Polish parliamentary legal experts ruled on Monday that Warsaw has the right to demand reparations from Germany for its actions in the country during World War Two, although Poland’s foreign minister indicated that no immediate claim would be made.
The issue of reparations, revived by Poland’s eurosceptic ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) after decades of improving relations with Germany, could escalate tensions between the two European Union governments.
In a non-binding ruling, the experts said a decision by Poland’s communist authorities in the 1950s to relinquish all claims against Germany over damages caused by its invasion and occupation of much of Poland was unconstitutional and invalid.
“(The communist government) was forced into this by the Soviet Union, and Poland was not a sovereign state at the time,” said Arkadiusz Mularczyk, a PiS deputy who had commissioned the study. “Poland has a legal basis to demand reparations.”
The PiS government — deeply distrustful of Germany — has raised calls for wartime compensation in recent weeks but it has yet to officially demand reparations.
Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said on Monday that discussions on the issue “may not yield the appropriate result”.
“But they should take place to inform the German side about the enormity of destruction it has caused,” he told public broadcaster TVP1. Waszczykowski added further analysis was needed before any claims were lodged.
Six million Poles, including three million Polish Jews, were killed during the war, and the capital Warsaw was razed to the ground in 1944 after a failed uprising in which 200,000 civilians died.
Relations between Germany and Poland had warmed following the 1989 collapse of communism, particularly under the previous centrist government in Warsaw.
But they have sunk to a decade low since the nationalist-leaning PiS won a parliamentary election in 2015. It says Berlin wields too much influence within the EU.
PiS also frequently invokes Poland’s suffering under the German occupation as part of a broader effort it says aims to promote patriotism at home, and to counter accusations that some Poles were also perpetrators of wartime crimes against the Jews.
Under communism, Poles were taught to believe that, with a few exceptions, the nation had conducted itself honourably during a war that killed a fifth of the Polish population.
But a series of books and films have questioned this self-image in recent years, opening a painful debate over collective guilt and reconciliation.
German parliamentary legal experts said last month that Warsaw had no right to demand reparations.