THE LAST time Manolis Glezos made headline news was when a riot policeman shot him in the face with a tear-gas gun at point blank range during a general strike last year.
The young officer probably had no idea that the white-haired 87-year-old protester had, along with
friend Lakis Santas, once risked his life to pull down the Nazi flag flapping over the Acropolis in 1941.
But few who saw the television footage of Glezos were surprised. A popular icon for Greeks of all political stripes, he has been at the frontline of social struggles for decades, including the current effort to get Germany to pay reparations and debts for the crimes committed by the Nazis in Greece.
“This is not about the German people,” Glezos told the Athens News. “I have many German friends. But I have no ties with German authorities nor with the authorities of any other country.”
He also has little sympathy for the myth of the holy German taxpayer being a beast of burden to bail out the Greeks. “The Germans should have been much more forthcoming with loans to Greece.”
Germany’s ingratitude is enormous, Glezos said.
“If the German people are alive today, it is because of the death of the Greek people. They sent our crops to Germany. The resistance struggle of the Greek people was instrumental for the fall of Nazism,” said Glezos, referring to delayed Nazi invasion of Russia caused by Germany having to deal with the Greek resistance.
Glezos recalls the Athens municipal carts that transported the corpses of thousands of emaciated Athenians who died of starvation in the streets. “Some families buried their dead in the yard, not reporting the death so as to keep getting the food rations of the dead person,” he recalled.
The most heart-wrenching monument in Athens’ First Cemetery (near the entrance) is that of the emaciated, dead Greek mother, a virtual skeleton with her dead baby on her withered breast.
“Greece had the largest percentage of its population die of any occupied country. It went from 7.3 million in 1940 to 6.8 million in 1944, before the civil war broke out.”
“We are not begging,” he added. “We are demanding. We are not motivated by hatred or revenge. We want Germany’s friendship.”
Long the president of the National Council for the Claiming of German Debts, Glezos estimates that Germany owes the country 162 billion euros (plus interest) in reparations, loans and other obligations. That includes the occupation loan that Germany and Italy forced Greece to pay out in 1941, the $7bn in reparations decided at the Paris Peace Conference, with three percent annual interest (Greece had asked for $12 billion). That comes to about $40bn with interest today, he said.
The committee’s proposal to satisfy Greek claims in kind, he stresses, shows good will and would strengthen bilateral ties. “German companies that have created projects in Greece can be paid by the German state, against the loan and reparations obligations.” That could include projects like Athens International Airport, built and run by Hochtief, and Attiko Metro projects, undertaken by Siemens.
“Greece is the only country in Europe that never received reparations from Germany. We never got back the antiquities that were taken from museums and given to the Nazis by their Greek collaborators. We never got back the buildings and movable property seized by the Nazis,” he said.
Then, there are the large sums lost from the Nazis’ circulation of counterfeit deutschmarks in Greece. Glezos carefully pulled out a fake banknote from a dossier entitled “National Resistance” (he has authored a monumental two-volume work on the subject). About 530,000 British gold sovereigns worth of counterfeit marks circulated in Greece, largely given to soldiers to spend in the occupied territory. It was a key way the Greeks were forced to pay the cost of the German occupation.
“The words ‘Reichskredit Kassenschein’ appear on the large bill, but they were not issued by any German bank, and the note does not bear the name or signature of any bank governor,” Glezos said.
“The magnitude of the theft from counterfeit bills passed at restaurants, shops and elsewhere has never been calculated,” he said.
For decades, Greek governments have refused to demand reparations. Many believe it is because they know Germany would balk at such a request, and that it might compromise Germany’s crucial support for Greece within the EU, from funding over three decades to national issues such as Cyprus’ EU admission in 2004.
Indeed, the Germans have argued that, in refusing reparations, they paid a large proportion of the EU funds Greece has received.
Greek analysts counter that Germany paid much within the EU framework for other southern EU countries, such as Spain and Portugal, which are not entitled to reparations.
If successive Greek governments have been bought off by Siemens, as the industrial giant’s top managers have claimed, wouldn’t that be a reason for the two ruling parties not to push Germany for reparations?
Glezos skirts the Siemens issue. A pragmatist, he says only that “No Greek government will ever ask for reparations.”
“At some point, Greek authorities should demand it, with the threat of breaking off diplomatic ties with Germany,” he said.
Premier George Papandreou and New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras have declined the committee’s requests for a meeting.
