Long and hard has been the road towards conciliation between our two nations. The horrors of the holocaust and destruction of the Second World War by Nazi Germany left behind ashes and ruins, shattered states and millions of lives lost. It cast a dark, long shadow that shall never be forgotten. As our countries commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Polish-German Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation, we look back and see how far we have come.
The German and Polish people owe a lot to each other and have many common experiences. Both have experienced oppression in their own countries, both have fought for freedom. When in 1832 a call for freedom and democracy was made at the Hambacher Fest in Germany, a large Polish delegation joined the demonstrations. And German unification in 1990 would have been unthinkable without the great trust the Polish people placed into the Germans.
Over the past 25 years divisions have been surmounted and borders undone. This period has witnessed our countries and people coming closer together, the integration of Poland into the European Union, and the formation of a Paris-Warsaw-Berlin axis known as the Weimar Triangle. The energy and commitment to a German-Polish rapprochement has forged a foundation of trust. It has been a pillar of European reconciliation and stability.
But none of this can be taken for granted. In recent months the list of issues that divides us is growing.
From refugees to the rule of law, from Russia to energy security and climate change, finding an inch of common ground is increasingly rare. It’s not yet a paradigm shift but our relationship is caught in the grips of a downward spiral with tone and tact at times following suit. Both sides bear responsibility for the maelstrom we are finding ourselves in.
Solidarity and consideration towards each other’s circumstances, interests and shared principles, have come too short. Examples abound. Berlin’s support for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline coupled with its coinciding refusal to join Warsaw in a regional energy solidarity cluster, as proposed by the European Commission, ignores Poland’s legitimate energy interests. And German Foreign Minister Steinmeier’s suggestion to ease the sanctions on Russia step-by-step in case of progress in Ukraine, was also an unnecessary shot from the hip that sowed more discord than accord. Likewise, the Polish government’s reticence towards sharing the weight of the refugee crisis is showing no solidarity towards its European partners nor towards the desolate souls fleeing the horrors of war. And of course, Warsaw’s changes to the constitutional court, which endanger the rule of law, are undermining the very values the EU was built on. They are not part of our shared European principles of human rights, democracy and rule of law which the Treaty of Polish-German Good-Neighbourliness also highlights.
Failure to find common ground today risks a loss of trust, carrying the seeds of greater failures tomorrow. The next 25 years will bring us more shared challenges. Even if we will have different approaches towards them, such as with energy policy or with the question on how to deal with China, we cannot ignore the fact that we’ll be stronger together.
And when governments are unable to bridge their divides and move the agenda forward, it is up to civil society to step in. Because the Polish-German relationship isn’t just driven by government. It is driven by civil society, the church, family bonds across borders, twinning partnerships between cities, regional partnerships and academic exchanges that all foster mutual understanding. It is environmental movements in Germany, which oppose the construction of Nord Stream 2. It is civic movements such as KOD, which reject the language of enmity flowing from the ranks of the Polish government. In a time, when divisions between our countries are growing, it is the duty of societal forces to act as glue and keep them together.
Berlin and Warsaw have to call a spade a spade. But that isn’t but a first necessary step before one can overcome divisions. We have a long shared history with political, economic and social bonds. This 25th celebration of our friendship should be a reminder of that.
Reinhard Bütikofer is Co-Chair of the European Green Party and a Member of the European Parliament
Adam Ostolski is a sociologist at the University of Warsaw, member of the Krytyka Polityczna. In 2013-2016 he was a co-chair of the Polish Green Party.