Speech of Greek PM Alexis Tsipras on the War Reparations owed by Germany to Greece. The speech was given as part of the Inter-party Parliamentary Committee for Claiming the German Reparations, today, March 10 of 2015. (You can find the original text, in Greek, here.)
Ladies and Gentlemen MPs,
I take the floor today in this historic meeting not only for symbolic, but also for substantive reasons.
First and foremost, in order to pay tribute to the victims of WWII. But also in order to honor the male and female fighters from all over the world who gave their lives for the freedom of their homelands, who gave their lives in order to defeat Nazism that threw its poisonous fog over the people of the world.
I also take the floor in order to honor the fighters of the Greek national resistance, who gave their lives in order to rid the country from the Nazi atrocities and occupation. In order for us to have today a homeland free and sovereign.
Some people tell us – why do you tackle the past, look at the future. But what country, what people can have a future if it does not honor its history and its struggles? What people can move forward, erasing the collective memory and leaving historically unjustified its struggles and sacrifices?
Indeed, not much time has passed since then, ladies and gentlemen. The generation of the Occupation and of the National Resistance is still living. And the pictures and sounds from the tortures and executions at Distomo and Kaisariani, at Kalavrita and at Vianno, are still fresh in the collective memory of our people.
The crimes and destructions caused by the troops of the Third Reich, across the Greek territory, but also across the entire Europe, are still fresh in the memory of our people. And these memories must be preserved in the younger generations. We have a duty – historical, political, and ethical – to preserve them. Not because we want to retain the suspicion and hatred in-between people, but in order to remember forever what Nazism means, what fascism means. In order to remember that when solidarity, friendship, cooperation, and dialogue between different people are substituted by a sense of superiority and historical destiny. When respect is substituted by intolerance –both ethnic and social – then what prevails is war and darkness.
And this darkness, Europe has known well. It lived it and it hated it. This was one of the reasons that the European people decided to begin the procedures in 1957, so that the sirens of war would never ring again. And we should not forget that the German people suffered too from the Nazi atrocity. And that in Germany, Nazism prevailed because earlier the German people were humiliated.
This, of course, is not an excuse but an explanation. It is the lesson of the short 20th century – if we remember Eric Hobsbawm as well. After WWI, what prevailed was hatred and revanchism. What prevailed was a short-sighted logic of humiliation of the loser for its sins, the logic of humiliation and misery of an entire people because of its loss. And this choice was later paid with the blood of the youth of the entire world. Including Germany’s.
The people of Europe and their leaders must be remembering and drawing conclusions from the modern European history. Because Europe must not, it is not allowed for her today, to make the same mistakes.
Ladies and Gentlemen, after WWII, indeed, the lesson was learned. Germany, despite the crimes of the Third Reich and of the Hitleric hordes that burned the world to the ground, despite the totalitarian evil of the Holocaust, was benefited – and rightfully so – by a series of interventions. The most important of these were its WWI debt write-off, with the Treaty of London in 1953, and of course, with the humongous sums that were disbursed by the Allies in order to rebuild the country.
London’s treaty, however, recognizes at the same time that the final German Reparations for WWII remain, and they should have been resolved by the final peace agreement – which wasn’t signed until 1990, due to Germany’s separation.
The reunification of the two Germanies has created the necessary legal and political conditions in order to resolve this issue, but the German governments since then have opted for silence, legal tricks, deferment and dilatory tactics. And I wonder, ladies and gentlemen: is this stance actually ethical?
I talked about legal tricks, and since these are very important issues, I would like to explain clearly what I mean so no shadows [of doubt] remain. When Germany even accepts to talk about the issue of its debts towards Greece since WWI, it evokes the Bilateral Agreement of 1960.
This was when, by its own initiative, it paid 115 million Marks, as reparations, and the (then) Kingdom of Greece acknowledged that there are no further claims to be had. This agreement, however, did not have to do with the reparations that involved the damages suffered by the country, but with the reparations to the victims of Nazism in Greece. And, of course, in no case whatsoever, did it concern the Occupation Loan, or even the claims for reparations given the atrocities of war, the almost-complete destruction of the infrastructure of the country, and the destruction of the economy during the war and the Occupation.
All these, I know well, are issues both highly technical and highly sensitive, and perhaps this is not the place or the time to say more about them. The necessary clarifications and the technical work will not be done by me, but by experts – legal scholars and historians.
What I want to reassure both the Greek and the German people of, however, is that we will approach this issue with the necessary sensitivity, with a sense of responsibility and honesty, and with a sense of communication and dialogue. But we expect the same thing from the German government. For reasons political, historic, and symbolic.
Ladies and gentlemen, against the moralizing tone that has prevailed in the past few years within the public debate in Europe, we neither choose the position of the student who bends his head and closes his eyes against moral teaching from on high, nor do we choose the position of the on high moralizing teacher, who wiggles his finger reproachfully, against a supposed sinner, asking him to pay for his sins.
On the contrary, we choose the path of negotiation and dialogue, of mutual understanding and justice. We perform no theodicy here, but at the same time we do not give up on our inalienable claims. We are not performing lessons on morality, but we also do not accept any lessons on morality either. Because, you know, often lately, when listening to provocative statements from abroad, I am reminded of the famous passage from the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus says: “They see the spike in their brother’s eye, but not the pole in their own.”
Ladies and gentlemen, Mrs. President [of the Parliament], in closing this brief intervention, I would like to assure you that the Greek government will work tirelessly, so as with equal footing, and through dialogue in the framework of an honest negotiation, to contribute in order to find a solution to the most complex problems faced by Europe. The government will work in order to honor fully its obligations. But, at the same time, it will work so that all of the unfulfilled obligations to Greece and the Greek people are met.
And in the same way that we commit to fulfill our obligations, so do the other sides have to fulfill them too. Because morality cannot be invoked a la carte. It cannot be happening by occasion.
The new Greek government will actually support, with all its powers, the initiative to rebuild, reconstruct, and upgrade the Commission for Claiming the German Reparations to Greece. We will support it truly and substantively, and not for communication purposes. We are ready to offer any political and legal assistance, so as the efforts of the Commission bear fruit.
And in the framework of its tenure, to bring a meaningful result. To bring a solution. To vindicate the unfulfilled ethical, but also historical debt, not only towards the Greek people, but towards the entire peoples of Europe that fought, bled, and won over Nazism. We owe it to our history. We owe it to the fighters of the [Greek] National Resistance. We owe it to the victims of WWII. We owe it to Europe and its peoples, who have the right in memory and in a future unfettered from any kind of totalitarianism.