Transcript of a conversation concerning Polish demands for reparations from Germany for damages caused by World War II. Participants: Pawel Scshelin (P.S.) and Roman Khimich (R.K.). The transcript was prepared with the help of automatic translation. Russian and German translations are available.
P.S. Greetings, dear friends. It has been a long time since I came to you with conversations and interviews with interesting people. Meanwhile the flood of events happening around us creates such a need.
Today our guest is Roman Khimich. He is a well-known Ukrainian expert in a number of fields. Today he will be speaking with us as a researcher of conflicts in Central and Eastern Europe. As we talk, you’ll see why he’s the one we turned to.
What is the central theme of our conversation today? It is the fundamental shifts, the tectonic rifts that are taking place within the European Union. In particular, between Germany and Poland. In recent months, we have seen a consistent increase in the confrontation between these two pillars of the European system and its entire security architecture. I think many viewers will be interested to understand the underlying reasons behind this split.
Roman is the author of perhaps the only Russian-language review of the so-called JUST Act. This is a piece of legislation passed four years ago in the United States to protect the property rights of Holocaust victims. From this point of view, Roman is probably one of the most competent experts on the legal aspects of this issue. On the legal aspects of the attack that Poland is trying to mount against Germany.
For my part, as always, I will offer a more strategic and philosophical view of current events that should shed light on the reasons why we are witnessing this now. In our friendly conversation, let’s see how things go.
I would like to point out that since this talk is about European affairs, it may also be of interest to our non-Russian-speaking viewers. The video will be subtitled in Russian, English, and German. So, if you liked the talk, feel free to distribute it to a non-Russian-speaking audience.
Sorry for such a long preamble, but better late than never, as they say. Let’s begin. Roman?
R.K. Good afternoon. I will make a significant correction right away. I do not deal specifically with the legal aspects of this issue. I am not a lawyer, I am not an international lawyer.I look at everything from a very specific viewpoint.
The thing is, I make my living as a consultant in the telecommunications market. In the eighteen years that I’ve been doing this, a large part of my work co handling all kinds of conflicts. Faced with the fact that contemporary conflictology does not offer answers to the questions that are relevant to me, I was forced to develop my own approaches. These are documented in several articles. I can recommend an article called «Towards An Applied Model Of Conflict«.
In general, I’m not interested in the formal/legal aspects. Formal/legal arguments usually do not interest me, because in real conflicts they play a minor role as PR accompaniment. Simply put, merely formal justifications.
Being engaged in applied conflictology and guided by my civic-minded temperament, several years ago I began to study conflicts in the region of Central and Eastern Europe, namely the conflicts between Ukraine and its western neighbors, Poland and Hungary. I have a thematic resource called «The Abduction of Eastern Europe». It’s a collection of materials that have accumulated over the years.
Through the study of the conflicts in Central and Eastern Europe I came upon the problem of restitution somewhat unexpectedly. The restitution of property, the property of individuals who were victims of the events of the last century, above all, of the World War II. I had to dive into this matter, thanks to the Trump administration, which took the drastic step of passing the JUST Act.
P.S. Let’s explain to listeners from the very beginning, for those who are not familiar with this. What exactly is the challenge, and the story?
R.K. World War II was the greatest catastrophe in European history, of the so-called «long twentieth century» — which is coming to an end right before our eyes. The war in Ukraine inevitably leads to the collapse of the entire postwar order, the basis of which was the so-called Yalta-Potsdam system of international relations. The Helsinki Accords simply developed it, and became a kind of its extension.
The fundamental point is that World War II was accompanied not only by the deaths of tens of millions of people but also by a redistribution of property (including private property) on a grand scale. And here is a point which, as it turns out, few remember today: millions of human beings did not perish without a trace in the crematorium ovens and mass graves. They left behind quite a tangible material footprint and an enormous amount of property of all kinds.
In connection with the circumstances about which we will now speak in detail, namely the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the disappearance of the Soviet Union as one of the guarantors of this post-war order, this entire problematic has come to the surface once again, it has been brought up to date.
Polish claims upon Germany are just an element of a trend, the content of which is the revision of the outcome of World War II. Right now we are witnessing not even the dismantlement, but rather an uncontrollable collapse of the European postwar order. Studying the Polish claims unfolded allows us to understand the contours of the new world that will emerge from the ruins of the European Union.
P.S. Look, this is where I would like to put this in sharper focus right away because you uttered an interesting phrase with which I agree: «the ruins of the European Union». It is probably worth emphasizing that for the majority of our listeners this may sound extremely harsh, and extremely unexpected. Simply because the very idea that the European Union as an institutional association as we have known it for the last thirty years is coming to an end has not yet become part of mainstream analysis. Meanwhile, this fact is self-evident.
The European Union was part of the postwar, post-Yalta order of the world. Its triumph coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union when it essentially filled the vacuum created by the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact.
I have always been confused by the lack of a tangible strategic and, I would say, philosophical component to the European Union, and I have emphasized this in my lectures. To simplify things completely, the «genius» idea of the European elites, in quotation marks, was that «we are Europe». That is, it was by definition tautological.
It had no strategic dimension, that is, «What exactly do we want to build? With what resources are we ready to build it? How are we ready to translate it into reality?» Furthermore, «How are we prepared to deal with crises»
The current war demonstrates that the European Union as an institution and as an organization is completely unprepared. So far, in the many months that have gone by, no strategic vision has been developed.
In this context, I think it is not an exaggeration to say that many players within the European Union are beginning to think about the future after the EU. Poland is, in my opinion, one of the most active players here. For me, the main dimension of the current issue, which is interesting and which I will touch on in today’s conversation, is the very existence of this Polish revisionism, of Polish claims upon Germany, which were unthinkable even five years ago. Which are now being put forward in an emphatically brazen, emphatically undiplomatic form.
Rather, what this says is that Poland is angling for a world after the collapse of the European Union, for a split, if you will, of the European Union. It sees Germany as the main source of potential benefits. This is understandable, because, from the economic point of view, the European Union in its present form is, in fact, the fourth version of the German Empire.
But this is a kind of philosophical introduction. I would just like to emphasize the following point: it is very difficult to explain, especially to a country aspiring to join the European Union, that the most far-sighted players within the EU are already thinking about the world after the EU. This is the point that should have been underscored.
Please, go on.
R.K. Let’s discuss the notion of Eastern European revisionism. In the context of our conversation it should be understood as an ideological and political current based on the idea that it is necessary, possible, and moral to revise the results of World War II. East European revisionism emerged, became institutionalized, and dominant in Central and Eastern Europe in the CEE region, after the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989.
An important point! It would be a mistake to see Eastern European revisionism as something purely subjective, driven by someone’s individual will, whether malicious or highly moral. My premise is that Eastern European revisionism is a natural, logical and inevitable consequence of the disappearance of the Soviet bloc. As a matter of fact, the collapse of the Soviet Union was the beginning and the key objective factor in the revision of the post-war European order.
It is important to understand and keep in mind that Central and Eastern Europe as it exists today, including its borders and ethnic composition, was formed as a result of decisions made by the allies in the anti-Hitler coalition. As soon as the Soviet bloc in the form of the Warsaw Pact and CMEA disappeared, many processes were started.
Two dozen European states, including Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic states, became independent. There was a bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia and bloodless disintegration of Czechoslovakia. In fact, the revision of the postwar system on the European continent has been going on for a long time. Last year, the process marked its 33rd anniversary.
How does Eastern European revisionism manifest itself? Its most famous aspect and manifestation is the concept of «victims of the two totalitarianisms,» that is, the an equating of the Soviet and Nazi regimes, of communism and Nazism. Within the framework of this approach, in fact, this entire discourse emerged. It emerged, developed and is the ideological basis of the Eastern European revisionism.
P.S. There is a subtle point that I want to emphasize, as I have done in several previous conversations. This «victims of two totalitarianisms» discourse has several features that are far from obvious.
First, it is directed against Western Europe as much as it is against Russia. Simply because the entire policy of remembrance that developed in the Western European context after the Second World War was based on the idea of accepting one’s own responsibility for the crimes. It was an integrative cultural project aimed at jointly overcoming the pan-European tragedy.
Actually, the whole policy of remembrance in Germany, especially in the sixties and through the turn of the century, developed along the same lines. It was within the framework of this policy that biggest steps towards rapprochement between Russia and the European Union were made. If we think back to the early nineties, including Russia’s condemnation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the apology, that was where the greatest progress was made in the integration of these remembrance policies.
At the same time, the concept of history, which was developed by these selfsame Eastern European elites… I will now elide the question of whether or not this is historically justified. Because if we are talking about the victims of two totalitarianisms, we can ask a question: Where lies the responsibility of the Eastern European states of the interwar period? This is regarding the whitewashing of the Piłsudski regime.
Let’s just say that historically, this topic is much more complex and subtle than it is presented in the framework of this concept.
