FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Syriza’s Call for German Reparations

Athens.

Developments are happening faster than the speed of light both in Greece and around the world. It is not often that people are happy to be quickly proven wrong, but luckily the opportunity arrived. Following the Eurogroup agreement and the way it was presented to the public as an end of austerity and as a victory, indicated that the Syriza government is a captive to the Institutions. I expressed the possibility that unless public opposition mounts, Syriza will end up bending to pressure. Recent events, however, suggest that this is untrue. A public mobilization was not necessary, Germany’s humiliating dictates while the Greek public is suffering under the yoke of austerity have already turned the tide and the Syriza Government is resisting Germany’s patronizing and suffocating actions. As argued earlier, Syriza is pursuing a policy of uniting the nation by demanding justice. What goal may it have in mind? What caused this turn? and where may it lead to?

In his speech to the Hellenic Parliament, Prime Minister Tsipras touched on the issue which both some Anglo-Saxon socialists and Conservative Germans would wish would have avoided. Tsipras brought to public view the issue of reparations of World War II, and the fact Germany did not pay back the interest-free forced loan made on the Greek bank by the German occupation forces until today. While some reparations were paid in the 1950s, these were quite small considering the damage and did not include the forced loan. Tsipras demanded reparations from Germany for the immense damage and killing caused during the brutal German occupation as a necessary act to restore historical justice. The parliament decided on the establishment of a committee led by economists and historians who will pursue the issue of reparations. The Greek Justice Minister said that if necessary, he would consider seizing German assets in Greece, including, for example, the Goethe Institutes in Athens and Thessaloniki and even homes of German citizens.

Alexis Tsipras has come under attack by various international socialist groups due to his perceived ultra-nationalism. Some international socialists are uncomfortable with nationalism, due to their hope that working class around the world will unite regardless of national boundaries and due perhaps to Western countries own bitter legacy with nationalism, fascism and colonialism. Others argued that by its appeal to nationalism, “Syriza ignores the class dimensions of the economic crisis” while letting the oligarchs off the hook. However, it is undeniable that the entire Greek people are captive to dictates of the Institutions and that the territory of Greece has come under a German occupation in the past. Furthermore, Syriza pledged to crack down on the oligarchs and has publicly addressed on various occasions the need to provide social justice. What Syriza did not do, however, was to pretend that questions of historical justice are no longer relevant.

The speech given by Tsipras was seen by the World Socialist Website as “the clearest indication of the right-wing and bourgeois character of his government.” However, international socialists often fail to understand that countries that undergo colonization as in the case of many Latin American countries, or a fascist occupation, as was in the case of Greece, have every right to protect their sovereignty. This disagreement is not new. While the Trotsky school objects to “socialism in one country” waiting for a world revolution, Marxism as interpreted by Lenin draws a distinction between revolutionary nationalism of an oppressed nation and reactionary nationalism of a colonialist state. Indeed, the revolutionary governments of Cuba and Venezuela did not shy from appealing to nationalism and to protect their sovereignty. Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro not only spoke using nationalist terms which are bad music for some Western socialists ears, but took actions against imperial and colonial powers operating on their land. Chavez famously said that “we are the Sons of Bolivar”, referring to Simon Bolivar, the revolutionary leader who fought against Spanish colonization. Fidel frequently mentioned Jose Marti, a Cuban nationalist who opposed American colonization of the island. The desire to have a “ a homeland free and sovereign”, as Tsipras said in the parliament, is a legitimate one. It is absurd to presume that oppressed countries or occupied territories cannot appeal to nationalism due to the argument that this may make it more difficult to garner international support.

Tsipras made it clear in his speech in parliament that his vision is a transnational one. Tsipras said that he wishes 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”. In so doing, he expressed his solidarity with the Communist and other resistance groups across Europe and with the fighters of the Red Army, who achieved the victory. (Indeed, Tsipras plans to attend the May 9 victory celebration of the Red Army in Moscow). He therefore clarified that he supports international solidarity against fascism and is not a xenophobic nationalist.