Of German ‘conquest’, bloodless revolution
AS GREECE endures its worst postwar economic crisis, reduced to depending on the kindness of strangers, Manolis Glezos warns of the hegemony of Berlin over the continent.
“Germany has already conquered Europe and it is behaving like a true colonial power. Except it is not direct colonisation, it is economic,” he said, underlining that this is a wholly separate issue from Greek reparations.
Asked why there is no resistance movement to speak of against the devastating terms of Greece’s EU-IMF bailout, Glezos disagrees.
“There is a resistance. It has not been as widespread as many would like,” he said, noting the movement against paying road tolls. He predicts the resistance will mushroom.
Glezos is a great fan of civil disobedience, which he says is much more effective than armed resistance in the long run. He points to the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and notes that he is against such movements having leaders and hierarchical structures.
“The great revolt against the Nazi occupiers had no head in Athens. Then you got figures like Aris Velouchiotis, General Sarafis and Napoleon Zervas, but in Athens there was no leader,” Glezos noted.
“For me, the greatest - the most valuable - revolutions are those without arms.”
A major case in point is the peaceful resistance that prevented the 1943 civil mobilisation. It kept Greeks from being sent to forced labour for the Nazis, to replace Germans who were sent to fight on the eastern front. “All Greek resistance groups agreed, and we occupied all prefectures and the labour ministry. We seized all the lists of workers and burned them. No one could then be called up,” he said.
Could Greeks use civil disobedience to overturn the dreaded bailout today? “If all workers go on a protracted general strike, refusing to stop until labour demands are satisfied, that would be a revolution,” he said.
Conceding that union bosses have been, to a large degree, puppets of political parties, Glezos says a popular movement that can create its own framework is the precondition for massive, effective labour action. “This is uncharted territory for economists and sociologists. As always, life and fate bring things to a head.”
Glezos is convinced that Greeks have reserves of resistance that can be activated, and that small acts of resistance can have a big impact.
“During the Metaxas dictatorship, teachers would give us a failing grade if we did not write that everything good was ‘because Ioannis Metaxas is prime minister’.”
“When we went on a field trip to Halkida, we all agreed to write, sarcastically, that ‘we saw the waters of the Evripos flowing up and down, and that was because Metaxas is premier’. No teacher dared to take issue.”
Today, Glezos is often invited to lecture at schools. He believes that Greek youth are underestimated, that they are equally motivated to do acts of resistance and assert their freedom.
“The ‘useless’, underestimated youth of Metaxas were the ones who brought glory in the 1940-41 war with Italy and the great national resistance against the Germans,” he said.
“Some may expect a revolution tomorrow. It cannot be. But it will happen - I may not be alive, but it will”.
The murky case of Max Merten
MANOLIS Glezos’ interest in Max Merten began when they were both incarcerated in Averoff Prison in Athens.
As military governor of Thessaloniki, Merten (photo) was blamed for sending 46,061 Greek Jews to their deaths in Nazi camps and destroying the Jewish cemetery.
Merten had come to Greece to testify as a defence witness for a Nazi collaborator. The prosecutor recognised him, had him arrested, and Merten was tried and convicted of some of the war crimes he was charged with.
“The guards told me that Merten was given a desk and typewriter, something unheard of in a prison then,” Glezos said. “One night, the guards told me Merten was being released immediately. Never does a Greek prison open before dawn for the release of a prisoner. It happened for Merten.”
Thus, the only Nazi war criminal tried and convicted in Greece was summarily released less than a year after his conviction.
The German government had demanded that Merten be allowed to go free and that all Nazi war criminals be tried in Germany. “In all cases tried in Germany, the accused claimed they had followed orders of superiors and were released. There was not a single conviction,” Glezos said.
Merten’s case was special. He had claimed that he had evidence that the wife of then premier Constantine Karamanlis’ top minister and trusted confidant, interior minister Takos Makris, was a German collaborator. He claimed to have an album of Makris’ wife, Doxoula, that proved it.
“Later, when he returned to Germany, Merten unleashed vitriolic attacks against Karamanlis and his ministers. The reason for this horrible animosity must be studied,” Glezos said.
The implication, drawn by many observers, is that Merten was blackmailing the Karamanlis government. But no evidence has ever surfaced.
In 1962, Merten received a cash payment at his modest home in Berlin, through Greek diplomatic channels, a reliable source told this newspaper, speaking on condition of anonymity. The source refused to specify the sum, except to say that Merten was “not satisfied” with the amount.
