POLICY PAPER - The ups and downs of Polish-German reconciliation and lessons for the Western Balkans

Adam Balcer and Klaus Ziemer published Policy Paper about the ups and downs of Polish-German reconciliation and lessons for the Western Balkans.

  • In 2017, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs established the “Reconciliation and Remembrance” seminar, which aims to share the experience of Polish-German reconciliation as an inspiration for improving relations between the Western Balkan nations and overcoming historical barriers.
  • The project is implemented in cooperation with the Krzyżowa Foundation and the German Embassy. Certainly, Polish-German reconciliation may serve to a certain degree as a source of inspiration for the similar processes taking place in the Western Balkans.

The genocide committed by the Croatian fascists (Ustasha) against the Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia represents relatively the most similar case to the Nazi German massive extermination of Poles. However, even in that case considerable differences may be observed. For instance, the asymmetry between the number of Serbs killed by Croats and Bosniaks vs. the latter killed by Serbs during WW II and after was decisively smaller than the disparity of death toll between Poles and Germans. Moreover, in that period, besides victims of genocidesand crimes against humanity in Bosnia and Croatia, many people died due to conflicts of different character than purely national (civil political war, fight against occupiers). The disparity between Polish-German case and conflicts waged in the 90s in the former Yugoslavia concerning the death toll and asymmetry in ethnic background of victims is even more prominent. Secondly, the drawing of lessons from the Polish-German reconciliation, as will be shown in our text, requires acknowledgement of not only its successes but also its failures. Generally, the Polish-German case confirms the fragility of reconciliations and that the instrumentalization of the past by politicians represents the most important challenge to the reconciliation.

Poles and Germans had several centuries of common history characterized rather by coexistence than confrontation. However, the WW II poisoned Polish-German relations to a degree which could hardly be worse. German aggression against Poland in 1939 was followed by a policy of systematic extermination which should be recognized as genocide. The Germans justified their crimes on the basis on the Nazi racial theory, which regarded ethnic Poles as racially inferior Untermenschen. The Nazi master plan entailed the expulsion of the majority of ethnic Poles, the enslavement of the rest of them and the extermination of elites. In effect, through the war ethnic Poles suffered everyday brutal persecution by the occupational German authorities, destruction of cultural heritage, mass executions (especially during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944), imprisonment in concentration camps, forced labour and deportations and Germanization. By 1942, Poland became the main arena of implementation of the Nazi plan to kill every Jew in German-occupied Europe (ghettos, death camps).

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