Tsipras then went on to pay tribute to the “fighters of the Greek national resistance, who gave their lives in order to rid the country from the Nazi atrocities and occupation.” Here Tsipras accomplished a double goal. First, providing a quick history lesson to many Greeks who under the formal education system have not always learned about the fascist resistance considering the fact that the UK supported the Greek Nazi collaborators and reactionaries in 1944 and placed them in power. Secondly, incorporating the history of Communist resistance into formal national history even for those who familiar with the past.

Tsipras also highlighted in his speech the fact that the Eurogroup has failed to live up to basic decency. He said that he does not preach to others and would not want to be preached to either, while the country has been patronized by northern Europe that sought to rob it of dignity. “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,” said Tsipras. It appears that Tsipras realizes full well that the Eurogroup has no plans to accommodate Greece’s demands on debt restructuring and an easing of austerity. Indeed, despite the desperate attempt of Finance Minister Vaourfakis to meet the demands of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem said that Greece’s reform proposals were insufficient. This led Greece to suggest that a referendum may be introduced in which the public will decide on whether to remain in the Euro. What is clear is that a significant period of time did not need to pass before the contradictions in the Eurogroup agreement came to light and before it became increasingly obvious that the government cannot please both the Institutions and the public.

It appears therefore, that Tsipras’ patience is starting to wear thin and rather than being on the defensive he chose to take the intiative. The question remains, however, whether the demand for reparations is merely an attempt to secure more finances for the country, and achieve a better bargaining position, or whether it is a genuine attempt to mobilize the public behind him so that the population will undergo a process of radicalization and will be ripe for a Grexit. The latter appears to be more likely in light of Greece’s dire economic state, yet only time will dispel the fog on this issue.

Tsipras demands for reparations, however, and the possibility of taking over German assets in Greece, echo other eras of oppressed countries resisting colonization. The grabbing of assets can be seen as a first step towards securing national sovereignty and restoring dignity, before more ambitious social programs are pursued. Cuban President Fidel Castro famously took control of US property in Cuba following aggression taken by the United States following the Revolution. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez seized assets of foreign oil contractors in Venezuela drawing the wrath of the United States, in 2009. Yet Chavez also seized national oil contractors while Tsipras has not attempted to nationalize the banks at home, leaving his long term plans unclear.

Chavez did not shy from nationalist statements against the US, much as Tsipras is seeking to mobilize the nation against a German financial occupation. “Go to hell, Yankee sh*ts”, Chavez said, “here stands a dignified people. Go to hell a hundred times, we are the sons of Bolivar.” Tsipras rallying call against Germany, along with his visit to the memorial in Kaisariani, where 200 Greek partisans were executed, in his first day as prime minister, can be seen as following Chavez steps, even while using softer language.

International socialists have traditionally shied away from nationalism. Their belief was that nationalism serves as a boundary and a barrier for international workers and oppressed groups beyond national borders. And yet for a country to assert its sovereignty, is not narrow nationalism but basic dignity. The concern expressed, however, that a nationalist appeal will dispel international solidarity, is not rooted in history. “Hands-off Venezuela” and “Hands-off Cuba” campaigns have been taking place in Western Europe and the United States, although these respective countries asserted their national sovereignty and revoked a historical examples of patriotism. One must be aware, however, of the danger of a general anti-German sentiment and to this end, it would be wise of Tsipras to mobilize members of the German Leftist party die Linke to his cause.

The question remains to what degree will Tsipras continue to confront Germany despite the risks involved, whether he is doing so in order to prepare the people for a Plan B, and whether he will be willing to compromise after receiving compensation, assuming this is granted, rather than demanding an entire restructuring of the debt conditions. Germany has already ruled out reparations, however. Yet the issue is sure to heighten tensions and nationalist sentiments in Greece.

