Monday, August 02, 2004

Double Standards on Irredentism

I don't know why this report didn't come to my attention earlier, but whatever the reason, I think it raises interesting questions for the Middle East, and vice versa.

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder goes to Warsaw tomorrow on a delicate mission to mourn the German military's levelling of the Polish capital and the slaughter of 200,000 people in the second world war.

He is under pressure to assuage Polish fears of German claims for properties lost in western Poland when the Nazis were defeated.

After he attended the ceremonies last month in France to mark the 60th anniversary of the D-day invasion, Mr Schröder's participation in the events marking the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw uprising completes a double act of German rehabilitation in western and eastern Europe.

But unlike the close Paris-Berlin axis, relations between Poland and Germany have chilled in recent months, not least because of Polish alarm over changing German attitudes to the war and the issues raised by the suffering of Germans during and after the conflict.

Marek Belka, the Polish prime minister, yesterday called on Mr Schröder to make a firm statement in Warsaw renouncing all German claims for compensation or restitution for German property and assets expropriated at the end of the war.

"It would be enormously important if Germany made an initiative putting an end to the compensation issue," Mr Belka told the German newspaper, Die Welt. The chancellor "should dispel the bad atmosphere".

Increasing German pressure on the Poles for an admission of the wrongs done to Germans at the end of the war and for some form of material compensation are causing intense resentment and mistrust in Poland, where 6 million people died during the war and whose invasion by Hitler in 1939 triggered the outbreak of the conflict.
A question that suggests itself to the curious mind is why it is acceptable to demand that the German vertriebenen renounce their claims to their former homes, and yet it is unacceptable to ask the same of Arab refugees who fled Israel in the course of the wars initiated by the Arabs themselves. If Palestinian claims for restitution are to be regarded as valid, I see no reason why Germans can't also ask for the return of Silesia and all of Prussia, including the Russian enclave once known as Königsberg, as it is clear from the Israeli situation that much of the world seems not to accept the notion that failed aggressors forfeit any claims they might have had to territories they lose in the course of their aggression. What explanation can there be for the blatant double-standard on this issue?