May 12, 2016

Germany and Poland: From Centuries-Old Confrontation to Strategic Partnership

Ivan Sichen, a military and political expert

Within the framework of the project “Ukraine-Germany Relations: Yesterday and Today, Myths and the Truth”, as well as in its other publications, the Independent Analytical Center for Geopolitical Studies “Borysfen Intel” has repeatedly addressed the theme of national reconciliation of participants of the Second World War as a ground for uniting Europe, and establishing constructive cooperation between Germany and its former victims and enemies.

In particular, one of the most striking examples of the settlement of international problems that are a consequence of the criminal policy of the Hitler Nazi regime in Germany in relation to other peoples, is the establishment of relations of special partnership between Germany and Israel after the German side had pleaded guilty for the Holocaust of the Jewish nation and assumed responsibility for its regeneration and safety.

At the same time, in my opinion, even more tragic and extremely complex is the process of mutual reconciliation of Germany and Poland, which have managed to overcome the historical confrontation between the peoples of both countries. Unlike the Holocaust, this confrontation had deeper roots and was determined not only by situational, though extremely tragic events of World War II, but by the continued for many centuries previous armed conflicts between Germans and Poles.

For a long time, such conflicts were accompanied by numerous victims on both sides, when adjacent territories would be captured and annexed, which led to the actual destruction of the Polish state within the framework of a series of divisions of the country between Germany (Prussia) and Russia (USSR). The latest such division took place in 1939 as a result of the Soviet-German “Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact” and was the reason for the most complex problems in Poland-Germany relations of the post-war period.

For example, on the one hand, during the Second World War, in the course of hostilities between Germany and Poland and further occupation of Poland about 7 million Polish citizens were killed. As compared with the total number of the then population of Poland, it was one of the greatest human losses among the countries-participants of the Second World War. The reason was the Poles' strong resistance to Nazi aggression that led to Nazis' mass repressions against the entire Polish community.

On the other hand, by the decision of the Potsdam Conference of 1945, which actually summed up the results of the Second World War, Poland was given some disputed territories, which had been part of Germany, including the Upper Silesia, Pomerania and East Brandenburg. At this, the German population was forcibly displaced from these areas to inner German lands with the help of harsh, force included, measures and without any compensations. All in all, about 12 million ethnic Germans were evicted from former German territories and more than 5 million Germans were deported from Poland itself.

All this served as a powerful factor of mutual claims, mistrust, hostility and even hatred between the German and Polish peoples after World War II. Besides, an additional obstacle in the German-Polish reconciliation (in the full sense of the word) was the post-war division of the German state into the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the German Democratic Republic (GDR), which were in the sphere of influence of two opposing antagonistic systems, namely, — the West and Russia.

At this, both, the German Democratic Republic and Poland were under Moscow's control, which made Warsaw conduct a purely pro-Russian policy, and on German direction too. Thus, the Communist government of Poland headed by Wladyslaw Gomulka recognized East Germany and began to fully cooperate with it, and sided with Russia in terms of political confrontation with FRG.

Конрад АденауерIn turn, the government of West Germany under the leadership of the Federal German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (1949-1963) led quite a tough policy towards the Soviet bloc. The basis of this policy was the non-recognition of the GDR as well as the refusal to establish diplomatic and other relations with countries recognizing the sovereignty of the German Democratic Republic. Besides, Germany's leadership expressed disagreement with the decision of the Potsdam Conference on the transfer of German lands to other States, to Poland included. The German government's position on this issue was actively supported by a large part of the country's population and the so-called the “Federation of Expellees” — public organization of German refugees from former territories of Poland and Germany.

Such circumstances had actually made it impossible to establish political relations between Germany and Poland on an official level. In that situation, a major role in the dialogue between the parties on the approximation of the German and Polish peoples was played by their religious institutions. The most important of them were the Catholic and Protestant churches in the Federal Republic of Germany and the Catholic Church in Poland, which enjoyed unquestioned authority in their respective countries.