While it is too early to say where this will lead, Tsipras, at least for now, is pursuing the same line led out by Marti, Bolivar, Fidel and Chavez. Indeed, privately-owned television channels in Greece have already began their demonization campaign of Tsipras, reminding one of the Venezuelan corporate media campaign against Chavez.

Joshua Tartakovsky is an independent journalist in Athens.

More articles by:

Joshua Tartakovsky is an independent journalist in Athens.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
January 21, 2020
Sheldon Richman
Warmonger Cotton Accuses Antiwar Think Tank of Anti-Semitism
John Feffer
Trump Makes Space Great Again
Patrick Cockburn
The US and Iran’s Perpetual Almost-War is Unsustainable – and Will End Badly
James C. Nelson
Another Date That Will Live in Infamy: 10 Years After Citizens United
Robert Fisk
Iran Will be Changed Forever by Admitting Its Great Mistake, Unlike the West Which Ignores Its Own Misdeeds
Dean Baker
Did Shareholders’ Benefit by Paying Boeing’s Fired CEO $62 Million?
Susan Roberts
The Demise of the Labour Party and the Future For UK Socialism
Binoy Kampmark
Janus-Faced on Climate Change: Microsoft’s Carbon Vision
David Levin
The Teamster Revolt Against the Hoffa Era
Victor Grossman
Defender and Spearheads
Russell Mokhiber
BS Public Editor and the Disease of Contempt
Tiffany Muller
Get the Money Out of Politics: 10 Years After Citizens United
Laura Flanders
Iowa is Not the Twitterverse
Graham Peebles
Education: Expanding Purpose
Elliot Sperber
Handball in Brooklyn 
January 20, 2020
Paul Street
Trump Showed Us Who He Was Before He Became President
Eric Mann
Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Ipek S. Burnett
MLK and the Ghost of an Untrue Dream
Mark Harris
Better Living Through Glyphosate? Spray Now, Ask Questions Later
Katie Fite
Owyhee Initiative Wilderness and Public Lands Deal Critique: Ten Years After
Thomas Knapp
A Loophole for the Lawless: “Qualified Immunity” Must Go
REZA FIYOUZAT
Best Enemies Forever: The Iran-U.S. Kabuki Show
Jeff Mackler
Worldwide Furor Sparked by U.S. Assassination of Iran’s General Suleimani
William deBuys
The Humanitarian and Environmental Disaster of Trump’s Border Wall
Binoy Kampmark
A Matter of Quality: Air Pollution, Tennis and Sporting Officialdom
James Haught
GOP Albatross
Jill Richardson
Why Do We Have School Lunch Debt at All?
Robert Koehler
Nuclear Hubris
Patrick T. Hiller
Instead of Real-Time Commentary, Eight Common-Sense Reason for Not Going to War with Iran
Charles Andrews
A Note on Carlos Ghosn and Global Capitalism
Jeffrey St. Clair
Some Trees: Los Angeles
Weekend Edition
January 17, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: No Woman, No Cry
Kathleen Wallace
Hijacking the Struggles of Others, Elizabeth Warren Style
Robert Hunziker
The Rumbling Methane Enigma
Frank Joyce
Will the Constitution Fail Again?
Andrew Levine
Biden Daze
Pete Dolack
Claims that the ‘NAFTA 2’ Agreement is Better are a Macabre Joke
Vijay Prashad
Not an Inch: Indian Students Stand Against the Far Right
Ramzy Baroud
Sealed Off and Forgotten: What You Should Know about Israel’s ‘Firing Zones’ in the West Bank
Norman Solomon
Not Bernie, Us. Not Warren, Us. Their Clash Underscores the Need for Grassroots Wisdom
Ted Rall
America’s Long History of Meddling in Russia
David Rosen
The Irregulators vs. FCC: the Trial Begins
Jennifer Matsui
The Krown
Joseph Natoli
Resolutions and Obstacles/2020
Sarah Anderson
War Profiteering is Real
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail