Fated to Coexistence

By Christina Greszta

Polish-German relations are still full of a number of difficulties and mutual claims

Probably it’s hard to find such bilateral interstate relations with Poland without difficulties and problems. Even within the relations with the USA, which always has been the most devoted and trustworthy allies for Polish people, everything is not that clear and easy. And the system of interrelations of Poland in the framework of the EU is even more complicated and confused, which resulted from the tragic events of the recent past.

In Europe between the states of this continent there always have been more disagreements than common points of cooperation and consensus, and exactly these disagreements and conflicts became one of the reasons to establish a new political and economic body, which is called the European Union. And still even common political area and the inclusion of Poland and other Central and Eastern Europe states in it, hasn’t rounded off all rough corners within the relations between individual EU member-states.

A whole number of difficulties and mutual claims, which were not always observed by third parties, still remain within Polish-German relations. Current political problems are routed deeply in the history of interrelations of these states, and in particular, the history and its interpretation is one of the most important determinants, defining Polish-German relations.

One can hardly find the EU states, which in the first half of the ХХth century caused each other the damage that is hard to assess.

The Second World War, division of Poland, mass assassinations within in its territory by German occupants – all these has sunk into the minds of Polish people for a long time. Poland pays the greatest focus in its history and current policy to the events of the Second World War. In essence, history has turned into an effective arm within Polish policy to influence minds and views of its people.

The Government of the country, as well as opposition often resorts to various manipulations, striving to discredit the policy of their opponents. Frequently, in the determination of German policy towards Poland or the EU policy in general, they use clichés as: “another division of Rzecz Pospolita”, “Germans will occupy us again”, “this lies within the interests of Germany, but not of Poland”, and so on. Especially loud, the kind of comments sounded in the period of Lisbon Treaty signing, which was evaluated as, “the old idea of German policy: the creation from Central and Eastern Europe the basis of a cheap man power and the market for German goods sale”. Polish nationalists think that deep integration of Poland into the EU will result into the destruction of Polish self-identification and Germany domination.

> Map Of Poland
On the other hand, Poland tries to avoid questions, connected with territorial extension at the cost of Germany after the end of the war. We are talking about the decision of Potsdam Conference and expulsion of German population from the territories lying to the East from the rivers Odera and Nisa and about the inclusion of former German lands into the Polish territory.

And although Germany has never officially claimed Poland referring to these territories, nevertheless there is fear in the minds of Polish people that some time Germany will get back to this issue or at least German citizens, whose families inhabited the current territory of Poland will lay their claims to the property. These fears are “fed” with the activity of German Federation of Expellees (Bund der Vertriebenen), which discredits the current state of borders between Germany and Poland. Moreover, the members of this union lay the responsibility for expulsion of Germans on the countries of Anti-Hitler Coalition, but not on the state, that used that opportunity, and primarily Poland. The activity of the Federation and the kind of declarations of its members damage greatly Polish-German relations, in addition the Federation of Expellees is not a marginal, but a pretty influential organization, supported by official Berlin. For example, the Chairman of the Federation of Expellees Erika Steinbach is a delegate to Bundestag and a member of Christian Democratic Union of Germany.

merkelIn recent years German Government, as well as Chancellor Angela Merkel has actively supported the idea of the establishment of the “Center Against Expels” (Zentrum gegen Vertreibungen). Poland observes this step as an evidently anti-monopolistic. Polish and German politicians think that the establishment of the kind of center (and it will be definitely created) will harm greatly the bilateral Polish-German relations in future and will become the main ideological stumbling stone.

Another factor, influencing the negative perception of Germany by Poles, resulting from the above described situation, is the fear of German economic expansion and first of all pre-border expansion which became possible after the inclusion of Poland into the EU.

All these fears, often strengthened by unwise actions of politicians, feed old stereotypes towards Germany and don’t contribute into the approach of the two peoples. “Cold attitude” of Poles towards Western neighbor improves really slowly, despite the fact that the two states exist within one European area.

To compare, according to the data of sociologists in 1966 when the wounds of war were fresh, 67% of Poles treated Germans negatively. In 40 years, despite positive transformations in Europe and the change of political focuses, the attitude of Poles towards Germans has improved not that much. In 2006 only 44% Polish citizens spoke positively about Germans.

> Map of Germany
In its turn the population of Germany doesn’t really sympathizes to Poles. The minds of Germans follow strictly the stereotype of Poles as criminals (mainly car thieves), laborers, untidy and uncivilized people with a limited religious conscious, listening to the “Radio Maria” and so on.

In addition, German society promotes the tendency to push out of the collective consciousness the memories about the events of the Second World War, the guilt and responsibility of Germany for it. For example, in comparison with Poles, for Germans the 1st of September 1939 remains the day that doesn’t mean a thing

Thus evaluating Polish-German relations on the basis of their general state, still there is a number of unsolved problems.

And although the governments of both countries do the utmost to get their people closer, it is still a long way to solve all contradictory issues completely. This way, many Poles criticized the accomplishment of Polish-German agreement on “good-neighborhood and mutually beneficial cooperation”, signed in 1991.

