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Syria may confiscate millions of migrants' houses

Germany may be as big a loser as in 1945

Wars have consequences. Bashar Assad has apparently won the war in Syria and we were just told about an unexpected twist: plans to confiscate the real estate of the Syrian citizens who are living abroad (see the law in Arabic).

Before some moment in May, all owners of houses in certain regions – they're meant to be regions that were controlled by various anti-Assad rebels – have to re-register their assets, otherwise the houses will be confiscated. That could affect houses of millions, perhaps 10 million, Syrian migrants.

The thinking behind these steps is that the migrants are mostly anti-Assad which is why this is mostly a plan to transfer assets from anti-Assad Syrians to pro-Assad Syrians. Cool. It would make it likely that most of those people can never return to Syria.

A move like that could have been predicted by someone who is familiar with the situation. It wasn't. It's creative. And it opens lots of questions. One of them is: Which side of the Syrian conflict is actually supported by most of the migrants who come to Europe? The decree makes it likely that they're anti-Assad folks. Consequently, I think it's right to say that they're people who oppose religious freedom and plurality – because Assad protects those. So Germany was really importing not just Syrians but the "less European, more fanatically Islamic layers of the Syrian society".

There is an obvious analogy I can think of: the expulsion of Germans from the Czechoslovak Sudetenland. This minority of 3 million Germans got enthusiastic about Nazism early on in the 1930s. They played a key role in strengthening Germany sufficiently so that Germany was eager to attack most of Europe within years. Germany lost the war and there were consequences. 3 million Germans – descendants of German settlers invited by Czech kings since the 13th century for economic reasons – were expelled from the Sudetenland – the mountainous borderland that had belonged to the Czech kingdom for a millennium.

Similarly but with a different historical background, the Polish territory was moved to the West so the Germans were expelled from the new Western regions of Poland – while the Soviet Union captured some old Eastern pieces of Poland.

This expulsion also meant the confiscation of the real estate held by the ethnic Germans. It had advantages and disadvantages. The vitriolic tension between the Slavic-speaking folks and Germans that had powered the Second World War was totally solved. On the other hand, the Czechoslovak and Polish territory had lost a huge amount of human capital, skillful people who were responsible for a not so negligible part of the economy, especially the light industry. A big part of the "drop in civilization" that one encountered (and still encounters) when crossing the German-Czech border wasn't just due to communism. It was due to the decimation of the human capital.

We should have mixed feelings about such expulsions (especially because the "robbed" Germans were actually allowed to escape the emerging communist regime which was arguably a net benefit, even with the lost houses) but when the expelled people are those who both caused the war and lost the war, there are very good reasons why this dramatic act may also be considered approximate justice. There were too many Germans who have done some pretty bad things to their former homeland and compatriots. And they were punished, along with others who were close enough to them.

Now, the Syrian situation looks analogous. The anti-Assad rebels have both caused the war and lost the war.

The confiscation is a transfer of power. But one may also see that there are totally sensible, impartial reasons why something like that should happen. After the Syrian war and waves of emigration, there are probably millions of houses or apartments where no one lives, real estate that isn't used. It's pretty stupid, isn't it? After the war, the country should use its assets effectively which is why it makes sense to recycle the real estate that could otherwise become a bunch of ghost towns.

What I find amazing is how much Germany has turned itself into a huge loser in this conflict by adopting the suicidal "Willkommen" policies. Some millions of Syrians are in the process of becoming Germans. If this Assad plan works as sketched (his government has published some denials that the law exists at all – not sure why it's written on that Syrian website in that case), these "future Germans" will lose a million of houses – worth some tens of billions of dollars. And it's not some shocking robbery – just like the expulsion of Germans in 1945, it's a natural culmination of the war in which Germany has effectively made a huge bet. It has basically turned a large but not quite representative group of people from the Middle East into "future Germans". By doing so, Germany has also acquired the responsibility for some of their financial fate.

In effect, the Syrian society and the economy may become much wealthier and healthier than they were before the war – while the exact opposite statement may be made about Germany. Germany has apparently imported millions of citizens of Syria whose attitudes make them "more problematic members of the society than the average" and who are going to become homeless in their original homeland.

Maybe Germany is so insane that the Syrians who will lose their real estate in Syria will be compensated by the German government. Instead of their low-brow Syrian houses, they will get new fancy German villas. And maybe Germany will demand that all other European nations make similar huge donations to the migrants.

Germany may always double down, instead of admitting that it has done something really stupid that should be reversed. But can this doubling down continue indefinitely? Isn't it better to recognize a – somewhat arbitrary – point at which Germany says "enough was enough"?

The migrants shouldn't have been welcome. And now, if Germany were sane, it would exploit the last days when they may be sent back to Syria and sign the re-registration forms. There's no real war in Syria anymore – so there should be no refugees from Syria (a year ago or two or three, a nonzero but tiny fraction of the migrants were refugees). All the people from Syria who don't want to return as soon as possible are simply economic migrants at this moment.

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