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19th Aug 2019

Polish reparations vote raises eyebrows in Berlin

The Polish Parliament (Sejm) decided on Friday (10 September) to demand reparations from Germany for World War II.

The Sejm unanimously called on the Polish government to estimate the total damages Germany caused Poland in World War II and to begin talks with Berlin.

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The text of the resolution stated: "Parliament declares that Poland has not yet received war reparations payments and damages for the enormous extent of destruction and material and non-material costs brought on by German aggression, occupation and genocide".

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski has however turned down the reparations demand.

"If we were to settle these accounts, then we would in fact destroy the unity of Europe", he said in an interview to Financial Times Deutschland.

80,000 potential claims in Poland

The old issue came alive when the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled in June that Poland must compensate citizens for property their families lost when the country's eastern borders shifted westwards after World War II.

Jerzy Broniowski, a Polish national born in 1944, brought his case to the Court seeking compensation of €85,000 for his grandmother’s lost property - a house and land in what is now L'viv, in the Ukraine.

The case has much wider significance because it opens the door for more than 80,000 potential claims in Poland, according to government estimates.

And not only were Poles expelled from their homes when borders were settled after World War II, but so were millions of Germans.

Lobby groups for expelled Germans, such as the Prussian Claims Society, have now issued demands and sparked tremendous resentment in Poland.

The Polish government last year adopted a compensation law that would pay out 15 percent of the value of lost property with a ceiling of 50,000 Polish zlotys (€11,000).

The Court ruling in Strasbourg has also raised the question of where the money for compensations is to come from.

The resolution agreed by the Polish parliament on Friday to calculate damages and start talks with Berlin over a reparations bill is a political resolution, reported Deutsche Welle. It has no legally binding effect for Prime Minister Marek Belka or his government.

Poland dropped all of its demands for reparations from the Germans during the 1950s.

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