Greeks in Glass Houses

Published on The European Magazine

On January 26, 2015, Alexis Tsipras’ first act as Greece’s newly elected Prime Minister was to visit the memorial site at the Kaisariani rifle range, where 200 Greek communists were executed in 1944 by Nazi occupiers, in retaliation for the killing of a German general by Greek resistance forces. War memorials and commemorations are always politically charged; Tsipras’ visit was immediately interpreted as a defiant message to Germany, the lead European Union member-state that is imposing austerity measures to Greece as part of a billion-euro bailout plan. A few weeks later, on March 10, Tsipras gave a strong speech on “war reparations owed by Germany to Greece.” He started by paying “tribute to the victims of World War II, … the fighters from all over the world, … the fighters of the Greek national resistance.” Two weeks later, on an official visit to Berlin, he took a quick tour of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and wrote the following in the guest book: “Knowledge of history can strengthen us, even if it hurts, so that we work together to ensure that humanity never experiences such pain again.”

Mr. Tsipras makes selective uses of history for economic and political purposes. Defying Germany and demanding monetary compensations seventy years after the war, at a time when his country lies in deep financial crisis, is bold, if not daring. But what his acts, speeches and messages highlight is his silence over another essential aspect of World War II, namely the Holocaust, and how it affected his country.

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