Minister Arkadiusz Mularczyk in Westminster: „In Poland, the Germans left nothing but destruction and death”

Below we publish the speech of Arkadiusz Mularczyk, Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister, delivered in the House of Commons in Westminster at the meeting with the members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Poland – APPG, UK Members of Parliaments and Lords. The meeting concerned the issue of the WWII reparations campaign against Germany. Poland last year formally demanded compensation of €1.3 trillion — an amount close to the size of its annual gross domestic product. 

Dear Right Honorable Members and Lords. Thank you for being here this morning. 

Since Poland’s creation as a state in 966, the title that Norman Davies used for his book about Poland’s history, “God’s Playground”, repeatedly seems to have been justified. Indeed, once again, Poland finds itself in a situation where it must react and – for the sake of Central and Eastern Europe – react well. 

The Russian war has led to an influx of Ukrainian refugees that Poland and Poland’s citizens have welcomed. Geographically, Poland is now the main transport hub to Ukraine. This has led to an increased foreign military presence in Poland. Poland once again feels tensions on its borders. 

If those uncomfortable familiarities are not enough, we also share with Ukraine the terrible task of having to count the cost of war. However, there, circumstance works in our favour. In 2017, a parliamentary group was formed with the task of compiling a full war report to document Poland’s Second World War human and material losses – the first of its kind since the BOW Report about 75 years ago. 

In 2017, little did we know that our scientific research and the methodologies we used would lead to our War Report becoming so relevant now. And – it is in this situation – where the past and present meet. The problems that Poland, Italy and Greece face are the same that Ukraine sadly faces now. 

It is against this shared background of human and material losses that we must strive to find justice for all who have been harmed by the war – those affected by past and present wars. 

Another problem Poland and Ukraine share is the unresolved, unregulated end of a war. It is unlikely that Russia will sign a formal treaty to end the war. Poland, similarly, did not sign a peace treaty with Germany. Poland was not a signatory to the Potsdam Agreement nor the Two Plus Four Agreement. Last week the Polish Government unequivocally declared, through a Council of Minister’s Resolution, that Poland has not signed any bilateral agreements to end the war and that Poland has not resigned from its claim to reparations.

Therefore, the questions Poland is asking about reparations will be the same that Ukraine will ask – “where are the paths for affected states and individuals to find justice?”

Now, I am aware that “reparations” is a word that the UK treats delicately. However, “reparations” is also a word that must be understood clearly – and not all claims for reparations are the same. I believe it is possible to draw a clear line between Poland’s claim for reparations to separate it from the discussion about reparations that affects the UK. 

As concerns Britain, I understand that one common argument is that Britain shouldn’t pay reparations as Britain left a legacy of parliament, law and infrastructure. A convincing argument.

However, In Poland, the Germans left nothing but destruction and death and stole Poland’s resources. The Russians are doing the same in Ukraine. A clear difference to the legacy Britain left behind.

To pay reparations, you must identify a party. A reason people state for Britain not paying reparations is that, today, it is impossible to identify a harmed party for events that happened centuries ago. 

However, today, clear evidence exists to identify individuals who were and are still directly harmed by war in Poland, Greece, Italy and Ukraine. The evidence that exists is incontestable.

A further argument put forward for why Britain should not pay reparations is that it is simply impossible to define the amount of potential reparations. 

However, in September 2022, Poland published the War Report, which established the scope and amount of damages based on data and evidence. The amount of reparations due from Germany is established. Further, the War report has not been criticized or challenged in the scientific community. 

We are in discussions with Ukraine about reparations and we will use our experience and knowledge to help them draft their definitive war report if they so choose. 

Another reason to explain why Britain shouldn’t pay reparations is because many other countries were involved in those activities centuries ago. It wasn’t just the UK.

However, for Poland and Ukraine, it is easy to precisely identify who is the aggressor. Germany harmed Poland, as did Soviet Russia. We are currently working on a War Report to assess the amount of reparations due from Russia. In Ukraine, it’s clear – the Russian state is responsible.

A further reason for Britain not paying reparations is that Acts of Law closed the issue of slavery and led Britain to fight against slavery. Legally, the issue is closed.

However, no formal peace treaty exists between Poland and Germany regulating the end of the Second World War. It is unlikely that a peace treaty will exist between Ukraine and Russia. These situations remain open and need to be legally regulated.

The final difference I want to highlight is that reparations for slavery is based on, somehow, putting a cost on historical human suffering. This is simply impossible to do. 

In Poland’s case – and this is an approach Ukraine may take as well – the amount of reparations is based on lost human potential which is calculable based on internationally accepted economic models. This allows us to put a value on a life. I know this is a “cold” way to think about human life – but this is the only way to approach human loss. 

I believe there is clear daylight between our reparations issue which is based on data and analysis and the largely hypothetical reparations discussion that affects the UK. And indeed, precedent supports the payment of compensation based on such an evidence-based approach that identifies victims and quantifies harm. This was exactly the approach was used by the British Government in 2013. Indeed, in 2013, the British government paid out reparations to Mau Mau torture victims in Kenya. At the time, Lord William Hague, then Foreign Secretary, said that payments totaling £19.9m represent 'full and final settlement’. Poland, Italy, Greece and soon, Ukraine are asking for their “full and final settlement” in the form of quantifiable, evidence-backed reparations. 

In conclusion, I admit that all discussions concerning reparations are difficult discussions. But difficult discussions – based on facts and data – cannot be avoided. The war in Ukraine is affecting millions of people, and they will expect justice. 2.1 million people are still alive in Poland who theoretically have direct claims against Germany. There must be a legal path for harmed victims – a foundational feature of common law. I ask for your support in helping Poland in its role to seek justice for the harmed victims of Ukraine and Poland.

The speech was delivered on 27 April 2023 in London.