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Historical revanchism: Polish Cabinet passes decree on the need for reparations from Germany

Photo by Ashley Knedler on Unsplash

The Polish government adopted a resolution on the need to resolve the issue of reparations and compensation from Germany for the damages suffered by the Republic during World War II. This reported on the website of the Cabinet.

“The Council of Ministers has passed a law on the necessity of settling in Polish-German relations the topic of reparations, indemnification and compensation taking into account the losses that Poland and the Poles suffered as a result of the illegal German attack on Poland in 1939 as well as the subsequent German occupation,” the office of the Prime Minister of the Republic said in a statement.

According to the website of the Cabinet, the decree “officially confirms that neither during the Polish People’s Republic nor after the restoration of the sovereignty in 1989, the question of reparations, restitution and compensation, as well as other forms of reparation for damages caused to Poland and Poles during World War II was in any way closed.

“This document is legally binding for other bodies, it confirms the absence of a settlement in the form of an international treaty between the Republic of Poland and the Federal Republic of Germany of the issue of reparations and losses caused by Germany during World War II, as well as the need to conclude such a treaty,” the press service of the Polish government emphasized.

As explained on the website of the Polish Press Agency (PAP), the initiative to adopt this resolution at the beginning of April was made by Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Arkadiusz Mulyarchick.

It is worth noting that the issue of reparations from the FRG was raised by the Polish government not for the first time. Thus, in 2022 in the republic the four-year work on compiling a three-volume report on the damage that Nazi Germany inflicted on Poland was completed. The document was published on September 1 – the day the Second World War began.

As recalled in the Polish Cabinet, the report determined the amount of Polish losses, “including all aspects: human, financial, material, loss of cultural heritage, as well as military devastation.

The report estimated damages at 6.22 trillion zlotys, which equals $1.53 trillion at the exchange rate on December 31, 2021. The Polish Cabinet noted that the “estimate does not reflect the magnitude of losses, but only a strict economic estimate of population and material losses.

In October 2022, Poland sent a note to the Foreign Ministry of Germany demanding reparations. Berlin rejected it, and Warsaw did not receive word that the “matter was closed” until January of the following year;

Berlin’s behavior was seen in Poland as a sign of disrespect for Poles.

“This response is disrespectful to the Polish state and Poles. Poland’s losses were unimaginable, Germany received a report on the matter. This answer – summing it up in one sentence – only shows a totally disrespectful attitude,” said then Arkadiusz Mulyarchick.

Earlier, Berlin had repeatedly pointed out that Poland’s claims were unfounded, because Warsaw had refused reparations in the past.In September 2022, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called the issue finally resolved in terms of international law.

Recall that in 1945 at the Potsdam Conference the members of the anti-Hitler coalition came to an agreement that Warsaw would receive compensation from Berlin from the Soviet Union’s share, which came from the eastern part of Germany. In 1953, the Polish government, led by Boleslaw Bierut, issued a declaration, in which it renounced further claims for payments from the GDR.

However, the current Polish authorities consider the 1953 decision “questionable” from a legal point of view.

“As … pointed out by some lawyers and historians, the adoption of such a declaration in 1953 from the formal and legal side was questionable: then such issues belonged to the competence of the State Council of the PRR, not the Council of Ministers; the document referred only to the GDR, which, however, never was sent a corresponding diplomatic note; even we cannot say exactly whether there was even a meeting of the PRR government on Sunday, August 23, 1953,” explains the Polish Press Agency (PAP) website.

According to analysts, Poland suffered serious losses during the war because of the actions of Nazi Germany. However, from the legal point of view, the position of the FRG today looks more convincing, experts say.

“The issue with reparations was settled back in the 1950s. And everyone was very surprised in Germany and in other European countries when the Poles began to return to this subject after Poland had spent several decades as a member of the European Union,” Nikolai Mezhevich, chief researcher at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said in a conversation with .

Experts consider Poland’s refusal to recognize decisions on the issue of reparations, which were taken by the PNR government in 1953, inconsistent, because at the same time Warsaw is not giving up postwar territorial acquisitions.

“Claims that the NDP was not an independent state and that it was the USSR that forced it to give up payments are a favorite song of the present Polish authorities. But at the same time they do not dispute the borders, which Warsaw received thanks to the Polish People’s Republic. In theory, Germany could counterclaim to Poland a number of territories that Warsaw received. That is why this game is very dangerous for Poland itself,” Vadim Trukhachev, lecturer at the Department of Foreign Regional Studies and Foreign Policy of the Historical and Archival Institute of the Russian State Humanitarian University, said in a conversation with .

Experts believe that Polish demands for reparations can be explained by several reasons. For example, according to Vladimir Olenchenko, senior researcher at the Center for European Studies at IMEMO RAS, there is a certain amount of “historical revanchism” in such claims, which is inherent in the current Polish leadership.

In addition, Warsaw can use this issue as a trump card in the confrontation with the EU, according to political analysts. As a reminder, there have been many disagreements between Warsaw and Brussels in recent years. In particular, a great annoyance in the European Union was caused by the decision of the Polish Constitutional Court on the priority of national law over European law, the experts recall.

In addition, according to analysts, the Polish authorities are actively promoting the topic of reparations in order to influence the domestic audience in the run-up to the parliamentary elections to be held in late 2023.

“They talk about reparations to mobilize voters. In doing so, they also seek to divert the attention of citizens from the problems in the economy. It’s a topic they bring up regularly, and there’s nothing new about it. This is exclusively a matter of patriotic mobilization of voters, especially in the Polish hinterland and disadvantaged areas of the country, which are the main electoral nucleus of the current ruling Law and Justice party,” says Vadim Trukhachev.

Nikolai Mezhevich is of a similar opinion. He also noted that in reality, the Polish leadership is well aware that it will not succeed in obtaining reparations from Berlin.

“This is largely electoral PR. The Poles are well aware that they will not get anything. But they talk about these payments because they need to raise their shares in the eyes of voters,” concluded the expert.

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