The important thing is that having been introduced into public discourse, this idea of equating the Soviet and Nazi regimes became one of the very first stumbling blocks of the Greater Europe project, which was supposed to converge and integrate the entire space of the European Union, the former Warsaw Pact countries and the Russian Federation.
Here we can say that it was the Eastern European countries that decided to play a kind of chess. I do not know whether consciously or not, how much of a strategic vision they had, but they appear ready to destroy, in fact, the very possibility of a large global pan-European project for the sake of their own goals, objectives and ambitions. A kind of attempt to take over the leadership of Western European countries — and not at the expense of economic power, because economically they are completely dependent. Within the European Union, the Eastern European countries are subsidized.
This is why the chosen tactic of this discursive attack was a PR attack, if you will. There is a concept of rhetorical action, where through a certain manipulation of discourse and rhetoric you force your counterpart to act in a way they would not normally do. And this has been developing for about 20 years, as I understand it, at the behest of Eastern European states. But this conflict between Eastern and Western Europe which was implicitly based on this discourse on the victimhood of two totalitarianisms, for a long time it remained somewhat in the shadows.
But now, especially in regards to Polish politics, it suddenly came to the fore.
R.K. Yes, I absolutely agree. It is being made explicit. And, what I find interesting , it is being made explicit, but it is impossible to predict how it will develop. A little later, when we move on to a discussion of possible development scenarios of this conflict, we will touch upon the question of how the German elites may play against Poland.
Again, for me, as a conflictologist, the following aspect is interesting:onflict is a kind of a functional test, it is always the ultimate test of who you are, and who your opponent is. Self-presentation, ego, and what others say about you, it’s all important until, , you step onto the wrestling mat, as it were, until you meet your opponent. And then it’s just you and him.
I don’t doubt that — there are many characteristic signs to that effect, — that in this case, both sides harbor many illusions about themselves and their positions. Now seems to be the time for them to check and find out who is who.
Two words about the phenomenon of Polish revanchism. There are some state-specific phenomena within the Eastern European revisionism as a general and characteristic way of thinking about Central and Eastern Europe. As far as Polish revanchism, at its core is the idea of Poland as a great nation, which for centuries has defended European civilization from Asian hordes, regularly saving it at the cost of its own terrible suffering. Moreover, its merits are not just undervalued, Poland occupies a place completely incommensurate with its merits.
Thus Polish revanchism puts forward the task of reviving Poland as a truly great nation in everyrespect, «from sea to sea», which should have a much greater influence on what is happening on the continent of Europe. Maybe even a decisive one.
We should not be surprised, there are people within Polish politics, within Polish society, who absolutely seriously believe that. In other words, they sincerely believe that Poland can be the new leader of the European Union. Instead of Germany, yes. This is where the idea of not even nudging Germany aside , but pushing it into its «proper» second or third place, comes from.
The characteristics of Polish revanchism are, in particular, Prometheism and Messianism of a somewhat disconcerting nature.
P.S. Now I will add a little context. Those who do not know a little bit about Polish history must understand that, firstly, this has always been peculiar to Poland in one form or another. In the times of the Rzeczpospolita, this idea of oneself as an outpost of true Christianity on the border with barbarians was one of the foundations of, let us say, the identity of the szlachta elite.
Sometimes it came to such absurd lengths that the noble elite regarded themselves as descendants of the Sarmatians, and the ordinary Polish peasants as descendants, I think, of the Huns. That is, there was even this kind of, let’s say, speculation that this special role goes back thousands of years. This changed after the three partitions of Poland by Germany, Austria and the Russian Empire.
Polish nationalism in itsmodern form began to take shape in the 19th century, when it was based onno less than the book of Exodus. That was when the leading Polish ideologists, the ideologists of the Polish revival, directly identified the Polish people with the new Israel, whose task is to go through the desert to get out of slavery and build a new Promised Land.
This, if you will, Polish self-perception as the chosen people has been around since the Middle Ages. It has survived, despite a period of statelessness of about 150 years, and, as we can see, continues to inspire the Polish elites.
This is the local context.
R.K. Prometheism is the notion within the Polish traditional messianism that it is Poland that is destined to bring freedom to the peoples to the east of Poland, the Ukrainians and the Belarusians. If I am not mistaken, it was birthed as a movement in the 20s of the last century, that is, in the interwar period, when Poland positioned itself yet again asthis very familiar to Poles traditional view of themselves as an eastern outpost, a bastion of the European world against the boundless Asian steppes.
What is the nature of Polish revanchism like nowadays?