In the period from 1954 to 1968, the German and Polish Churches were one of the main channels to establish a fundamentally new relationship between Germany and Poland. In particular, both, the German and the Polish Churches recognized the mutual responsibility of the parties for the tragic events of World War II and of the post-war period, and started a systematic exchange of letters, petitions and memoranda, meetings and conferences and other bilateral activities, during which was determined the possibility of German-Polish reconciliation.

Another channel of supporting relations between Germany and Poland was economic and trade cooperation between the two countries, which was at a high level, regardless of political and ideological problems. For example, even before the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, in the mid-1950s West Germany's Trade Office was opened in Warsaw, and in Frankfurt am Main — Trade Office of Poland (PPR).

In 1963, the economic relations between the FRG and Poland were fixed in the first official document — the Trade Protocol, signed by the Trade Ministers of the FRG and Poland. As a result of the agreements reached, the FRG was the first Poland's trade partner among the countries of Western Europe. The FRG supplied Poland mainly with cars, industrial equipment and chemical products, such as fertilizers for agriculture. In turn, the main articles of Poland's exports to West Germany were food, coal and other raw materials for Germany's industry.

Taking into consideration the experience gained, in 1965 the FRG and Poland signed a new trade agreement, regulating trade for the period of 1966-1969. That document provided for an increase in the volume of mutual deliveries of up to 50 %. Besides, Poland opened its Trade Office in Cologne.

Віллі БрандтThe above-mentioned circumstances created a basis for changes in the FRG's policy towards the East, after the election in 1969, of a new FRG's Chancellor, representative of the coalition of the Social Democratic and Free Democratic Parties of Germany — Willy Brandt. Unlike K. Adenauer, the new head of the West German government had fundamentally different vision of post-war Europe. In fact, Willy Brandt and his supporters gave up the confrontation with Poland over the GDR and the lost German territories and expressed their willingness to formal negotiations on the settlement of German-Polish relations.

At this, it was proposed to leave behind the whole load of political and diplomatic issues between the West Germany and Poland. A favorable factor in this matter was the establishment of relations between the FRG and the Soviet Union, which had actually been controlling Poland's foreign policy. In particular, in August 1970, the West Germany and the Soviet Union signed the “Moscow” Agreement, which in fact was a peace agreement between the parties, and opened the way for the development of the FRG's cooperation with Central and Eastern European countries (CEE).

A result of these processes was the so-called “Warsaw” Agreement between the FRG and Poland (signed in December 1970), which was crucial important for post-war relationship of German and Polish peoples. The document confirmed the established boundaries between Germany and Poland on the rivers Oder and Neisse, as determined by the Potsdam Conference of 1945. Besides, the parties declared intentions to give up any territorial claims in the future, and the measures for further normalization and comprehensive development of relations between the two countries in political, economic, scientific-technical and cultural spheres. After the implementation of the Agreement, full diplomatic relations had to be established between Germany and Poland.

Ratification of the “Moscow” and “Warsaw” Agreements in the German Parliament was quite difficult due to the CDU/CSU party alliance's negative attitude to the Agreements. The representatives of these parties accused the German leadership of betraying the interests of Germany and unjustified concessions “... in favor of the Soviet Union and its ally Poland”. At this, the most negative reaction of the opponents of the “Warsaw” Agreement was caused by the fact of its recognition of the inclusion of German lands into Poland as well as unresolved problems of internally displaced Germans.

Despite this, in May 1972, the Agreement between Germany and Poland was approved by the Bundestag. Later, through long and arduous negotiations, Bonn and Warsaw managed to overcome most of the problems in bilateral relations, including mutual compensations to those who suffered during the Second World War and after it. In order to further increase the volume of trade between the two countries, Germany granted Poland a fairly impressive financial loan.

