1. Germany owes Poland huge sums of money
Poland EU Germany
The return of the reparations debacle reveals how Poland’s international relations have been infected by PiS’ primitive approach to morality, history and sovereignty.
As the conflict between Warsaw and Berlin has deepened, the issue of war reparations has been put back on the agenda by Poland’s ruling PiS government. Influential party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski last year claimed that “Germany owes Poland huge sums of money”, and this month commissioned a study to calculate Poland’s financial claims for Second World War losses.
The prospects of receiving any financial payments from Berlin are close to zero. In 1953 Warsaw followed the lead of the Western allies and the Soviet Union in officially relinquishing any claim to further reparations from Germany. Indeed, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Magierowski recently confirmed that Warsaw respects the binding character of this legal commitment, suggesting that the rationality of Kaczynski’s move is questioned even within government circles.
Of course, the re-emergence of the reparations issue owes more to political than legal or economic considerations. Polish President Andrzej Duda (also of PiS) recently vetoed two proposals for controversial reforms of the judiciary, frustrating Kaczynski’s aims to bring the courts under the control of the government and raising speculation of a split in the ruling camp. And Germany has always been PiS’ popular scapegoat to distract voters’ attention from such domestic troubles.
But ‘operation reparations’ represents more than just the instrumentalization of foreign policy for domestic purposes. It also reveals how Poland’s international relations have been infected by PiS’ primitive approach to morality, history and sovereignty.
For PiS, the pursuit of ‘moral victories’ is fundamental. And there is no doubt that the Polish claim for reparations has a solid moral case – perhaps more so than any other country besides Israel and the former Soviet republics.
- The Nazi occupation of Poland resulted in the deaths of over 5.5 million Polish citizens (around half of which were Jews) as well as the near-total destruction of Warsaw and many other cities.
- Poland only later gave up its claim to reparations under orders from Moscow, on whom Warsaw’s communist government was completely dependent.
For PiS this historical wrong needs to be righted at whatever costs, and it is ready to sacrifice foreign policy goals like good relations with a key neighbour or reputation and influence in the EU in order to achieve this moral victory.
Yet in reality this policy is not only unwise but also deeply immoral. As the Polish commentator Kazimierz Wóycicki recently noted, ‘Even the greatest crime committed in the past cannot justify the lack of rationality and common sense today’.
To blame and punish the second and third generation of Germans for atrocities committed over 70 years ago runs directly contrary to the ultimate goal of a moral foreign policy – that of peace and reconciliation between nations.
Warsaw’s approach to this matter reflects Kaczynski’s political thinking at large: by overhauling Poland’s liberal-democratic institutions he seeks to finally win the arguments he lost in the 1990s, when he opposed the country’s liberal transformation. But by replaying the battles of the past – fighting alleged post-Communist networks and reversing education reforms introduced by predecessors – PiS is destroying the foundations of the state while claiming to restore moral sanity.