Nationalist Poles demand German cash
Demanding reparations from Germany for its actions in Poland during the Second World War is a matter of honour, announced Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the Polish Law and Justice (PiS) party as nationalist protesters take to the streets.
Tens of thousands joined a demonstration organised by nationalist groups in Warsaw to mark Independence Day.
The march has become the largest independence event in recent years and included xenophobic or white supremacist groups, with one banner reading, “White Europe of brotherly nations”.
Speakers condemned liberals and defended “Christian values” while some banners showed a falanga, a far-right symbol dating to the 1930s.
Extreme-right leaders attended from elsewhere in Europe, including Tommy Robinson from Britain and Roberto Fiore from Italy.
Meanwhile, President Andrzej Duda attended a smaller independence event along with European Union president Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister.
The issue of reparations has been raised by the nationalist PiS, disrupting years of improving bilateral relations.
In September Poland’s parliamentary legal team said the government had the right to demand reparations from Germany.
Independence day marks Poland regaining its sovereignty at the end of the First World War after being partitioned and ruled since the late 18th century by Russia, Prussia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire
“The French were paid, Jews were paid, many other nations were paid for the losses they suffered during the Second World War. Poles were not,” Kaczynski, who is widely seen as the most powerful political figure in Poland.
“It is not only about material funds. It is about our status, our honor … And this is not theater. This is our demand, a totally serious demand,” he explained.
But Warsaw’s Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski has said more preparation was needed before any claims were lodged.
A government analysis published in 1947 estimated 65 per cent of Poland’s factories, two-thirds of all bridges, 84 per cent of rail infrastructure and 30 per cent of homes were destroyed during the war.
Six million Poles, including three million Polish Jews, were killed during the war, and the capital was flattened in 1944 after the ill-fated Warsaw uprising in which 200,000 civilians died.
More than 40 per cent of cultural property such as paintings, sculpture and books was destroyed or stolen and 84 per cent of central Warsaw was demolished.
At the war’s end, Poland lost almost half of its eastern territory to the Soviet Union and gained a smaller but still vast area our what had been eastern Germany. More than 5 million Germans were forced to leave or killed.
Warsaw’s war damage. Picture credit: Wikimedia