Coinciding with the 83rd anniversary of the start of the German invasion of Poland, at the start of World War II, the ultra-conservative and nationalist government in Warsaw has reopened the wound with Germany by demanding high compensation for the losses that the conflict caused the country , and which it estimates at 1.3 trillion euros, approximately double its GDP. Berlin argues, however, that the war reparations issue was settled decades ago. Some analysts and the opposition criticize that the ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS), seeks to stir up anti-German sentiment on the part of its voters as a distraction strategy at a time when it is losing popularity, harassed by inflation and the price of oil. energy one year before the elections.
“Many countries received compensation from Germany, but Poland did not… The Germans have never paid for their crimes against Poland,” said Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the PiS, during the official presentation of the report that quantifies the destruction of the country. . “The victims of German aggression demand justice,” added Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. “It’s not just about settling accounts with the past, but about making up for the gridlock on Poland’s future.” The Polish Executive had already verbalized this claim in the past, but had never quantified it with such a high figure.
“The position of the German government has not changed; the issue of reparations is settled,” a German Foreign Ministry spokesman told Reuters. “Poland renounced reparations a long time ago, in 1953, and has confirmed that waiver multiple times. This is one of the foundations of the current European order. Germany maintains its political and moral responsibility for World War II,” he added. The communist Polish government at the time renounced any compensation under pressure from the Soviet Union, which wanted to free East Germany from the obligations arising from its participation in the war. The last time Poland refused reparations was in 2004, and there is no legal basis to demand them now, according to experts consulted by Gazeta Wyborcza.
The PiS maintains a strained relationship with Germany, strained in recent times by the German response to the war in Ukraine. Until now he has never formalized his demands, but Kaczynski has assured this Thursday that they are willing to enter into a negotiation with his western neighbor.
A parliamentary commission and an institute created expressly to quantify the losses generated by the war, both chaired by a PiS deputy, have been working on this issue since 2017. To arrive at the figure of 1.3 million, which Kaczynski believes is “conservative,” Poland takes into account the murder of 5.2 million Poles (more than half of them Jews) at the hands of the Nazis, 196,000 children taken from their families and sent to Germany, and a population drop of 11.4 million. He also adds material damage such as the destruction of 80% of Warsaw and thousands of towns and villages. Plus the factories, schools and monuments that were reduced to dust. And the looting of the coffers of the State and of the citizens. A sum of demographic, economic, infrastructure losses and possibilities for advances in science, education and culture. “Poland today would be very different in terms of development compared to other countries,” argues the report presented on Thursday.
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Knowing these demands, the leader of the main opposition party, Donald Tusk (Civic Platform), has affirmed this Thursday that Kaczynski’s announcement “is not about reparations.” “This is an internal political campaign to rebuild support for the ruling party,” said the former president of the European People’s Party.
Although the PiS continues to lead the polls in Poland, it has fallen in voting intention weighed down by inflation, above 15%, and the price of energy. In addition to the economic problems, the relief that he expected to receive when the European Commission gave the green light in June to the recovery funds for the pandemic, 35.4 billion euros between grants and loans, has not yet arrived. The Commission waits for Poland to meet the milestones committed to undoing the reform of the Polish justice before sending any payment, while the European judges have taken the European Executive to court for approving the recovery plan, because they consider that Poland continues without guarantee judicial independence.
In this complicated climate for the Government in a pre-election year, with an intense winter approaching, Jacek Kucharczyk, president of the thinktank Institute of Public Affairs, believes that the PiS “has come out with this ridiculous figure” to distract public attention from the fact that it “refuses to back down on judicial reform”, which could cost the EU millions. Although the Government is raising the tone before Brussels —Morawiecki accused the Commission this week of sanctioning Poland the same as Russia— “It is easier to attack Germany than Europe”, says Kucharczyk, in a country where more than 80% of citizens declare themselves pro-European. Incidentally, he adds, it serves to delve into the narrative that “the opposition is in the pay of Germany.”
The anti-German rhetoric of the Polish government comes from afar, but it is only useful in its fishing ground for votes, says Kucharczyk, according to surveys from his institute. Ben Stanley, a professor at the Center for the Study of Democracy at the SWPS University in Warsaw, agrees that turning to issues related to history and culture, mixing them with anti-German sentiments, can only work for him among his voters. “It’s cynical,” says the expert, because “they know what the German response will be” and they release an “exorbitant” figure that they know is “extremely unlikely” to achieve.
“They have announced it on television and surely that is it. They love doing this,” says Kucharczyk. His prediction is that the PiS will continue to talk about the German reparations question again and again during the election campaign. Thus, he maintains, he builds his “parallel reality through propaganda.”
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