Firstly, it manifests as an expectation, even a demand for much greater influence and role in European affairs. It is a claim to leadership of Central and Eastern Europe, it is an active participation in various kinds of regional initiatives.
It is an open promotion of American and British interests in the European Union. And, among other things, it is targeted attacks on Germany in all spheres: symbolic, reputational, economic, political and others. This is a crusade against Nord Stream 2 and the entire German economic policy within the European Union, which Polish elites branded as irresponsible and short-sighted, ltimately as a policy that led to a military disaster.
I think, this sums up this revanchist notion.
P.S. Thus we can now proceed, to the gist of the matter. What, in fact, are the Polish claims? What, in fact, do they expect de facto? And, one might say, how realistic are these expectations? If they are unrealistic, then why are they being put forward anyway?
R.K. I would like to add to the previous section that it is probably not even appropriate, but is precisely correct to say that these expectations are characteristic of the segment of Polish body politic currently in power. Its frontman is Jaroslaw Kaczynski and the «Law and Justice» party.
They are the most conservative part of Polish society. They represent the part of Polish society which has serious problems with xenophobia, with homophobia — that is, to put it bluntly, whose values are most likely to clash with values that are at the basis of, for example, the current German society and politicians. That is, there is a very serious split there, really a clash of worldviews and values.
The topic of reparations has been discussed in Poland, if I am not mistaken, since the summer of 2018, when Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the Law and Justice Party, stated that his country has never refused compensation from Germany for the damage caused during World War II.
Once again, I will express my opinion that the formal-legal grounds that Poles put forward, in my opinion, are unimportant. It does not matter what they are, because in this kind of conflict it does not matter what the parties say. They always say the same thing: «The truth is on our side, God is with us. We’ve thought it through, here’s two thousand pages of legal reasoning,» etc.
Conflicts of this kind unfold on a different plane. This conflict will also unfold on a different plane, that’s my opinion. The tone of official communications from the Polish side leaves me in no doubt about its intentions. They all boil down to damaging Germany’s symbolic capital. Let’s put it bluntly: they aim to weaken and humiliate the counterpart.
For example, the gutter rhetoric: vulgar syllogisms, constant distortions. This is a very telling toolkit, which, once again, leaves me in no doubt as to what Poles want.
The fundamental question that arises when trying to analyze this situation is: «How does Poland contemplate coercing Germany into meeting its demands?» That is the question of the instruments of coercion that are in the hands of the attacker.
When Poland on September 1 of this year its claims for compensation to Germany, for no less than over a trillion euros, the first question I asked myself was, «What are the instruments of coercion? With what particular leverage do Poles expect to solve this problem?» At the time, there were no obvious answers.
I saw nothing that could be used to, figuratively speaking, move the Earth. There was no fulcrum.
But on September 24, when the the Russian gas pipelines Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 were sabotaged, a response arose. It arose because the routes used by Russia to deliver its gas to Western Europe, especially to Germany, were physically destroyed.
The Poles got an impressive lever in their hands. Given the scale of problems that have already emerged and are unfolding in the German economy in connection with a large gas deficit, the Poles have an opportunity to use this tool.
P.S. Look, here is one question immediately in this scenario. Let’s say I can accept this argument. What would I immediately identify as its weakness?
In order to implement this strategy, you need, however you look at it, you need Russia’s cooperation. Because at this point if we imagine that Russia simply refuses to supply energy, then your entire tool of blackmail in the form of the pipeline ceases to be an instrument. It becomes just a piece of iron.
In other words, yes, it worked perfectly in a military scenario, but against a background of a general rupture between Russia and Europe in energy resources, moreover if we remember that the European Union and Germany in particular say that in general they want to stop receiving any energy supplies from Russia, then this Polish tool doesn’t look like a universal key or a key to blackmail Germany.
R.K. Certainly, it doesn’t look like one. It’s not a fact that it could be used, but there was some possibility of that. Let’s just say, first of all, I don’t see anything else right now.
Secondly, if we’re discussing the possibility of using the Yamal-Europe route as a tool to blackmail Germany, then right now Germany, the German elites, or, more precisely, the ruling coalition, the so-called «traffic light» coalition, believe that they can do without it. But it hasn’t begun yet. The problems are only escalating. What will happen in February and March is impossible to predict.
I am not an expert in these matters, but reading the press, reading carefully, studying the communication of both German officials and German media, I notice several very typical, well-known to me defects, intentional or unintentional.
First of all, a constant changing of the topic. Such issues as gas availability for households and gas availability for enterprises are constantly being confused and equated. Secondly, the physical availability and the price affordability. Thirdly, the importance of gas as an energy source and as a raw material for, for example, the chemical industry, without which nothing is possible.
