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Property Spat

DW staff (kh)December 19, 2006

Poland on Tuesday warned that it may seek the renegotiation of a key treaty with Germany to stop property claims by Germans expelled from present-day Poland after World War II.

The property dispute has strained ties between Poland and GermanyImage: picture-alliance/ ZB

Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said Tuesday he will urge parliament to reaffirm Poles' rights to property left by Germans expelled from Poland after World War II.

Kaczynski said parliament should declare that Warsaw would not respect any court verdict that calls Poles' rights into question.

Kaczynski's comments came after the Preussiche Treuhand or Prussian Claims Society, which represents a small group of expelled Germans, filed suits with the European Court of Human Rights accusing Poland of violating the rights of those expelled from their prewar homes when borders were redrawn in 1945. The suit seeks compensation for lost property.

In a broadcast, Kaczynski said "the issue is truly a serious one, requiring a swift action on the part of our parliament."

"We must have a law on the primary character of ownership, and there must be a clear declaration made that Poland will not respect verdicts that would question Polish law in this respect," Kaczynski said.

Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga also slammed moves by the Prussian Claims Society which lodged 22 claims last week at the European Court of Human Rights.

Deutschland Polen Vertriebene Klage Klingel Landsmannschaft Ostpreussen
The organisation Preussische Treuhand has filed claims against Poland for property lost after WWIIImage: AP

"Such actions as the complaint by the Preussische Treuhand call for clear reactions. And we will react," Fotyga said in an interview with Polish public radio.

Asked whether that could include renegotiating Poland's decade-old accord with Germany, which was meant to put relations on an even keel after the end of the Cold War, Fotyga said: "Yes, exactly."

However, she cautioned, a treaty review would "require the decision of both parties."

No claim to Polish land

Poland signed two treaties with its neighbor after East and West Germany were reunified in 1990 following the collapse of communism.

One, in November 1990, set the Polish-German border in stone and said that Germany had no territorial claims in Poland.

The second deal, signed a year later, created a system of cooperation between Warsaw and Berlin which includes regular talks between both governments as well as youth exchanges.

The treaties, however, did not deal with the thorny question of territorial claims by individuals, which has posed diplomatic problems between the countries for years.

Heightened tensions

The issue has been a particular bone of contention since conservative President Lech Kaczynski and twin brother of the prime minister came to power last year.

Polen Lech Kaczynski und Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Warschau
Polish President Lech Kaczynski (left), seen here with his twin brother, has threatend to sue Germany for WWII destructionImage: AP

On Saturday, Kaczynski launched his most scathing attack yet on Germany, demanding that the Germany government act to end property lawsuits and saying that a new accord was needed to stop claims from either side.

Kaczynski has previously warned that Poland could counter German lawsuits with multi-billion-euro cases for destruction during the war-time Nazi occupation of Poland.

Kaczynski also said "obvious anti-Polish sentiment that's often racist" had increased in Germany, adding to jittery diplomatic

The Polish president sparked an immediate reaction from Germany, which said that it would not make a policy decision on the property issue. A government spokesman said that the government prefers to "not support individual claims" but also "not oppose such steps."

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, in line with all post-war
German governments, has remained as neutral as possible on the issue to avoid clashing head on with the large numbers of affected

The Preussische Treuhand's action is far from well-supported in
Germany, even by the powerful Confederation of the Displaced (BDV), which represents two million Germans.

Some 14 million Germans fled or were expelled, often extremely
brutally, from their homes in eastern Europe from 1944 as the Soviet Red Army advanced and Germany's Nazi Third Reich crumbled. Around half of them lived in what is now Poland.