Make the G8 History? Not just yet…

2013 must be the year in which the root causes of hunger and malnutrition are tackled head on, writes Leah Kreitzman.

The other G8 leaders would have been forgiven for thinking that Britain had just had a snap election, when earlier this month they received a letter from the 2013 group president. Among the priorities outlined by David Cameron for the forthcoming G8 summit is the need to tackle tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance, shine a light on the practices of businesses and governments and ensure transparency in the way investors are acquiring and using land and other natural resources.

To those who follow the international development debate closely, a focus on these issues is not such a surprise. They are strands of what David Cameron calls his ‘golden thread’ of development, and it has a distinctively Conservative texture. By dealing with these challenges, along with opening up trade and stimulating private investment, so the argument goes, we will set the foundations needed for strong economic growth, prosperity and, underpinning that, job creation.

However, in a world where one in eight people live with the daily pain of hunger, the global prosperity and growth the Prime Minister seeks will not be realised until this ultimate development challenge is overcome.

Hunger is not just a symptom of poverty; it also has a major causal role. By 2025 nearly a billion young people could face poverty because of the damage done to them now by hunger and malnutrition. The physical and cognitive impacts of childhood malnutrition can lead to a loss of 20 per cent in earnings over a life time and cost economies more than 3 per cent of their annual GDP. This cycle must be broken if we are to ensure economic growth in low income and emerging economies translates into better human development for the poorest.

This is why over 100 British organisations are launching a campaign today to make 2013 the year in which the root causes of hunger and malnutrition are tackled head on. There are unique opportunities to make this happen, including the first G8 under a British presidency since 2005.

Last time the group of eight of the world’s largest economies met on our shores we asked them to help make poverty history by pledging to increase aid and cancel debt. The world has changed since 2005 and so have the solutions to the global problems we face. In the last eight years we have witnessed riots sparked by record commodity prices and hunger crises spanning the African continent – just the most extreme manifestation of a food system, under strain from climate change, a growing population and changing diets, which is close to breaking point. It is a system which allows more than two million children to die each year from malnutrition; that supports targets which means land is used to grow fuel for cars not food for people; enables a few to make billions speculating on and trading in food markets while millions of small farmers struggle to feed their families and within which the operations of notoriously secretive companies and closed governments cannot be held to account.

The G8 alone cannot fix the problem. It is truer now than ever that other countries, including those suffering a high burden of hunger, need a seat round the table. But the G8, led this year by the only country on track to keep its development commitments and with the credibility that entails, can play an important initiating and convening role.

The campaign Enough Food for Everyone, IF is calling on the Prime Minister to use his international leadership role this year to mobilise the resources needed, from donors and developing country governments, to fill the investment gap in lifesaving nutrition interventions and small-scale agriculture. But it is also demanding the structural changes necessary to secure long term benefits from the effective, targeted aid and investment needed now.

The G8 could be the first signatories of a new tax transparency convention ensuring poorer countries can collect the revenues they are due and invest in hunger reduction for their citizens. It can promote open data and budgets so citizens can see how that money is being spent and it can encourage greater transparency in land deals, so it is clear whether acquisition of this precious resource is being used in the best interests of the many not the few.

David Cameron’s golden thread of development needs to weave through a complex world, one in which the group he presides over this year has waning significance. But Britain’s long established leadership on international development presents our Prime Minister with a unique opportunity to ensure that, with others, it does what it can to fix the broken food system. There is a campaign mobilising to hold their feet to the fire. If this opportunity is missed, it is far more than the relevance of this group of eight that’s at stake.

The G8 pose for a family picture. Photograph: Getty Images

Leah Kreitzman is a senior advocacy adviser for Save the Children. She has previously worked as a Political Adviser to the Labour Party, media manager for the campaigning organisation ONE and for the Overseas Development Institute.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The Polish government is seeking $1trn in war reparations from Germany

“Germany for many years refused to take responsibility for the Second World War.”

The “Warsaw Uprising Run”, held each summer to remember the 1944 insurrection against Nazi occupation that left as many as 200,000 civilians dead, is no ordinary fun run. Besides negotiating a five- or ten-kilometre course, the thousands of participants must contend with Nazi checkpoints, clouds of smoke and a soundtrack of bombs and machine-gun fire.