The main problem, connected with this treaty, according to Poland is concluded in the fact that a number of German lands don’t fully perform the obligations towards Polish minorities in Germany. First of all this concerns the support of Polish culture and schools by German state. It is connected with the fact that Poles, living in Germany, and this is about 2 million people are not acknowledged by the Federal Republic of Germany Government as a minority because in the treaty of 1991 the status of Poles, living in Germany wasn’t defined.

]Guido-WesterwelleThe issues of regulation and review of the bilateral agreement of 1991 became the main subject of the past 2009 year. During the meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Poland and Germany in Berlin they decided that in the near future the arguable and unclear moments of the treaty of 1991 will be revised. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle underlined during the meeting: “We recognize our obligations defined by the treaty, which regulates the legal status of Polish population in Germany”. And still, experts think that the issue of granting Polish people the status of a national minority by the Government of Germany won’t be solved that easy. And the problem is not in that Germany doesn’t wish to make political concession for Poland, but in the fact that following Poles Turkish and other migrants can demand the same status. And from the point of view of Germany, the status of national minorities can be given only to those ethnic groups which inhabited the territory of Germany historically, i.e. were not migrants. At the moment, only four ethnic groups in Germany use the status of national minorities: Danes, Frisians, Sorbs and Romani.

Also different approaches and lines of these countries within foreign policy also complicate the situation of bilateral relations. It’s likely that historic disagreements and unsolved problems of bilateral relations are the reason of diverse approaches towards the line of the EU in international affairs. Mainly, this concerns the three aspects: relations of the EU and Germany and Poland with Russia, the US policy within Near East, common EU strategy towards individual states of the former USSR.

As known Poland is one of the initiators of “anti-Russia block” and supports all initiatives and states, leading anti-Russian policy. Germany on the opposite is one of the main economic and strategic partners of Russia and tries to maintain friendly relations with Moscow even if it contradicts the interests of other EU members. The most recent example is the signing of the treaty on “Nord Stream” gas pipeline construction, which will deliver gas directly from Russia to Germany round third countries, including Poland.

Polish authorities still treat the activity of Germany within this issue extremely negatively. During the last meeting of a special committee of Polish Parliament on the issues of international policy, the Minister of foreign affairs of Poland Radoslaw Sikorski declared, that Germany concluded the treaty with Russia above the head of Poles and it is economically irrational. This step of German government reinforced the distrust of Poland to the western neighbor and the EU in general (the case is in the inability of the EU to lead a single and consolidated policy), and promoted pro-American ideas.

The Federal Republic of Germany has a quite careful approach to the EU policy towards the states of the former USSR, staking that eastern policy of the EU should irritate Russia, simultaneously agreeing that post-Soviet countries are in the sphere of Moscow influence. From this prospect Berlin observes the accomplishment of European project “Eastern Partnership”. During the conferences and meetings at different levels, German diplomats and politicians persistently underlined that “Eastern Partnership” is not at all a project aimed against Russia.

Poland has another point of view, considering that Polish security as well as the EU security in general, including energy one, depends on the extension of political and economic influence of West on post-Soviet area. And “Eastern Partnership” should become the kind of mechanism.

One may say that the accomplishment of “Eastern Partnership” project has several objectives for Poland: 1) Enhancement of its own geopolitical position within the region;

2) Creation of a powerful anti-Russia coalition; 3) Weakening of geopolitical and strategic alliance between Russia and Germany, forcing the last one to support anti-Russian projects to this or that extent.

In its turn, without intensive participation of Germany in its accomplishment, “Eastern Partnership” can become a formal and useless project.

> Eastern Partnership Map
It’s worth to underline, that in order to promote its positions in Europe and strengthen its security Poland strives to rely not on common European institutions, but on NATO and the USA, no matter how paradoxic it may sound. Pro-American, and to some extent contradicting to the EU interests, line of the Republic of Poland within the issues of international policy to a certain degree is reasoned by the policy led by the Federal Republic of Germany. One of the main “destabilizers” in Polish-German relations is the pro-Russian line of Germany. That is why Poland actively upheld the US policy in Iraq in 2003 and afterwards, and also in Afghanistan. Without any doubts, pro-American line of Poland really irritates Germany, which doesn’t contribute into the improvement of the bilateral relations. Germany as well as France strives to find a powerful counterbalance to the USA within international policy, and from their point of view a strategic alliance with Russia could become this kind of counterbalance.

The pro-Russia line of Germany and pro-American of Poland create a vicious circle of misunderstanding and unwillingness to develop a single view on key strategic issues.

It’s difficult to expect radical changes in Polish-German relations in these conditions. Until the lines of Poland and Germany at least on Russia won’t coincide, there won’t be general improvement within bilateral relations.

Nevertheless, contradictions in political issues between Poland and Germany don’t affect their economic partnership. For Poland Germany remains to be the main economic partner, although for the Federal Republic of Germany Poland took only 17 place in its significance. During the pre-crisis period the goods turnover between the two states comprised about 11 billion USD. German investments into Poland during the same period covered 15 billion USD.

Poland and Germany are fated to coexistence, although unsolved disagreements between the Parties will impede not only the development of these countries interrelations, but also the establishment of a common and single European policy. The internal strengthening of European German-Polish union, revival of “Weimar Triangle” which includes France together with Poland and Germany will promote the EU dynamic in general.

Translated by EuroDialogueXXI