The news will leave many Germans speechless: 77 years after the end of the Second World War, Poland is demanding 1.3 trillion euros in reparations. The request has a history of several years.
How does that fit with the reality in Europe – 33 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, 18 years after Poland joined the EU? After all, Germans and Poles are neighbors, NATO allies, economic partners for mutual benefit. And now Germany should pay when there are so many other expenses due to the war in Ukraine?
These questions have moral, legal and political sides. Depending on the context in which you are looking for answers, they turn out differently.
Moral: Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the ruling PiS party, deliberately chose September 1, the 83rd anniversary of the start of the war, to present a new report to the public. German guilt does not go away. It has no expiry date measured in years.
“Germany is committed to its historical responsibility – without buts,” German Ambassador Thomas Bagger assured Poland on the anniversary. Polish media emphasize this “no buts”.
Morality also includes: In Berlin, Poles and Germans, including Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth, gathered on September 1 to commemorate a symbolic place: Republic Square in front of the Reichstag.
Where the Kroll Opera once stood is one of the two preferred locations for the Poland memorial decided by the Bundestag. In the heart of Berlin, it is intended to commemorate German crimes.
Legally, a different picture emerges. The federal government says that reparation issues have been finally clarified in the two-plus-four agreement.
Poland finds no international support for its demand. The USA and neighboring countries, which were themselves victims of the Nazis, advised against Warsaw.
At its core, Kaczynski’s move is politically motivated. It is part of PiS’s election campaign to portray Poland as a victim of evil forces and PiS as the only force bravely defending the nation. And: Is there anything more heroic than taking on the allegedly overpowering Germans?
At the same time, it is important who is demanding the reparations. Not President Andrzej Duda, not Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, but the PiS party leader.
And even if the sum is said to be based on scientific research: It is also political. 1.3 trillion euros sounds like a lot. But it is not in relation to the six million Polish victims and the destruction.
It is a third of Germany’s annual economic output and a sixth of the savings of private households. That could be financed over several years if you wanted or had to.
But aren’t there more politically convincing answers than paying? Namely treating Poland as a partner on an equal footing: In the dispute over the fish kill in the Oder, where some in Germany tended to make hasty judgments on the basis of dry facts and now want to overturn the agreed expansion of the waterway, which Poland needs like Germany needs the Rhine.
Or in military cooperation. Poland is so annoyed by German hesitation that it prefers to build the new tanks with South Korea.
Doing everything so that the Poles trust the Germans for their security: that would be a strong lesson from history.