Berlin gives sweet warning to mark 30 years of modern relations with Warsaw
When German politicians visit Poland, a crucial part of their diplomatic baggage are gloves.
Nazi Germany left an indelible mark on its eastern neighbor with brutal occupation, devastated cities and six million dead – a fifth of the pre-war population – all part of a historic trauma that lingers in the present.
Damaged bilateral relations never had a chance to recover in the postwar years: Cold War relations between East Berlin and Warsaw were quite cold, while Bonn, far on the Rhine, looked towards the west.
It was not until June 1991 that a united Germany and a democratic Poland made a new start, and on Thursday German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier traveled to Warsaw for the 30th anniversary celebration.
Steinmeier emphasized the positive, pointing out that Poland is Germany’s fifth largest trading partner, that countless people cross the Oder-Neisse border every day and that 50,000 students participate in exchange programs each year.
All this, along with close regional cooperation between politicians and border communities, is possible thanks to the doors opened – mentally and politically – by Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004.
The efforts for a better historical understanding are also visible in the plans for a new memorial in Berlin to commemorate the unique suffering of the Polish people under the Nazi occupation. “The story weighs heavy,” Steinmeier said. “When we remember it together, we also do it to strengthen our determination for a better future, a better neighborhood. ”
Alert the neighbors
After the compliments and the gloves, the German head of state and former foreign minister unpacked something else for his hosts: sweet words of warning.
He reminded his audience in Warsaw, including Polish President Andrzej Duda, of the principles of the so-called “treaty of good neighborliness”.
“Good neighborhoods need alert neighbors with a keen eye and an open ear for one another,” he said, recalling how the 1991 agreement underscored their common interest and responsibility in building “d ‘a united and free Europe on the basis of human rights, democracy and the rule of law “.
Fears in Berlin and other EU capitals that Poland was moving away from these three principles were not said by the German visitor, but his intention was clear.
Since 2015, the Polish national conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) has pushed through an ambitious reform of the public media, the prosecution service and the judiciary, raising red flags across the continent.
Last month, Europe’s highest human rights court called Poland’s reformed constitutional court an illegal court, while another key, and possibly critical, decision looms on the horizon of the Court of Justice of the European Union.
With its equally forceful rejection of critiques in European courts and the European Commission, however, Warsaw has left open the question of whether it accepts them as guardians of European treaties and accepts the rule of EU law.
On human rights, the government in Warsaw fueled a long-term campaign against “LGBT ideology” which sparked violence during pride parades and arrests of protesters.
New history program
The government has indeed banned abortion, while its education minister announced plans for a new history curriculum describing the EU as an “illegal entity”.
On Wednesday, Jacek Kurski, head of the pro-government state broadcaster TVP, described his mission to fight a “neo-Bolshevik attack” aimed at corrupting Polish morals.
A century ago, Poland gained independence from Russia and “a Bolshevik attack that wanted to enslave people all over Europe,” he said. “Today we have a different version of the neo-Bolshevik attack that tries to challenge values.”
It echoed the words of Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski of Krakow who had warned last year against attempts by liberal forces in Berlin and Brussels to impose a “neo-Marxist vision of a new order” on the Poland.
Analysts of Polish-German relations say economic relations are flourishing despite such alarms and bilateral tensions.
Dr Agnieszka Lada, director of the German-Polish institute, said it was striking how, despite their common history, many Poles say today that they would have no problem working for a German company or to have a German son-in-law.
“The economic ties are very good too,” she said, “but one week the Polish government praises German investments and the following week they criticize German capital”.