|Polish Eagle during the Warsaw Uprising|
Poland joined the European Union in 2004 and since then I have always been irritated by the, in my view, erratic actions of the Polish Government. One typical situation was the protest against the Russian-German project of a gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea. The real reason for the protest was neither the fact that Polish territory was avoided (because of mistrust?) nor the impoliteness of the builders in not having informed Poland beforehand about their plans but instead the close contact between Russia and Germany. Whenever these two countries worked together in the past it meant trouble for the Polish people. Twice in history Polish territory was annexed by Russia and Germany so that Poland no longer figured on European maps.
If Germany suffered in the Thirty Year War and under Napoleon's domination, the Polish people underwent many more alternating hot and cold water baths in their history. Whenever Germany was in its deepest humiliation, as German poets termed it, they still saw in our common language a sign of hope. For the Polish people throughout the centuries the cohesion was even stronger for the binding force was not only their language but a strong, patriotic Catholic church.
In 1386 Poland became a Great Power due to a marriage between the Polish and the Lithuanian dynasties where the joint territories represented the biggest land mass in Europe. The Empire's decline started in the wars with Sweden over supremacy in the Baltic. Eventually Poland became so weak that in three partitions Austria, Prussia and Russia swallowed the state. Marie Walewska* invoking the sufferings of the Polish people and granting favours to Napoleon hoped to influence the emperor to support Poland in its struggle to regain independence from Prussia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire. Eventually he created the Grand Duchy of Warsaw but this entity was of brief duration. As a consequence of Napoleon's defeat the Congress of Vienna in 1814 had Poland disappear again for the newly formed "Kongress-Polen" was no more than a satellite of the Russian Empire.
*Although presented as a romance in many movies, Maria in her memoirs maintained that she forced herself to get involved with Napoleon for purely patriotic reasons: The sacrifice was complete. It was all about harvesting fruit now, achieving this one single aim, which could excuse my debased position. This was the thought that possessed me.
|Daily life in Warsaw in the 1930ies |
Diorama at the Exhibition commemorating the Warsaw Uprising of 1944
|Poland's Fourth Partition|
I knew all this before but in re-digesting Poland's history on site I slowly began to appreciate the Polish trauma. There are efforts being made both in Poland and Germany to improve the relationship between the two neighboring countries and take them to the same level as the relation between France and Germany. This is a difficult task since West Europeans have lots of prejudices as far as the Polish people are concerned. Poles are lazy, steal cars but are potent plumbers as the French ironically earmark them. Fact is what our President rightly said: Polen sind fleißiger als Deutsche (Polish people are more hardworking than Germans), i.e., 1419 compared with 1939 working hour in a year.
|Commemorating Willy Brandt's Genuflection|
in front of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Monument.
One Polish official remarked: He knelt in front of the wrong monument.
At present there is a trend for Polish people to come to Germany because unemployment particularly among the young is much higher on the eastern banks of the Oder river. Let us hope that this and any further future moves will help to reduce the mutual prejudice.