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The claim for reparations is a sign of financial frustration

24 March 2015 / 12:03:16  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

Immediately after the start of the economic crisis in Greece, various persons and political parties began to raise the issue of war reparations, which they say Germany owes Greece for damage caused during World War II occupation of the country.

While the previous Greek government was looking at the issue from a certain distance, though it formed a committee to calculate the amount of reparations, today's cabinet is adamant that it will require Berlin to pay the price of damage inflicted during the war and in a special speech to parliament, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has personally committed himself to resolve the issue.

Meanwhile, Minister of Justice Nikos Paraskevopoulos said he would sign the decision of the Supreme Court, which would entitle the Greek state to seize German assets on Greek territory to satisfy the relatives of the victims of the massacre in the village of Distomo.

The discussion about German reparations has inevitably raised the question as to whether the other two occupying countries Italy and Bulgaria have paid their obligations after the end of World War II and to what extent.

GRReporter presents the complex maze of Bulgarian-Greek relations between and after the two world wars in a conversation with PhD Daniel Vachkov from the Institute for Historical Research at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

Beginning of the problem of reparations after World War I

The problem of reparations became one of the most painful international issues after World War I in 1919, when the series of peace treaties concluded with the defeated countries, namely Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria, the Ottoman Empire, imposed on them various sanctions. The compensations that the defeated countries should pay the winning countries and their amounts would become one of the toughest and most controversial among those sanctions. They related to declaring the countries guilty of unleashing the war and of all further damage. Therefore, the idea of ​​peace treaties was that the defeated countries that were to blame for the war must pay for the damage.

Even then, there were several major problems in estimating the amount of reparations. The first was the perception that they were not formulated in a sufficiently precise, clear and specific manner. In many cases, their amounts were astronomical. I have looked at the Bulgarian objections against the accusations that Bulgarian troops had destroyed a number of animals or the railway network. They show that, according to the statistics of the claiming countries, they did not have so many cattle or such a railway network. That is, the first apparent thing was the feeling that the damage was over-exaggerated. The big problem actually was that, through all these claims, the defeated countries did not present clearly and properly specified damage. On the one hand, everything was quite exaggerated and on the other, it could not be proved that the damage was caused only by the countries that were accused of being the cause of the war.

Daniel Vachkov is a PhD at the Institute for Historical Research at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. He was born in Sofia on 4 September 1964. In 1990, he graduated in history at Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski" and in the period 1991-1992 specialized at the European University Centre in Nancy (France), where he graduated. In 1997, he defended a doctoral thesis on Bulgaria and the League of Nations from 1920 to 1939 (financial-economic relations). He has worked at the Institute for Historical Research at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences since 1997 and explored the issues of Bulgaria’s economic and financial development in the 20th century. He is a co-author of 3 monographs and 5 textbooks, and the author of over 70 scientific publications.

The withdrawing troops of a country itself may have destroyed something during the war. Therefore, a major dispute started in this connection, which would hardly be able to prove the extent of the damage and who had caused it.

Another problem that would arise after World War I would be the amount of reparations that, ultimately, the winning countries would find it impossible to service. When they stopped paying due to the inability to do so, the vulnerability of the system became apparent. This was especially true for Germany, which actually collapsed financially in 1923 and the occupation of Ruhr led to an unseen in history hyperinflation, when the German mark reached exceptional levels of devaluation.

As a result, it was clear even then that the reparations were not only a tool that could not help the economic recovery of the world and Europe after the war but they would instead only exacerbate the problems and open the way for the development of national rivalries and for the rise of extreme nationalist regimes and movements. In fact, very often the rise of these extreme nationalist movements in the defeated countries was due to the fact that they felt cruelly punished by some onerous reparations.

Therefore, the problem of reparations showed how difficult it was to cover in this way any damage caused by the war. For the defeated countries, they were a political rather than an economic debt, a sanction against them, an attempt to ruin them economically and financially so that they would not be able to recover. And for the winning countries, they were false expectations. They believed that they would receive reparations, which ultimately they failed to obtain.

Tags: HistoryWorld War IIWar reparationsBulgarian-Greek relationsMollov-Kafantaris exchange of populations agreementGermany
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