The take-no-quarter Polish presidential election campaign ended this week with backers of incumbent Andrzej Duda insinuating that his rival would sell out the country to Jewish interests.
It’s a dangerous tactic in a country with a long tradition of anti-Semitism, but something that appeals to the country’s hard-core nationalist voters, crucial in a race that polls show as a dead heat between Duda and liberal Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski ahead of Sunday’s election.
Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, made a rare campaign appearance late Thursday, taking part in an interview at an ultra-Catholic broadcaster, where he accused Trzaskowski of favoring the payment of restitution to Jews for property lost during World War II.
“Only someone without a Polish soul, a Polish heart and a Polish mind could say something like that,” Kaczyński said. “Mr Trzaskowski clearly doesn’t have them, seeing as he says that this is open to discussion.”
Polish state television, which is acting as a cheerleader for Duda, has hit similar tones — asking if the Warsaw mayor “will fulfill Jewish demands.”
In the past, Trzaskowski has said “of course we have to talk to Jewish groups and try to resolve this.”
The issue of Jewish property restitution has been bubbling under the surface of Polish politics for years, and governments of both the left and the right have dodged the issue.
Before the war, about 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland, and about 90 percent of them were murdered in the Holocaust. Many of the homes and businesses they left behind either became the property of the state or were taken over by ethnic Poles.
Poland is the only post-communist EU country not to have passed a property restitution law. The official Polish position is that Jews were citizens of prewar Poland, and their heirs can fight property claims in the Polish courts like everyone else. However, many of these cases are very difficult to litigate and have stalled.
As well, Jewish groups want some form of restitution for the property of millions of Jews who died with no heirs because their whole families were wiped out. Polish law doesn’t recognize such a community right, as people who die with no heirs lose their property to the state.
“I will never sign a bill which says that we will treat the inheritance of people from one ethnic group more favorably than from others,” Duda said this week, adding: “Let the one who started the war pay compensation.”
The question troubles Poland’s relations with the U.S. and Israel, both close Polish allies. The U.S. Congress passed the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act in 2018, under which the U.S. State Department has to report on progress made on property restitution in 47 European countries, including Poland. Last year, U.S. senators signed a letter demanding Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “act boldly” on the issue.
The PiS government promised to pass a property restitution law, but like its predecessors balked at the cost.
The issue was seized on by Krzysztof Bosak, a right-wing candidate who scored 6.8 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election held June 28.
He insisted that Poland “will not pay reparations for World War II,” adding: “In a legal sense, Jewish claims aren’t any sort of ‘compensation,’ and only an attempt at a capital transfer.”
Both Duda and Trzaskowski are trying to lure Bosak’s voters, with the Warsaw mayor appealing to their economic liberalism, while Duda plays up their common nationalistic views.
Photo Credit : https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/06/poland-duda-leads-presidential-election-200628192009731.html