Poland EU Germany
This moral fanaticism is accompanied by a historical Manicheism that refuses to acknowledge the complexity of history. And it is only the complexity of history which allows us to draw useful lessons for today’s policy.
The ending of the reparations regime in the 1950s was an indispensable step towards peace and integration in Europe.
It reflected a fundamental change in the approach towards the defeated war enemy in the belief that it is better to turn the enemy into an ally than to keep him down. This shift prevented a repeat of the post-WWI economic humiliation of Germany which had contributed to the rise of Hitler, and helped make West Germany an economically viable state which was able to resist communism and later become the engine of European integration.
True, it was not Poland’s choice to stay on the other side of the Iron Curtain and be excluded from those benefits. But political maturity requires acknowledging that history is a complex knot and that trying to simply cut it through is often neither possible nor advisable.
This inability to look beyond black-white interpretations of history is a dangerous and contagious disease. In Poland it affects not only Polish-German relations, but many other national discussions. One can see it in the debate about Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa, for example, whose short-lived contacts with the communist secret police in the early 70s are used by PiS to delegitimise his unquestionable merits in destroying the communist system. It is a thorn in Poland’s relations with Ukraine, too, with Warsaw denigrating Ukrainian national hero Stepan Bandera on account of his responsibility for crimes against Polish citizens.
Finally, this anti-German campaign is also a symptom of the de-Europeanization of Polish politics. The 1990s ideal of ‘alignment’ with Western European values and economies has been replaced by PiS with the populist ideal of ‘emancipation’ from those erstwhile partners.
The Europeanization of Poland was always inextricably linked with its relationship with Germany, hence the slogan ‘the road to Europe goes through Germany’. It is thus no accident that the trumpeting of sovereignty by PiS has been accompanied by the demonization of Berlin.
The foundations of the German-Polish bilateral relationship is now broken, and the dispute about reparations is removing the last instances of trust between the two capitals.
The reparations debacle may soon fizzle out if Kaczynski decides he has exhausted the domestic gains from the campaign. But the three forces shaping Poland’s politics are likely to stay as long as PiS remains in power, accelerating the demise of the country’s foreign policy.
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