ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece’s justice minister said on Wednesday he was ready to implement a High Court ruling allowing Athens to seize German state-owned property to compensate victims of a Nazi massacre in a small Greek village.
Nikos Paraskevopoulos’s comments come against a backdrop of rising tensions between Athens and Berlin as Greece’s new leftist government struggles to persuade its European Union partners to renegotiate a 240 billion euro bailout package.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Tuesday accused successive German governments of using legal tricks to avoid paying reparations for the brutal Nazi occupation of Greece and said he would support efforts to push for compensation.
Speaking on Mega TV, Paraskevopoulos said a high court ruling from 2000, which allowed the confiscation of German property to compensate relatives of some 218 Greeks killed in the village of Distomo, was still valid.
The ruling needs to be endorsed by the justice minister to be enacted and Paraskevopoulos’s predecessors have baulked at the idea, knowing it would lead to a showdown with Berlin.
“I’m ready to sign (the decision),” the minister said. “The prime minister is aware of the views I have on the issue.”
Pressed on when this might happen, he said: “When the political time has matured.”
Germany said last month the issue of war damages had been settled at world power talks that led to German reunification in 1990. It dismisses the new government’s stance as a distraction from Greece’s serious financial challenges.
“It is our firm belief that questions of reparations and compensation have been legally and politically resolved,” Steffen Seibert, spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said on Wednesday.
Greece’s campaign for war damages, waged for decades by both governments and private citizens, has gained momentum due to painful austerity measures imposed by the euro zone since 2010 under the terms of huge international rescue packages.
The High Court ruling Paraskevopoulos raised relates only to the Distomo bloodshed, when Nazi forces went on a two-hour rampage, butchering men, women and children in what they said was retaliation for an attack on them by resistance forces.
Hundreds of other villages were destroyed, thousands of civilians executed and huge sums looted from the Greek central bank during the Nazis’ wartime occupation of the country.
With little apparent progress being made in Greece’s debt talks, Greek ministers have grown increasingly vocal in their criticism of Germany, angering many Germans already unhappy at having to pour billions of euros into the original bailout.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel narrowly averted a major rebellion in a parliamentary vote last month on Greece’s request for a bailout extension, suggesting it might prove tough for her to win the necessary support for any further funds.
Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Gareth Jones