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Post Poland, Germany, and the Reparations Controversy
Created by John Eipper on 11/19/23 3:50 AM

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Poland, Germany, and the Reparations Controversy (Cameron Sawyer, USA, 11/19/23 3:50 am)

I'm not sure if WAISers have been following the ongoing kerfuffle between Poland and Germany over WWII reparations.

Polish voters have just kicked out the crazy right-wing government of Kaczynski and Duda, which led many to hope that the crazy demand of the Polish government to repudiate the agreements between Poland and Germany going back to the 1950s settling the matter, and to demand about 1.3 trillion euros (!) of reparations for the damage caused in WWII, would be dropped.

Kaczynski caused a minor scandal in Germany when he said, in June 2022, with the Ukraine War already raging, that "I don't know whether the Germans are arming themselves against the Russians, or against us."


But, no. Despite the ejection of Kaczynski's PiS party from power, this week a new parliamentary group was set up in Poland to press the matter of German reparations, and in addition, to start calculation of reparations due from Russia for WWII damage. https://poland.postsen.com/local/393251/Reparations-from-Germany-%E2%80%93-a-parliamentary-group-was-established-in-the-Sejm-Among-the-members-is-the-president-of-PiS.html

This growing problem between Poland and Germany is wholly unnecessary, tearing open old wounds at the worst possible time, and is all the more unnecessary considering the Polish economic miracle of the last 10 years which has made the Polish economy one of the consistently best performing in Europe during all of those years. A performance driven largely by German investment and intensive economic cooperation between Germany and Poland.

The Germans have firmly rebuffed these demands (https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/europa/polen-reparationsforderungen-101.html ) which have created a wave of bad feelings in Germany towards Poland. The main argument of the Kaczynski gang is that the reparations paid back then were inadequate, and that the series of agreements signed by the Polish government settling the matter with Germany are invalid because--the Polish government of that time represented a different country. To which the Germans, naturally, reply--so Nazi Germany is not a different country, by the same standards?

The large size of the can of worms this opens up is evident if you think about the potential revanchism on the other side.  Think about the German territories annexed by Poland after WWII--half of East Prussia and all of former German lands east of the Oder-Neisse, including much of Pomerania, Silesia, East Brandenburg, and other territories, vast territories and great cities including Breslau (today Wroclaw), Stettin, amounting to 24% of the former territory of Germany (after the previous loss of territories following WWI). After annexation, those territories were ethnically cleansed of German civilians. Naturally there are a number of crazy German right wingers--the German equivalents of the Kaczynski gang--who would like to "right" those "historical wrongs," and the Polish suggestion that various official declarations and treaties should be repudiated so that new claims for reparations against Germany can be pressed, find echoes in Germany for repudiation of the treaties which recognized the Polish annexation of the Eastern Territories.

The other driver of revanchism in Germany is the loss of industrial enterprises moved to Poland, a significant movement which started at large scale about 10 or 15 years ago. Germany is unique among all highly developed economies at having a relatively small services sector, and a very large manufacturing sector. Deindustrialization means something completely different in Germany than it did in the US, which transitioned out of heavy industry to tech and services industries fairly easily. Deindustrialization benefiting Poland feeds widespread resentment in the population which does not bode well for German mainstream politics. Polish demands, coming at this moment, are pouring gasoline on that smoldering fire.

This will not end well, and it is the direct result of that common aspect of nationalism which nurses old "historical wrongs" and craves revenge or compensation or whatever. The web of "historical wrongs," particularly those concerning borders, is far too dense to ever untangle in any way which would be considered by everyone to be just. That is why we need to stop indulging this strain of nationalist feeling and leave the past in the past. The logical end of these movements is war.

JE comments:  Poland still has no government.  PiS (unfortunate acronym) came in first in the October 15th elections, but without a parliamentary majority.  It is presently seeking coalition partners, but none are forthcoming.  One expects the opposition coalition under Donald Tusk will prevail fairly soon, which should quiet things down on the reparations question. 

Cameron Sawyer phrased it aptly:  this is a massive can of worms.  Would any of the reparations and revanchism talk have come to the surface without the Ukraine war?  Especially if Putin prevails, expect several more revanchist conflicts to emerge in Europe.

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