I recently read a very interesting article, I don’t remember which one, I think it was from Berlin. It was an interview with a German employee of a company that deals in wholesale chemicals, i.e. all kinds of chemicals that are used everywhere.
He tells us that everywhere we look—treatment plants, food production—everywhere we need chemicals that we can’t get anywhere today should they stop being produced. We live in a very highly connected world where supply chains are very long. They are often completely invisible to anyone but those who deal with it every day.
This man’s opinion is that it seems that both the authorities and the experts and commentators are simply not aware of how connected everything is. The disappearance, for example, of caustic soda, the cessation of its production in Germany, means a bunch of disastrous consequences in various parts of society, among other things.
So my point is that the scale of the problems that Germany has encountered is not even something we can assess yet; they will become clear as they develop.
P.S. With this thesis I absolutely agree. We’ll say more about it later. My counterargument was, after all, a little in the other direction. What I meant was rather that in order to use the pipeline as a lever to pressure on Germany, Poland would have to come to an agreement with Russia. Because if there is no gas in the pipeline, then all these problems that will arise in Germany will not be able to become a Polish tool.
What I find really difficult to think about so far is the possibility of some kind of Polish communication, negotiation with Russia. This is the context where I have my doubts.
R.K. The very concept, the very idea of replacement of Germany with Poland, that is this castling, as a result of which Poland becomes the actual leader of the European Union instead of Germany, immediately raises a question about economic reasons of such castling. What will Poland live on? What will everybody live on in this new world?
P.S. Right now it lives as an appendage of German industry, this is the basis of it, let’s put it bluntly.
R.K. European plans to survive without Russian gas in the short term — a year, two, three, four — are based on several assumptions. The first one is that renewable energy sources will help. The second is that we will find some alternative supplies. That is, several…
P.S. …Algeria, Azerbaijan…
R.K. …they’re on a pretty flimsy basis. The idea of replacing Germany with Poland requires an answer to the question of what the Polish and European economies will live on. Because in the case of, say, the collapse of the German and most of the European economy, there is little joy in being the leader of a community in such a catastrophic situation.
I can assume that there are plans for the realization of a scenario in which cooperation with Russia is restored in one form or another. In the medium term there is a flow of gas from Russia again, a flow of energy and raw materials from Russia, except now Poland will be able to control these flows explicitly, extracting geopolitical and economic rent from its transit position. Since all or almost all alternative routes, and this includes Turkey, all of them will simply be physically destroyed.
This is, of course, a classic conspiracy theory, which is impossible to refute. Right now it’s impossible to verify. Once again, this is all at the level of hypothesis, because, I return to my very first thesis, I do not see any other instruments thst’ll force Germany to just up and give one and a half trillion euros.
I absolutely agree with you that there are mechanisms and they have been proven effective as emotional blackmail, some forms of discursive coercion, but still, a trillion and a half is a trillion and a half. Now I agree that in this context, in the short term it is more of a bid. So far, it’s nothing but a bid for a new status. I see this primarily as a status statement.
P.S. In practical terms, frankly, I do not see any way for Poland to get concessions from Germany in this area, especially against the background of, first of all, the economic crisis in which the German industry is sinking.
To help you understand, the German industry this year is showing inflation, which is already reaching 40% And we have not yet entered the main phase of the economic crisis. The rest of the European Union economy and the European Union financial system are essentially derivatives of the state of German economy.
That’s why I’ve been fel ing into so much detail in my conversation with you, to show that for me the unrealistic statement in detail is more the evidence of a kind of a strategic claim and of thinking on the three-to-five year horizon. Again, in quite radical scenarios of the future.
For me, the very fact that this statement exists is valuable, because, again, if we are looking at a scenario in which the European Union persists or continues, the development trends as they’ve been for the last 30 years, this statement is not only unthinkable, it makes no sense. So for me, the only explanatory model in which this statement makes any sense is precisely the recognition by a part of Polish elite that the European Union as we know it is coming to an end. Then you can say anything at all, because, I’ll be blunt, no one will care about the economy.
Here, rather, there is a potentially more interesting question about Poland’s military component. It is necessary to understand that Poland, in spite of the fact that economically it is far from the center of the European Union, in terms of its military resources it has one of the strongest armies. Large numbers, trained within the European Union. Right now the Polish army is probably even superior to the German one.