“People can’t seem to see that this is not a normal way of commemorating a tragedy,” says Beata Tomczyk, 25, who had signed up for this year’s race but withdrew after learning that she would have to run to the sound of shooting and experience “the feeling of being an insurgent”. “We need to commemorate war without making it banal, without making it fun,” she tells me.

The race’s organisers are not the only ones causing offence by focusing on Poland’s difficult past. The ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has revived the issue of German reparations for crimes committed in Poland during the Second World War.

The move followed large street protests against the government’s divisive proposals for legal reform. The plans also added to the country’s diplomatic isolation in Europe. The EU warned that Poland’s funding could be cut in response to the government’s attempts to erode the rule of law and its refusal to honour commitments to take in refugees under an EU quota system. In response, the PiS leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, argued that Poland’s funding from the EU is not linked to respect for common European standards. Instead, he claimed in July, it was tied to Poland’s wartime suffering.

PiS lawmakers then asked parliament to analyse the feasibility of a claim for reparations from Germany. “We are talking here about huge sums,” said Kaczynski, who co-founded the right-wing party in 2001, “and also about the fact that Germany for many years refused to take responsibility for the Second World War.”

Soon after the government announced that it was considering reopening the reparations issue, posters appeared in Warsaw in support of the initiative. “GERMANS murdered millions of Poles and destroyed Poland! GERMANS, you have to pay for that!” read one.

Reparationen machen frei” read another poster promoted by the right-wing television station Telewizja Republika, in a grotesque parody of the “Work sets you free” sign above the gates of Nazi concentration camps. Poland’s interior minister said in early September that the reparations claim could total $1trn.

The legal dispute over reparations goes back to a decision by the postwar Polish People’s Republic, a Soviet satellite, to follow the USSR in waiving its rights to German reparations in 1953. Reparations agreed at the 1945 Potsdam Conference were paid directly to the Soviet Union.

Advocates of the cause argue that the 1953 decision was illegitimate and that Poland has never given up its claim. Germany strongly disputes this, saying that Polish governments have repeatedly confirmed the 1953 deal.

Since the reparations announcement, Angela Merkel has signalled that she won’t be cowed by the claim and has continued to criticise the Polish government for its policies. “However much I want to have very good relations with Poland… we cannot simply hold our tongues and not say anything for the sake of peace and quiet,” she told a press conference in August.

The PiS’s willingness to broach a subject widely regarded as taboo across Europe has angered many Poles who regard the achievements of a decades-long process of Polish-German reconciliation as sacrosanct. A recent survey showed that a majority of Poles oppose the reparations claim.

“This policy is not only primitive and unwise but also deeply immoral,” says Piotr Buras, the head of the Warsaw office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “To blame and punish the second and third generations of Germans for atrocities committed over 70 years ago threatens what should be our ultimate goal – that of peace and reconciliation between nations.”

Karolina Zbytniewska, a journalist and member of a Polish-German network of young professionals, says: “It’s true that Poland didn’t receive proper compensation, but times have changed and Germany has changed, and that matters a lot more than money.”

Government propaganda about contemporary Germany is curiously contradictory. On one hand, Germany is portrayed as a threat because it hasn’t changed enough – Kaczynski has implied that Merkel was brought to power by the Stasi and that Germany may be planning to reclaim part of western Poland. On the other, Germany is presented as dangerous because it has changed too much, into an exporter of liberal values that could flood Poland with transsexuals and Muslim migrants.

The government’s supporters also denounce the “pro-German” sentiments of Poland’s liberal opposition, whose members are portrayed as German agents of influence. This paranoia came to a head during protests in cities across Poland in July, when tens of thousands took to the streets to oppose a government attempt to pass legislation giving the ruling party control over judicial appointments and the power to dismiss the country’s supreme court judges. PiS leaders accused foreign-owned – and, in particular, German-owned – media outlets of stirring unrest as part of a wider campaign to deny the Polish people their sovereignty.

But if the government’s fears of a German-engineered putsch are exaggerated, so are fears that its German-bashing will poison the attitudes of Poles towards their neighbours. Too many have visited, lived and worked there for anyone beyond a cranky minority to believe that Merkel’s Germany is the Third Reich in disguise.

“I have German friends, and I don’t think of them as the grandchildren of Nazis or people in Warsaw in 1944. They are not responsible for it on a personal level,” says the runner Beata Tomczyk. 

This article first appeared in the 14 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The German problem