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https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/poland-officially-demand-ww2-reparations-germany-says-ruling-party-boss-2022-09-01/

What are the pros and cons of demanding 1.3 trillion in reparation from Germany?

The Polish government made a 1.3 trillion demand for the damages caused by WW2. Does the Polish government have anything to gain from making such an outlandish claim? I don't see any benefit, I only see consequences, as the people of Poland won't take their own government seriously for making such an outlandish demand.

Poland estimates its World War Two losses caused by Germany at 6.2 trillion zlotys ($1.32 trillion), the leader of the country's ruling nationalists said on Thursday, and he said Warsaw would officially demand reparations.

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    The question can be imporved by specifying "pros and cons for whom?" This is a rather zero-sum situation so someone's bound to gain from another one's loss. Note, I suspect this might have something to do with Poland's internal politics so it would help to differentiate the interest of Poland with Poland's incumbent ruling party. Sep 3, 2022 at 9:07

5 Answers 5

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Pro:

  • For domestic purposes, they are seen as standing up for Polish interests. (See this Politico article and this CNN article on the domestic angle).
  • It puts Germany on the defensive regarding the rule-of-law proceedings.
  • They might get something, after all.

Con:

  • It distracts from the Ukraine invasion response.
  • Poland renounced all claims in 1953. A reputation for not keeping treaties is a bad thing.
  • Germany believes that it settled all outstanding WWII claims with the same 1991 treaty which confirmed Polish possession of formerly German territory (the "westward shift" of Poland). Opening that is not in the Polish interest.
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    "Poland renounced all claims in 1953" well, one could argue that that was a doing of an illegitimate autocracy and a direct result of external (Soviet) pressure in an occupied country.
    – Neinstein
    Sep 2, 2022 at 10:54
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    @Neinstein, they'd have a better case if they rejected all other acts of that autocracy as well.
    – o.m.
    Sep 2, 2022 at 11:00
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    @TadeuszKopec, sure, but that is again picking and choosing. Would that imply giving back land in the west? To me it looks as if my first bullet point (and the whole of the answer by Stančikas is the main motivation.
    – o.m.
    Sep 2, 2022 at 15:45
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    @o.m.: That's actually too disruptive, so much so that the idea of law has the belief that the acts of a illegitimate government are legitimate until challenged. Otherwise you void everybody's marriage licenses and property transfers. Nobody really wants that.
    – Joshua
    Sep 3, 2022 at 0:42
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    @Neinstein, so the loss of eastern territories can be challenged, but the gain of western territories is OK? Sounds awfully convenient.
    – o.m.
    Sep 5, 2022 at 8:51
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This is not about reparations

It's about an internal political campaign to rebuild support for the ruling party. The combative stance towards Germany, is often used by this party, PiS, to mobilize its constituency. This is that Donald Tusk, leader of Poland's biggest opposition party Civic Platform, says (source).

Speaking about cons, maybe not the best time right now.

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    Speaking about cons, it's the worst imaginable time for such games right now. Sep 2, 2022 at 20:29
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    As I suspected, the demand is probably an act to gin up support for Poland's ruling party. The demand for "getting WWII reparation" is about as genuine as "build the wall". Sep 3, 2022 at 9:14
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    @DanubianSailor Can we assume that PiS does not support Russia in the present conflict? Many other far-right parties support Russia. Sep 3, 2022 at 14:30
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    @user253751 Opposition was spreading rumours, that PiS collaborate with Russia soon after they've won the ellections, but it was translation from Hungarian. Taking into account anti-russia rhetorics being in play since the beginning of PiS and that they openly accuse Putin of killing Polish president in the terror attack, it would be a conspiration theory to believe they're collaborating. But such conspiration theories doesn't explain why Poland would help Ukraine so broadly and efficiently etc. Sep 3, 2022 at 17:08
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One of the persistent problems in the Eastern Europe is the ambiguity of what it means to be pro-western: while in the west the term is synonymous with accepting western values, in the Eastern Europe it is often understood as being anti-Russian. In the same time, the old Soviet/communist/totalitarian mindset persists in the form of the support for right-wing policies and movements - such as AfD in Germany (whose base of support is mainly in eastern Germany) or the rise of Viktor Orban in Hungary (who is largely viewed as inspiration for Donald Trump.)