It is difficult to draw conclusions here, understandably, as the analysis is only circumstantial. On the one hand, all are NATO allies, but if we go into hypothetical scenarios, these Polish claims, they are more political rather than economic ones. The political claims are part of the scenario where there is no common arbiter. So far, Brussels has acted as the single common arbiter in this system of European contradictions. We can imagine that if this arbiter loses its power, a lot of conflicts may erupt.
Let me remind you that this is a region with one of the largest frozen conflicts in terms of land area. Most European countries have their own conflicts, almost separatist movements. There is Eastern Europe, which is a nightmare. We must say bluntly: if, God forbid, all this boils to the surface, then changes can happen very quickly. And elements of coercion will play a key role in this.
Let’s take Hungary. As someone who’s lived in Hungary for four years, I can say that Hungarians still dream of revanche for the Treaty of Trianon. This treaty was signed when World War I ended, and under this treaty Hungary lost 2/3 of its territory and a third of Hungarian population. The idea that all Hungarians should be reunited is not as far removed from the Hungarian political imagination as it might seem.
Poles, I suspect, have no lesser ambitions, either. The current attack on Germany may be precisely a political bid, a signal that «we are ready,» that we have an ambition and we’re ready to defend that ambition. I can only interpret these statements in this kind of hypothetical scenarios, because I don’t see economic and even legal sense in them.
If Poles wanted to pursue real benefits, they would have acted via other mechanisms: diplomatic, neat, legal, clean, without much boorishness, God forgive me. But that’s not the case. This is a deliberately radical political statement.
R.K. In favor of your assumptions, I will cite, first of all, a fact to which I have drawn attention previously. A very large-scale program for the rearmament of the Polish army no longer relies on the German military-industrial complex. The Poles have coordinated huge purchases of armaments, not only from the United States, but also, unexpectedly, from South Korea. Even fighter planes.
This is a very interesting fact — the Poles are diversifying the material and technical base of their armed forces, so that they do not depend entirely on the United States. This is an interesting signal, which fits well with your assumption of serious ambition and the desire to back it up with armed force if necessary.
This is the first such fact, and the second one is the characteristic rhetoric, very aggressive, far out of the ordinary, that Poles are now employing against the Germans.
I do agree that this may constitute a part of preparing one’s population for a serious conflict with a neighbor. A discursive, psychological preparation. Not dehumanizing yet,, but already demonizing, attributing to the opponent all imaginable and unimaginable abominations, picking at his wounds.
The PiS Party acted in a similar way towards Ukraine a few years ago, when the subject of the famous tragedy in Volynia in 1943 was used for what I call “control by reflexes”.
Polish society intentionally created a conditioned reflex of dislike and rejection of everything connected with Ukrainian nationalism, with Ukraine as a whole. In my opinion, totally taboo things were used. For example, monuments were created to the victims of the Volyn tragedy featuring children on pitchforks.
Such images were used that, in my opinion, should not appear in public space at all, because this destroys the individual and collective psyche. But PiS, the Law and Justice Party has intentionally ignored this taboo.
Thus Polish conservatives, the forces that are now in power in Poland, areexperienced to put it bluntly, in very aggressive psychological operations against their neighbors. In this case, it seems that it’s directed at Germany.
P.S. Let’s go to the other side for a little bit, then. Let’s see what we can discern in Germany. I will try to formulate my view, and you will give your opinion, as someone who is familiar with the German context, you might say, from the inside.
In my opinion, Germany’s situation is the worst it has been in many years. If I am asked to name the main loser from all the events of the last year, it would certainly be Germany, at least on the European continent. The country found itself in this situation at a very unfortunate political moment, because Angela Merkel — the last strategically thinking politician, no matter how she was viewed — resigned. The country plunged into a period, if you will, of internecine war, with only functionaries without a strategic vision remaining.
We see that despite such a fundamental crisis in which Germany finds itself, no adequate strategic vision has been formulated. How will Germany emerge from this crisis? What potential allies does it have? On what potential resources can it draw? Finally, what are its strategic objectives?
We see none of this in Germany. We only see reactive behavior, attempts to put out fires, to patch up the old fabric that is constantly unraveling. But what is the aim of all this activity, we cannot yet define.
Do you agree with this thesis, and if you do, then what can the German political class and German society hope for in principle?
R.K. I fully agree that challenges facing Germany, its people and its elites are unprecedented.
Therein lies, of course, the main problem. First and foremost, I would highlight the problem of psychological unpreparedness of the German elites to the fact that the enemy, even if it is not yet the enemy, but a very aggressive opponent, posits a very serious problem inside the perimeter, so to say.
