Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Jeszcze Polska nie zginęa

starts Poland's national anthem: Poland Is Not Yet Lost. By no means; the country with 33 million striving inhabitants and its unpronounceable language nowadays is a key member of the European Union.

Polish Eagle during the Warsaw Uprising
From May 18 to May 23, 2013, the Society for Political Education in collaboration with the Badische Zeitung organized a trip to Poland visiting Warsaw, Krakau and Auschwitz. The discussions our group had with staff from the German embassy as well as Polish and German press people changed my picture of Poland profoundly.

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 was re-created as a republic following the First World War. The new state advocated an aggressive foreign policy, even waging war with socialist Russia. This by no means should be regarded as an excuse for Hitler's brutal invasion of Poland in 1939 fully backed by Stalin. Following Germany's Blitzkrieg both neighboring powers partitioned Poland for the fourth time.

Poland's Fourth Partition
When Germany lost the war Stalin kept the eastern parts of Poland that he and Hitler had agreed upon, driving out the Polish population. These people were moved westward to territories in eastern Germany out of which the population was subsequently expelled. The result was that Poland was shifted by 200 kilometers to the west.

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.
Very few people in the west are inclined to learn the difficult Polish language whereas the Poles nowadays opt for English rather than German as their lingua franca. As a consequence the Viadrina University in Frankfort on the Oder although it was started as a German-Polish venture does not really bring the students of both nations together when they follow courses in their respective mother tongue.

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.


  1. Hello, Mr Red Baron,
    what do you mean under your post's last photograph?
    Thank you for writing such interesting stuff!
    A french philosophy teacher who discovered your blog by chance.

  2. Bonjour anonymous,

    la réponse est délicate car la remarque du politicien montre peut-être une certaine ambivalence des Polonais envers les Juifs.