Relations between Poland and Germany were supposed to improve after Poland's EU accession, but it has not worked out like thatby Manneken Pis / October 23, 2004 / Leave a comment
Poland’s entry into the EU was meant to draw a line under Polish-German enmity, much as the early moves towards European integration in the 1950s marked a fresh start for France and Germany. But it has not worked out. In early September, the Polish parliament passed a unanimous resolution demanding that Germany pay billions in reparations to Poland for the destruction of Warsaw in 1944. Why is this happening now? Partly because memories have been stirred by the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw uprising; partly because now that their country is safely inside the EU, Polish politicians feel better able to give voice to old grievances; but above all because some of the descendants of the up to 8m Germans expelled from Poland after the war are trying to use the courts to win financial compensation from Poland. The resulting uproar is embarrassing and exasperating for Berlin. In a long meeting with foreign journalists this month, Joschka Fischer, German foreign minister, maintained his good humour while the conversation stuck to safe topics like Iraq, terrorism and Turkey – but when the subject turned to Polish reparations he became agitated. As the Germans see it, the Poles are being needlessly hysterical. The German deportees and their descendants have received no official encouragement from Berlin, quite the opposite. Moreover, government lawyers think that they have little chance of winning their cases before the European courts. So the Poles should relax. Unfortunately, a relaxed approach to their country’s history is not common among Polish politicians.
In official Berlin, it also feels that there is no getting away from 1939-45. On a visit to the defence ministry, you are reminded that it was in this very building that the ringleaders of the Stauffenberg1944 bomb plot were executed. And while defence ministries in countries that are comfortable with their own martial pasts are decorated with paintings of battles and regimental standards, the only art that seems to be on display in the German defence ministry is a massive carpet in the central hall – which is made up of a superimposed photo of Berlin reduced to rubble in 1945. Then there is the finance ministry, which was the office building used as headquarters by Herman Göring. Norman Foster’s Reichstag famously preserves the graffiti left behind by the Russian soldiers who sacked the building in 1945, ranging from the banal…