If one introduces the notion of the perimeter as a conventional barrier that separates one’s own from the outsiders, then the main source of problems for Germany now seems to be among their own. From those around them, those whom they are accustomed to consider as complicated, difficult, and fidgety, but allies and comrades-in-arms nonetheless.
Now this seems to have come to an end and the Germans have found themselves in a situation for which they are psychologically unprepared. This is the problem number one. The problem number two is that there seems to be reasons to say that the German state is institutionally unprepared for these kinds of challenges.
This can be very well illustrated by the example of Ukraine, our own tragedy. In Ukraine, it has been festering for eight years, since 2014. For eight years, as it has now become clear, neither side was going to follow the Minsk agreements.
Both sides, both Ukraine and Russia (and Ukraine makes no secret of this), viewed Minsk agreements simply as a temporary respite, a way to prepare for a new round of hostilities.
Meanwhile, inside Germany itself, both the diplomatic corpse and the German politicians viewed Minsk agreements as a workable mechanism. The whole policy was built around the notion that, by the grace of God it worked somehow. In other words, eight years were not enough to recognize the failure, the actual inoperability, the refusal of the parties to comply with the agreements and, consequently, the inevitability of a full-scale war.
P.S. At this point, when you say all this, it seems like a kind of wild naivete. There is even a kind of pity for the people who are supposed to keep track of such things. It’s their professional duty to discern such things. It looks like their wild unprofessionalism is just scandalous.
R.K. In my life, I have been invited, figuratively speaking, to a war at least three times. My clients, very large corporations, told me they were planning some kind of revenge or a crusade against their competitors.
Each time, even in preliminary consultations, it turned out that they were not prepared for war. Not prepared for a crusade, not prepared to risk, to sacrifice. This is a common problem.
Today, I proceed from the fact that you don’t need Gods to cobble bricks. People we see on TV are just like you and me. They are completely ordinary people, you shouldn’t expect too much from them. It’s a completely normal situation in the business world. Especially now, when Germany again is facing a very difficult conflict. The attackers are those from whom they least expected it, those against whom no barriers, no defense mechanisms were built.
P.S. Yes, a problem occured that they do not seem to be prepared for. Tell me, this is a bit from another field, but reading the German press, do you see any rudiments of any discussion of an image of the future there? Does the German political elite have any idea of the future, even in rough outlines? Even if not the elite that is in power now, but the elite that might come to power in a crisis scenario.
R.K. I don’t read that much press, for one. Secondly, you should not so much read the press as immerse yourself in the activities of the expert community. I just don’t know, I don’t deal with those aspects. I am not competent to say. From the outside it seems that there is no such discussion or vision.
P.S. This, of course, scares me the most, because we’re discussing an image of the future that the Polish elite envisions, using Poland as an example. You can discuss how realistic it is, but it is there!
An important fact: Poland has images of the future, there are some points that its elite is ready to strive for, and at a very radical cost. Its counterparts, in particular in Germany, do not seem to have such an image of the future. Here, of course, I see a major strategic advantage that can zero in on the asymmetry in resources that now exists.
R.K. I agree. I can say that it was totally unexpected for me to learn that the current German ruling coalition is going to do to China what they did to Russia. I mean the planned intention to get rid of economic dependence now also on China.
If you believe Josep Borrell, Germany, its economy, has two legs. One of them has traditionally been the access to cheap Russian gas. The second one is the Chinese market. Everything is already clear with Russian raw materials, this leg has been cut off. But if we also cut off the second leg, then there are a whole bunch of questions that need to be answered.
You can’t just say that we’re going to get rid of dependence on China now, because then th the trivial question is how do we feed the children?
P.S. You know, it looks very strange against the background of the fact that just yesterday there was news that one of Germany’s largest chemical concerns, unfortunately, I don’t remember the name now, yes, BASF, is cutting investments in Germany and is going to build a plant somewhere in China for 14 billion Euro. Against this background these political statements look like they were pulled out of thin air.
R.K. I’ll tell you frankly. I don’t know about the image of the future, but answers to certain basic questions just don’t seem to be available in the public space.
P.S. Which is to say… Let’s wish good luck to our German viewers, to German society in general, because, unfortunately, the situation turns out to be even sadder than I anticipated before we began our conversation.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
R.K. To conclude the question of what is the nature of the Polish-German, it is worth saying that the German elites now possess instruments of coercion of their own, and quite serious ones at that. If within the German establishment, with the ruling coalition or opponents, within the elites or counter-elites there are people of the appropriate stature, Germany has the ability to counter effectively.
