by Mr. Varoufakis however has zero credibility and looks childish as he tries to distract the attention from how badly the Greek economy is managed to new potential sources of money. This would open a Pandora box with other loosers in the world economy starting fishing for easy money instead of cleaning up their domestic mass.

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  2. Wisam Salih 1 week ago

    “…if one really wants to conclude an agreement, history must not be an obstacle for a rational political decision.” Such heavy words by Alexei, and I couldn’t agree more.

    This is a case for the German courts. If Greece feels that the issue of reparations should be revisited, then make your case in the German legal system. The German legal system is an excellent one, and more than capable of handling this issue. I will not pass judgement on the timing of such claims, but as a matter of optics, it seems very inappropriate. The problem is that the Greeks are making their claim to the wrong level of government. It’s the judicial branch, not the executive branch, that should pass judgement and determine a reasonable level of additional compensation, if any at all.

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  3. Torge Matthiesen 6 days ago

    I have to disagree here – this is not a case for any national jurisdiction. If Greece seeks legal (rather than a political) remedy it should refer the issue to International Court of Justice. That said, there have been rulings by the court in similar cases that should discourage the Greek government from undertaking such a step. I think that all this noise is created a) to deflect domestic criticism / attention to a perceived external responsibility b) to put pressure on Germany to at least negotiate about a political solution.

    The issue is clearly governed by international law where states are bound by what they have agreed to (e.g. the International Court or similar agreements) in the past or by what they see fit to agree to. And Germany will be very careful not to set a precedent through a political solution with Greece.

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  4. Wisam Salih 5 days ago

    Ideally, I agree with you. The ICJ would be the appropriate avenue. I only suggested a domestic legal route because the ICJ’s enforcement of rulings can be vetoed by the Security Council of the UN, which brings the issue back into the sphere of international relations and global politics.

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  5. Mathias. Jongkor 5 days ago

    I think Greek should not open the files of the WW1 and the WW11 as the way to get out from austerities measures. The requesting from Germany to pay 278.9 millions Euro of the WW11 reparations from destruction wrought upon the nation during the Nazi occupation is going to agitate Germany´s feeling.
    Greek requests is inappropriate at this time and it is going to be impossible for Germany to do so for the couple reasons: One, if Germany pay Greek for what they did in the past, well, it will open an old files for Southern states to ask North states for the compensation of their past. For example: Colonialism countries should pay African countries, Latin Americans countries. So, Greek should not open an old file as the way to recover its economic crisis.

    On the other hand, Greek Jews will seek too for reparations from Germany over Nazi deportations. Currently, there are many borders under occupation winner states and loser states are not able to claim for their land such as Golan Height of Syria under occupation of Isabel.

    In the light of this request, Greek should not seek a pay from Germany, It should look for other alternative rather than opening century’s cases that might be jeopardized problems between nations.

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