Polish Ambassador to Australia, His Excellency Andrzej Jaroszynski: Q&A session notes
· The restitution of lost property of Jews within Poland is a complex matter. There are a number of reasons for this:
1. The sheer number of properties that were seized was enormous. It is estimated that the value of these properties is around $60 billion. The legitimate sources claiming these properties are comprised of many different groups. The compensation covers all the Polish citizens and their descendants of which Polish Jews constitute up to 17%. Thus, it is not considered only as a matter of Polish-Jewish relations.
2. The properties were seized under two very different regimes – the Nazis and the Communists (the latter through its policy of nationalisation).
· It should be noted that all those who had their properties seized (and their descendents) can try to claim these through the Polish courts. This applies to cases where property was nationalised without any legal basis or in breach of the laws effective at that time. From mid-2001 to the end of 2010 the total amount of disbursements amounted to around $240 million, which was distributed to some 2,300 beneficiaries
· Communal Jewish property is being returned since 1997. So far, hundreds of properties have been returned amounting to around $20 million.
· Moreover, Poland in 1960s signed claims settlement agreements with the US and 11 other countries whereby Poland paid millions of dollars as compensation for properties of US citizens and other nationals who had their properties seized as part of the nationalisation policy. Of course this does not impact in particular Holocaust survivors and their descendents. However, it does demonstrate that Poland is genuinely attempting to resolve this matter.
· The process of transformation within Poland still is not over. There are major challenges – not least because Poland is not a particularly wealthy country and therefore it is unable to compensate at this stage all those who have just claims to these properties. The process of legal framework of the compensation for lost property was not abandoned but suspended. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk during a press conference on 11 March this year said that “in the suitable time the government bill on compensation will be presented to the Parliament for adoption”.
· The relationship with Russia is a challenge for both Poland and the European Union.
· Russia is at a crossroad. It has no history as a democratic country in a sense that it was established in the early 1990s after 70 years of communist rule. Therefore it has somewhat of an identity crisis. This is further exacerbated by the perception it has of having lost an empire – the Soviet Union. Its ambition to regain the empire is still popular among many Russians. Russia does not want to be identified merely as European. It is almost blasphemous for them to be seen as just another country like other countries in Europe.
· In everyday behaviour there are many similarities between Poles and Russians than between Poles and other Europeans. Trade between Poland and Russia is growing rapidly. Part of the reason for this is because Poles understand Russians and their culture very well.
· The recent tragedy that resulted in the untimely death of the Polish President will be analysed for a very long time – possibly decades. This is the nature of major tragedies – they elicit much speculation. This could be compared to the JFK tragedy – there are still speculations about his death.
· The tragedy prompted an awakening process in Russia. It made Russians see Poland differently – in a compassionate light.
· There is an element of envy from some parts of Russian society. Russians are raised to view their homeland as an empire with significant influence and power. However, while this more accurately reflects their past, Russians now look at Poland with some envy due to its success – as a part of the former Soviet Union, Poland is now seen as a respected and successful sovereign state. This is in stark contrast to the current situation in Russia.
· There is no doubt that the late Pope’s upbringing in Poland greatly impacted on his positive attitude towards Jews. Certainly his war-time experience contributed to this. He was the first Pope to declare antisemitism as a sin. He greatly influenced the Church’s teachings in this regard.
· Since the demise of communist rule, Poland has experienced its greatest Jewish revival. The best example of this is the Annual Festival of Jewish Culture in Kraków, the largest such Jewish festival in Europe.
· Europe is seen as being the least confrontational continent in the world. Financial matters are viewed as its major challenges. But its non-confrontation nature is also what seems to make them somewhat look less influential and weaker on the world stage.