Warsaw Revives Call for German WWII Reparations

World | August 23, 2017, Wednesday // 13:41|  views


Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has stepped up its anti-German rhetoric by declaring Warsaw has a right to billions of dollars in reparations for destruction inflicted by the Nazis in World War II, reported Politico. 

Despite doubts about the claim expressed by parts of the government — including the foreign ministry and President Andrzej Duda — PiS is waging an anti-German campaign via friendly media. Right-wing TV channel Republika’s website published an image of the slogan “Reparationen machen frei” photoshopped to look like the gate to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where the original inscription read “Arbeit macht frei.”

The campaign’s inspiration comes from the top: Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Law and Justice and the most powerful politician in the country, told a party conference in July: “Poland never renounced reparations for World War II. Those who think so are wrong.”

Top government officials followed through in early August, with Deputy Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz supporting the claim. Campaigners’ estimates of how much Germany “owes” Poland vary wildly, with the right-wing weekly Sieci Prawdy demanding trillion in reparations on its cover.

Berlin noticed the revival of the reparations debate and curtly rejected the claim. In a brief statement, a German government spokeswoman said the issue was “dealt with conclusively in the past.”

The Polish government has made a practice of looking for foes since coming to power in late 2015 — and those efforts have helped consolidate the one-third of the electorate that strongly backs the ruling party. Top government officials have demonized asylum seekers, attacked Brussels over its accusations that Poland is backsliding on democratic principles and accused opposition parties of betraying the country to foreigners.

The shift to hostility against Germany is the latest gambit for Kaczyński, who has long been suspicious of Poland’s powerful neighbor. PiS accuses Berlin of abusing its influence in Brussels to sway the ongoing debate about Poland’s infringement of EU rule of law standards, and Kaczyński is gearing up for an attack on German-owned media operations in Poland.

The last time the reparations debate flared up was in 2015, when former German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier — now the country’s head of state — said the issue had already been “legally and politically resolved.”

Reparations, however, are an emotional issue in Poland and talk of the country’s right to claim money from Germany is unlikely to disappear any time soon. A recent opinion poll found 63 percent of Poles backed the idea.

Germany is now a crucial economic partner for Poland, buying a quarter of all Polish exports, and was a key advocate of Poland’s accession to the European Union. Poland’s influence in the EU grew with Germany’s support and Chancellor Angela Merkel was a crucial supporter of former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s candidacy for the presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2014.

The compensation issue is opening fissures within the government and within Law and Justice.

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Tags: Poland WWll, World War II, Law and Justice, Germany, repatriation


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