At the very least, they can call things by their proper names. Define Polish claims, characterize them as revisionism. To recall the history of the current world order, that is, to recall the things we just talked about. About how connected everything is. About how the postwar order is not just something we don’t like.
Yes, there’s certainly a lot of unfairness, a lot of immorality. At the same time, whomever you pick in Central and Eastern Europe, there are things that…. For example, the current status of Polish society as mono-national, mono-ethnic and mono-cultural. This is one of the rare examples, in fact, where 97-98 percent of the population is ethnic Poles who speak Polish and go to church. Or they don’t, but they don’t go to the same church.
P.S. You have to understand that this is absolutely atypical for Poland. You have to understand that for most of its history, Poland was not homogeneous, was not mono-confessional. In fact, this is one of the main lines of constant internal conflicts within Polish society. One of the reasons why the division of Poland took place is the inability to integrate these different cultural and religious elements. However, it is not up to Ukraine or the Ukrainian audience to explain how exactly this happened in Polish history.
For those who do not know, the current status of Poland in a form that is comfortable to Poles is solely the fruit of the «two totalitarianisms». Poland was in a very difficult situation, because, on the one hand, you can talk about the status and the role of a victim, but on the other hand, the entire current Western Poland used to be German.
That is the same totalitarianism and was conducted, essentially, as a population exchange. A huge part of the German-speaking population left the regions where they lived. This is especially true for the region of Silesia.
So these are very complicated issues.
I also agree with you that when the question of restitution comes up, then the status of Silesia becomes completely unclear to me. I’m sorry, but what becomes of ? Restitute Silesia? How to deal with this whole question?
R.K. I can tell you how. If the Germans decide to go for broke, then they will have the right to raise the question of restitution of German property, of German individuals. Not about the return of territories, but about restitution of property that was taken from these people. That’s the first.
Second, what you delicately called population exchange» was a typical ethnic cleansing, accompanied by a full range of abominations, part and parcel of how we imaginge World War II. Murders, rapes, children and old people being burned in barns.
The Germans have a lot to remember, thankfully this is not some gray-haired antiquity. There is a mass of documents, a mass of testimonies, witnesses are still alive and, most importantly, the German population has a mass of property titles on their hands.
Finally, here is the JUST Act I mentioned, it too can be put in play by the Germans. When I delved into it, when I studied this document, I found several oddities, completely non-obvious points that in no way followed from the objective stated in its preamble — that of protecting the property rights of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust specifically.
If you look at its wording, the range of phenomena covered by this law constitutes all victims of the two totalitarian regimes. That is, the Poles who were expelled from the territories occupied by the Soviet Union in 1939, and the Ukrainians who were expelled from Polish territory as part of Operation Visla. And the Germans. That is, all-all-all.
All of these victims are, in fact, covered by this law.
This law is not binding, but it creates moral grounds, it has already created a platform for these discursive attacks. The attack of all against all, this is the first detail, the first feature.
P.S. Controlled chaos?
R.K. Yes, if necessary, the letter of this law can be used as part of a strategy of controlled chaos. Who in Ukraine is aware that Ukraine, along with other Eastern European countries, signed the so-called Terezin Declaration, thereby agreeing that it has a moral obligation to compensate Holocaust victims for their property? No one is aware of that.
P.S. Tell me, when did this happen? Even I don’t know.
R.K. You should read my article, it’s called «The JUST Act report at a glance» in which I dissect this law in detail. The first and, in my opinion, still the only person in the former Soviet Union who decided to see what it smelled like. And it doesn’t smell very good.
The second peculiarity of this law is that in it, and in and in the course of its discussion from the American side, for some reason, false accusations were regularly made against Poland. Ostensibly that it’s the only country in Eastern Europe refusing to fulfill its moral obligation to the Jews through the restitution of their property. This too can be used by the Germans, for example, to bump heads with Poland and Ukraine as a part of their alliance that was born this year.
So the Germans have plenty of opportunities to counter, including pretty sharp ones. Of course, we wouldn’t want it to come to that, but it depends on how all parties to the conflict will behave.
P.S. Sounds like we have a very interesting decade ahead of us indeed. Maybe even more than interesting. And this is just one of the potential points we have discussed that could tear to shreds the whole consensus within the European Union.
We’re not even talking about a global consensus right now. We’re only talking about the consensus on which European welfare seemes to be based.
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R.K. I don’t have a Youtube channel, it’s not being tended to. I have a few thematic Telegram Channels.
P.S. We will provide all links in the description.
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