Polish-German Relations since 1945 A source of Inspiration for Korean-Japanese Future Relations Deutsch-Polnisches Symposium am 1. 12. 2011 in Seoul (Süd-Korea)
As one of the leading Members of the European Parliament, I was responsible for the EU-enlargement-policy towards Central and Eastern European countries. That again involved me in past and future of Polish-German relations and brought me into close contact with polish matters, politicians and people.
History divides and history unites. Polish-German Relations since 1945 cannot be understood without a pertinent look on history before 1945. There is nothing in European in history of the last thousand years, revolutions and restorations, Christianisation and Stalinisation, rivalry and conflict, state building and state destroying, glare and glory as well as suffering and scare, to which Poland was not closely related to. And so was Germany.
The war and even more the German occupation from 1939 to 1944 were the most horrifying Poland had suffered in its history. Six millions of Polish people died. Most of them not as victims of war but of a German plan of extermination (annihilation) directed against Jewish people and Polish intelligentsia. Poland was indicated not to be dominated but to be exterminated as a Nation. The day by day humiliations of this time were transmitted to and survived in the generation born after 1945.
Polish revenge in 1945/46 was cruel and understandable. Nine million Germans fled or were expelled from their homes in the Eastern parts of Germany 1945/46. For Germany this ethnic cleansing was not alone the irrevocable loss of territories. For millions of individuals it meant losing their homes and social relations. And it meant wiping out seven hundred years of German history in large parts of Central and Eastern Europe within months.
And that was where they were in 1945: Poland had lost large parts of its Eastern territories to the Soviet Union, was attached to the Soviet bloc and submitted to communist dictatorship. Germany lost a Quarter of its territory to Poland and the rest was divided in a Communist part belonging to the Eastern bloc and in a Democratic part belonging to the Western bloc. That was the result of Nazi-German hubris, trying to dominate Europe and to subjugate it by war and terror.
The basis for reconciliation is historical truth and political trust, security and credibility. And a historical occasion. Historical Truth: Germany had to accept that the irrevocable loss of its eastern territories to Poland was the result of the War and the extinction policy it had started against Poland. And Poland had to accept that those territories had a centuries old German history and that Poland entered upon an immense cultural inheritance. Nobody in Poland and in Germany can undo what has been done before, in and after the war. But both peoples do no longer live in the forties and fifties of the last century. We can join our forces and merge our interests.
Credibility: The end of any irredentism in propaganda and politics in Germany, as well as the official and private belief in that end in Poland was the precondition for any reconciliation. That has not been an easy undertaking. In West-Germany irredentism from time to time was utilized in electoral campaigns. And spreading suspicion against Germany was used from time to time by the Communist party and government in Poland to hold grip on people and positions.
The establishment of official relations laid down in Treaties and agreement. In 1950 a treaty between Poland and the German Democratic Republic and Poland confirmed new border at Oder and Neiße between Poland and East Germany as final. More important was the Treaty of Warsaw of 1970, The Federal Republic accepted the new western border of Poland, but its legal caveat that only a future peace treaty would formally settle the issue remained in effect.
After the fall of the Berlin wall the four Allies of World War II made he final recognition of the western Polish border by a reunified Germany conditional for reunification. Both sides declared that they have no territorial claims against each other and shall not raise such claims in future. This was done not more than six weeks after reunification octobre 1990 in the German-Polish Border Treaty. The ambiguity that had surrounded the border issue had come to an end. This agreement was supplemented some months later in 1991 by the "Treaty of Good Neighbourship and Friendly Cooperation".
Security: After free and democratic Poland joining NATO in 1999 the two countries are members in the same military and political alliance under American leadership. For the first time in history Poland and Germany belong to the same camp. Security not alone by an alliance but by mutual cooperation and integration: Since 2000 Poland is a full member of the European Union. (But it was clear since 1993 when Polandapplied for membership.)
The two countries underlie the rule of the four freedoms within the European. Union: the free movement of goods, capital, services and people. EU-membership has opened the room for effective unspectacular day-to-day Cross-border-cooperation. EU-membership is merging our different remembrances and interests into common projects.
Political trust: Common values are the basis for mutual understanding of politicians and people. After the self-liberalization of the polish People, led by Solidarnosc, freedom democracy, rule of law and market economy took place in Poland as it has been since forty years the case in Germany.
Reconciliation is not the end of differing views and interests. History matters, geography too. But these are particular divisions in (special) problems (questions), not antagonisms. Reconciliation is political courage seizing a historical occasion to start a long lasting process. And it has to be fuelled by patience and sense of proportion for a long time.
To struggle for mutual understanding is difficult. To overcome history is even more difficult. But the most difficult is to vanquish our prejudices. And that is the most necessary fundament for succeeding reconciliation.