Гельмут КольBut the real breakthrough in German-Polish relations, which had acquired a completely new character, was observed after the end of the “Cold war”, the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the reunification of Germany. The symbolic act of reconciliation between the new Germany and Poland took place November 12, 1989, during Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl's visit to Poland (Upper Silesia). A year later — November 14, 1990 — the mutual obligations of the two countries on security guarantees and the absence of territorial claims against each other (including the confirmation of the border on the Oder and Neisse rivers) was confirmed as part of the “new Warsaw Agreement”. And the next year — July 17, 1991 — the Grand Treaty of Good-Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation between Germany and Poland (among other things, it decided the extremely sensitive issue of the rights of the German minority in Poland and of the Polish diaspora in Germany) was signed in Bonn.

Besides, very important was creation in 1991 of the so-called “Weimar Triangle” (Federal Republic of Germany, France and Poland) in order to implement the conception of building a united Europe. First of all, in this respect, Germany and France focused on promoting the processes of Poland's European and Euro-Atlantic integration in the context of Warsaw's getting prepared to join the European Union and NATO.

In general, the above-mentioned facts formed the necessary legal framework for the full-scale relations between Germany and Poland in the military-political and trade-economic spheres. Within the framework of these relations, the two sides have been implementing mutually beneficial interests, fully meeting their strategic objectives.

Thus, Poland was of interest to Germany as a strong market for the German high-tech products, as well as the possibility of transferring to the Polish territory of Germany's production facilities to use cheaper labor. Implementation of these plans was accompanied by measures of the German side to increase investments into the development of Poland's economy, as well as to give it new technologies and to assist in upgrading its infrastructure and in staff training. At the same time, the Federal Republic of Germany's special goal was creation of the zone of military-political stability on Germany's Eastern border — by connecting Poland to the system of European collective security.

In its turn, with the support of the Federative Republic of Germany, Poland got a unique chance to both, thoroughly reconstruct its economy and return to Europe. In particular, in 1995 Poland took the first place among the FRG's trade partners from among the countries of the former Soviet bloc, ahead of Russia. Later, in 1999, Poland, one of the first CEE countries, became a full member of NATO, and in 2004 — of the European Union. The total volume of the EU's investments into Poland's economy amounted to about 40 billion US dollars, which allowed it to become part of the leading members of the Organization.

During the preparation and after Poland's joining NATO and the EU, the German-Polish cooperation in military and military-technical spheres got intensified. The main forms of such cooperation were the training of Polish soldiers in Germany's military educational institutions, bilateral military exercises, and participation in the exercises of the United Armed Forces of the Alliance, cooperation of German and Polish units in NATO's peacekeeping and anti-terrorist operations (particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan).

Besides, after Poland's joining NATO, as part of the Alliance, was created a Multinational Corps North-East with its headquarters in the Polish city of Szczecin, with the participation of military units of Germany, Poland and Denmark. Later, in 2013, the “Weimar Battle Combat Team” was formed (in fact, a joint battalion tactical group of Germany, Poland and France), as part of the European Union's Rapid Reaction Force.

The FRG's important contribution was the re-arming of Poland's Armed Forces with new types of weapons and military equipment of Western models. In particular, in 2002-2003, Germany (for free!) transferred to Warsaw 128 Leopard 2A4 tanks and 10 Armored Recovery and Repair Vehicles BpZ2. This equipment was given to the units of the 10th Armored Cavalry Brigade and other units of the 11th Armored Cavalry Division of Poland's Army. In 2013, the FRG and Poland signed a new Agreement to provide the Polish side with 14 vehicles Leopard 2A4 and 105 more modern tanks Leopard 2A5, as well as 12 Armored Recovery and Repair Vehicles BpZ2 and 200 military vehicles.

A positive role in strengthening confidence and relations between Germany and Poland on a bilateral level was also played by joint financial funds for the implementation of projects providing assistance to victims of Nazi persecution during World War II, as well as by the development of cultural cooperation between the two countries. In particular, in the early 1990s, four such funds were created, including the Reconciliation Fund in support of the victims of Nazism, Foundation for German-Polish Cooperation in the sphere of science and preservation of German cultural monuments in Poland, Memory Fund — minding the graves of German soldiers killed on Polish territory during the First and Second World Wars, as well as Youth Foundation, which deals with the development of relations between German and Polish young people.