In 1960, Greece and Germany signed a bilateral agreement under which Germany would pay Greece 115 million deutschmarks to the Kingdom of Greece to be paid to families of those persecuted “for reasons of race, religion or worldview,” referring mainly to Jews, Roma and leftists.
Germany has often said the 1960 agreement covers the debt owed by it to Greece for Nazi war acts and atrocities. “The payment regulates all issues that constitute the object of this treaty, and those relating to relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Kingdom of Greece, not touching on possible legal claims of Greek citizens.”
Reparations and budgets
by Epaminondas Marias, Athens News, 17 Jan 2011
Epaminondas Marias is an associate professor of European Union institutions in the department of economics of the University of Crete
A German paratrooper surveys the bodies of 23 men from Kondomari, Crete, who were executed in what was the first of a long series of mass reprisals against civilians, on 2 June 1941
AS THE excessive indebtedness of Greece deepens daily - and considering the social and political gridlock towards which the IMF, European Central Bank and EU Commission-troika recipe is leading us - it is now apparent that the only way out of the memorandum would be through taking major policy initiatives.
One of these initiatives is the systematic and effective pursuit of war reparations and of the forced “occupation loan” granted by Greece to Germany in 1942. According to the estimates of the National Council for the Claim of German Debts, led by the Resistance hero Manolis Glezos, the debt now exceeds, in present value, 162 billion euros plus interest.
Confronted with widespread Greek public opinion in favour of such a move, Prime Minister George Papandreou announced on January 12 that Greece would support Italy at the International Court of Justice in The Hague in a legal dispute submitted to it by Germany following an Italian court’s decision allowing the victims of Distomo to seek compensation through the seizure of German property in Italy (see story at left).
Germany’s debt to Greece
The German wartime debt to our country results mainly from:
- The obligation to pay compensation for the loss mainly of vessels (due to bombing, torpedoing, sinking or captivity) during the period of Greek neutrality, before the Italy’s and Germany’s invasions
- The forced “occupation loan”
- The reparations acknowledged by the Paris Peace Conference (1946) to be paid by Germany for damage caused to the Greek economy
- The payment of compensation to the victims of the atrocities perpetuated by the German occupation army, as is the case of Distomo etc
Greece’s public debt
According to IMF figures (see Report 10/110, published 5 May 2010, p125), the total debt (public and private) of Greece before the signing of the memorandum amounted to 427bn euros, of which 329bn euros concerned public debt.
At the same time, a large part of the public debt at the end of 2009, which amounted to 150bn euros, was held by foreign, mainly European, banks. In particular, German banks were then in possession of Greek government bonds worth at least 31.5bn euros.
If one considers that 22.3bn euros out of the total 80bn euro loan from the eurozone countries will be granted to us by the German state-owned KfW (Kreditbank fuer Wiederaufbau) bank, then the total public debt to German banks for the above reasons amounts to 53.8bn euros. To these amounts should also be added the amounts owed to German banks by several Greek banks, which are also creditors of the Greek state.
It is therefore reasonable that the Greek side should declare to Berlin that the amount directly or indirectly owed by this country either to Germany or to German banks will not be paid as long as Germany refuses to pay to Greece its own debt, amounting to 162bn euros plus interest.
Indeed, addressing parliament on 13 December 2010, Deputy Finance Minister Filippos Sachinidis agreed that the debt owed by Germany to Greece amounts to 162bn euros - comprising 108bn euros from the compensation awarded to Greece by the Paris Peace Conference to repair the damage caused by Nazi troops to the country’s economic infrastructure, and 54bn euros because of the forced “occupation loan”.
So, as a first step, the government should register the “corresponding German debt to the Greek Republic” in the uncollectible debts towards the Greek government and, by extension, in the state budget, since it constitutes an immediately payable outstanding debt. Following this, the finance ministry should give the relevant instructions to its services to take immediate action for the recovery of this outstanding German debt.
The registration in the state budget of the “corresponding German debt to the Greek republic” would turn Greece’s budget into a surplus, with everything this may mean for its exit from EU fiscal surveillance, the compliance with the Maastricht performance criteria, the creditworthiness of the country, the value of the spreads etc.
At the same time, in accordance with Eurostat rules, Germany would be forced to register its public debt to Greece in its own national budget and, as a consequence, Berlin would possibly be set to the suffering of budgetary surveillance by the EU, as it became clear that it would meet neither the Maastricht criteria nor the Stability Pact terms.