Poland has its share of problems on this front, notably:

As the result Poland was sanctioned by the European Union, the latest sanctions being adopted just before the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine.

Thus, the Poland's strong anti-Russian stance and reviving claims against Germany

  • on the one hand, are grounded in justified grievances about past mistreatment ^1.
  • On the other hand, they serve to distract from Poland's own problems with democracy and human rights, and perhaps even to put the pressure on the European Union to ease the sanctions, due to the Poland's key status (geographical and political) in confronting Russia, and due to the German sense of guilt over the WW2 crimes, compounded by German reluctance to adopt strong anti-Russian stance, due to the country's dependence on the Russian gas.

This politics is arguably successful, as we can conclude from the failed non-confidence vote against the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen this June:

According to them, the EU Commission chief should be held to account for having pushed to give the green light to the Polish recovery plan despite Warsaw’s failings on the rule of law – a fundamental point of disagreement between Poland and the Commission, which had blocked the EU funds allocated to Warsaw for over a year.

If von der Leyen “continues to refuse to seriously apply the conditionality rules on the rule of law,” which aim to make the payment of EU funds conditional on member states’ strict respect of fundamental rights, “we will withdraw our support,” Verhofstadt said on Monday.


^1 Hundreds of thousands of Polish were killed by Nazis and Soviets, often not in a battle, but summarily executed (e.g., see Katyn). Even before that the country had often been subject of cynical treatment by its bigger neighbors, see Partitions of Poland.

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From the perspective of Germany

Pros

  • Pleasing some constituents though likely displeasing most
  • Keeping NATO relevant - while there may not be an overt Russian threat to Germany, the overall stability NATO brings the continent is a meaningful dimension. With US turning more inward, it may fall on to other members to keep the alliance in relative harmony - though it may seem unfair to some. This is the flip-side of democracy; if democratic processes within the borders of any NATO member deem reparations are appropriate then that is something all members will need to grapple with.
  • Europe as an equitable region - this is a similar angle. During the Euro-debt crisis, Germany was instrumental in providing stability as Italy and Greece faced a balance of payment crisis. This is in recent memory. Although Poland seems to be bringing up ancient history with these restorations, it could be argued that Europe would be less equitable if Germany's influence on Europe's monetary/fiscal policy comes off as having double-standards.
  • The long game Though it may seem outrageous to pay reparations, Germany may view it as the lesser of two evils. Germany also is confronting energy security problems. Poland is a vital link in its chain. Perhaps the last thing Germany can afford is another complication in its energy solution set. Germany is a current account surplus nation; it also needs to keep its citizens warm, like everyone else.

Cons

  • Reviving old grudges - First and foremost, this will be a massively sensitive issue for Germany. A saying in finance is that all markets are haunted by the ghosts of their previous crises. For America, it was unemployment from the great depression. For Germany, their ghost is hyperinflation and excessive reparations from WWI that essentially sowed the seeds for much of Hitler's rhetoric and WWII.

  • Setting a dangerous precedent. Take the Bahamas, they have wanted reparations for decades but have yet to receive a dime for their colonial era woes. Similar cases could be argued from much of the commonwealth. This is especially true in Africa where British policy essentially left the countries in the hands of a democracy with extremely weak institutions. One man one vote happened once; thereafter dictatorship ensued. It's a slippery slope that any cherry-picked historical footnote can be grounds for leveling reparation claims.

  • Straining the relationship. Judging by the past 10 years, Germany undoubtedly already feels it is assuming too great a responsibility for stabilizing the Eurozone economy. It could be viewed distatesful to put a price on peace/forgiveness. Britain already left the Eurozone. Putting a big price tag and expectations on your neighbors may just amplify the strain we have already begun to see in the region. Everyone has worked so hard to keep the EU as an idea alive, but now after a period of relative peace, expectations are being set higher. Nothing can continue forever, eventually even Germany will tire

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    Small correction, the UK was never in the Eurozone. In the EU but not in the Eurozone
    – Andy Clark
    Sep 2, 2022 at 15:31
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One con would be the fact that the previous time Germany was pressured into paying an exorbitant reparation they damn near sat the world on fire afterwards.

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