At the same time, the FRG's government has increased the funding of a number of scientific and cultural institutions in Poland, including the Western Institute in Poznań and the University of Silesia, as well as Polish Culture and Information Centers in Düsseldorf, Berlin and Leipzig.

Besides, in Poland actively work funds of leading German parties, including K. Adenauer's Foundation, F. Ebert's Foundation, F. Neumann's Foundation, G. Seidel's Foundation and branches of a number of German cultural organizations — the German Foundation for the Protection of Monuments, the German-Polish Institute in Darmstadt, the Goethe Institute and others.

Against this background, Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine, which began in February 2014, has become a determining factor to test the reliability and transparency of Germany-Poland relations. Berlin and Warsaw's reaction to Moscow's actions confirmed the strategic nature of the partnership between Germany and Poland, which showed the ability to hold together for the protection of European security policy, the support for their allies in the former Soviet countries and putting pressure on the V. Putin regime.

Thus, the principles and main directions of cooperation between Germany and Poland in the crisis situation that has arisen as a result of Russia's aggression against Ukraine, was discussed at the highest level during German Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit to Warsaw March 12, 2014.

As a result of that and other meetings, the leaders of Germany and Poland expressed a tough condemnation of Russia's attack on Ukraine, and categorically refused to recognize Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.

At the same time, Berlin and Warsaw were the main initiators of the EU's efforts to strengthen the unity of the European Union and to weaken its dependence on Russia, NATO's transformation in terms of reorientation of the Alliance to counteract threats from Moscow, introduction of a package of political and economic sanctions against the Russian Federation, as well as provision of assistance to Ukraine in political, economic and, to some extent, in military-technical spheres. In particular, within the framework of political support for Ukraine, Germany and Poland acted as key promoters of the idea of ​​European integration of the Ukrainian State by a practical implementation of the EU's Eastern Partnership Program and signing of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union.

However, for quite a long time, A. Merkel refused to support Poland's calls for deployment of NATO forces on the territory of the CEE countries, considering it inappropriate and such which could only aggravate the situation in the region. Later, due to Putin's regime's failure to fulfill the Minsk Agreements to resolve the situation in the East of Ukraine, as well as the intensification of Russia's provocations against NATO countries in the Baltic and Black Sea regions, the position of the German leadership on the above-mentioned issue has changed radically.

Thus, in early April this year, A. Merkel agreed on the need to deploy the forces of the Alliance in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland on a permanent basis, and expressed readiness to send German military units there. These plans must be considered during the next NATO summit in Poland on 8-9 July this year. Making a positive decision on the above-mentioned initiatives, will contribute to further strengthening of the relations between Germany and Poland, as well as to strengthening the security of the Alliance in the East of Europe.

Today, between Germany and Poland still there are some contradictions and problems associated with their historical past, as well as the peculiarities of the current situation in Europe and the positions of each of these countries. First of all, it concerns mutual ill-will of certain groups of German and Polish population, strengthening of the position of some radical and nationalist forces in both countries due to the deterioration of the economic situation in the EU, as well as Warsaw's disagreement with some aspects of Berlin's policy.

In particular, the Polish side does not accept the German leadership's demands to austerity of budget money by the European Union countries and letting the refugees from the Middle East and North Africa regions to Europe. Besides, lately an additional challenge in the German-Polish relations has been Warsaw's negative reaction to Germany's criticism for infringement of democratic standards in Poland.

All this is widely used by V. Putin's regime as part of a targeted information campaign to provoke tensions between Germany and Poland, as the main initiators and driving forces of the EU policy in the context of pressure on Russia and support to Ukraine. At the same time, the differences between Berlin and Warsaw are largely situational and externally imposed and this allows both countries to successfully overcome the problems and effectively nullifies Moscow's provocative efforts aimed at breaking their strategic partnership.