REPRIVATISATION: How hindsight helps us move forward

Without understanding the process of reprivatisation, it is difficult to understand the post-communist relation to property, sharing and urban space

Jolanta Brzeska graffiti Warsaw

“After the collapse of communism in Europe, at the turn of the 80s and 90s, the issue of how to recompense the original owners of the properties became more prevalent.”


Article by Tomasz Luterek

Reprivatisation has been an ongoing and large scale challenge for the post-communist countries (especially so for those in Central Europe) and is inherently connected with the gradual process of transformation towards liberal democracy that the region has been undertaking for over a quarter of century. Besides the numerous other pitfalls associated with the state-structured, socioeconomic order, the fall of communism has also brought to light the issue of property seized by communist authorities from the former owners. Nationalisation, the process of appropriating private property by the state, operated at prodigious levels, primarily in the 1940s. It occurred everywhere throughout Europe; however, in western countries, the reprivatisation dealt mostly with specific branches of industry: the arms industry, mining or transport. In the case of Central European countries living under the political influence of the USSR, the catalogue of nationalised goods was much more substantial – not only industrial enterprises, but also large farms, tenement houses, pharmacies, inland waterway vessels as well as cultural goods such as paintings or expensive cutlery.

Another significant difference was the related issue of compensation. In Western Europe, it remained around 40-70% of the value of the acquired property; while in post-communist countries, proprietors were seldom paid anything. A tragic example of this comes from the former eastern section of Poland, which after the war became part of the USSR. The Poles living in this area were forced out of their homes and sent westward, migrating with only the most basic necessities such as linen or clothing.

Interestingly, the communist governments differentiated the amount of compensation for the acquired property according to the ethnic background of the former owners. Those who possessed citizenship of any Western country received compensation on the level of 30-50%, which was established as part of the so-called indemnity agreements (concluded between particular countries from the Eastern bloc and Western countries). It was accepted by Western countries and was indeed higher than any reparations paid by Germany for the crimes and devastations of World War II. Conversely, the former owners from communist states rarely received any compensation.

After the collapse of communism in Europe, at the turn of the 80s and 90s, the issue of how to recompense the original owners of the properties became more prevalent.




Tomasz Luterek – Reprivatization expert, lawyer, political scientist from Poland.


Adopted text from Magazyn Miasta / Cities Magazine vol. 1

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