Which country likes Poland the least?

Strange neighbors : Why is Poland so far from the Germans?

For Berliners they are the closest foreign neighbors. It is 87 kilometers from Mitte via the B 1 to Kostrzyn (Küstrin). The city should attract cyclists, nature lovers, shopping tourists and those interested in history.

The ruins of the former Prussian fortress look like an enchanted Pompeii on the Oder. Some bastions were built and a museum was set up. A plaque commemorates Hans Hermann von Katte, the childhood friend of Frederick the Great - at the point where he was beheaded after the failure of their joint escape plans to France and Frederick had to watch the punishment that was to be a lesson for him.

The new town offers culinary and floristic things that the clientele of the “Polish markets” on the border appreciate. The Warthedelta nature park attracts ornithologists. Küstrin is also a delightful starting point for small and large tours on the Oder dams to the south and north. The dams were renewed after the flood and equipped with asphalt bike paths.

But apart from a few Brandenburgers from the nearest villages who buy eggs, sausage and garden items in Poland, where they are cheaper, you don't see many Germans in Küstrin and the surrounding area. The tough socialist border regime, which made it difficult for people on both sides of the Oder and Neisse rivers to meet, has been history for 30 years.

Only the Polish markets near the border are well attended

The bridges that were initially missing after 1989 have long been rebuilt, the traffic jams at the border are a thing of the past. And yet nothing indicates that the curiosity of Berliners, Brandenburgers and other Germans about their Polish neighbors has grown since the fall of the Wall. This is hardly any different in other border towns than in Kostrzyn. At most, the new Philharmonic in Szczecin (Stettin) noticeably attracts music lovers from Germany.

Rather, after the election victory of the national populist Party for Law and Justice (PiS) four years ago, the widespread lack of interest in Poland was joined by a renewed resentment among Germans. On this Sunday evening, the incredulous astonishment is likely to grow when the results of the parliamentary election come in. In all likelihood, the PiS, viewed with suspicion, will defend and expand its absolute majority.

How can this be explained? Why are the basic political moods in Germany and Poland diverging? Why are the differences of opinion growing on many day-to-day political issues, from migration to energy policy and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to dealing with President Trump and Russia? Why do many Poles not share the EU's concerns that media freedom and the independence of the courts are threatened by the power politics of the PiS? And why are demands for German reparations popular 74 years after the end of the war?

The political center has shifted - in Germany to the left, in Poland to the right

Center of The center of the German party spectrum has shifted to the left under Chancellor Angela Merkel. As CDU chairman, she positioned her party more social democratic and greener. The SPD became smaller, but space opened up for the AfD on the right. In Poland, however, what feels like the middle has moved to the right in recent years.

There is little danger to the PiS from the left. Its chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski is even more national in the election campaign than before in order to keep extreme right-wing forces like the “Confederation” small. Another difference: in Western Europe, many may consider it a natural law that young people and young voters think progressively - in Poland this is not the case.

The younger generation feels conservative. Family, church, nation, tradition and military security are important to her. Two-thirds of voters between 18 and 29 vote for right-of-center parties.

Most Germans despise Trump, many Poles think he's good; he moved the US soldiers to Poland that Obama had promised. Many Poles, such as those from Ukraine and Georgia, also want to help war refugees. But why did the Germans have to proclaim a “welcoming culture” for hundreds of thousands of Muslims who, from the Polish point of view, are difficult to integrate into Christian societies - including the claim that the EU partners should adopt this attitude?

Many Germans see the future of the EU in deeper integration. Poles are happy that they have regained their independence after decades of external control and see little reason to cede further sovereignty rights to Brussels.

The key question could therefore also be: Why did this divergence escape the Germans? Why is the neighbor still so far away from them? There would be enough opportunity for exchange. If not on the Polish side of the border, then on the German side. Poles are the second largest group of foreigners in Germany (860,000) - after citizens of Turkey, who also include many Kurds.

Poles also take second place in Berlin (71,500). In Brandenburg they are even the largest group of foreigners (20,700). These numbers refer to people who do not have a German passport. If you add dual nationals and Germans of Polish origin, the number of residents with ties to Poland increases considerably. In Berlin alone there are 116,000 German citizens with Polish roots.

Why does this presence not lead to more German interest in and German knowledge about Poland? Poles in Germany are hardly noticeable. They do not fill the environment with loud music from car and apartment windows. After the third world championship title at the 2018 volleyball world championship, you are not driving through the city in motorcades with Polish flags.

They do not visibly celebrate the Nobel Prize for Literature for Olga Tokarczuk, the sixth for authors from Poland. They are considered hardworking and easy to get along with. On average, they have a better education and, according to the Bamf 2018 integration study, are better integrated than other immigrants.

A comparative study by the Berlin immigration authorities with Turks two decades ago showed that they do not want to attract attention as foreigners. They fit in. Only when they feel accepted after several years do they return to Polish culture and send their children to Polish language classes.

Poles do not pretend to be ambassadors for their country

Poles do not impose themselves on their German neighbors as ambassadors for their country and as explanators of developments there. And despite all the progress made on the way to a democratic and open society that wants to overcome old prejudices and despite the shame about the crimes in World War II, many Germans still look at their neighbors in the east with a post-colonial attitude of superiority, stated Dieter Bingen after 20 Years at the head of the German Poland Institute.

Russia occupies an astonishingly large place in the hearts of many Germans, Poland a surprisingly small one.

Poland is Germany's eighth largest trading partner and by far the most important in the east: the value is 63.4 billion euros, two and a half times as much as the exchange with Russia.

Thanks to the integrated production chains, which have continued to grow since joining the EU in 2004, Poland and the other EU partners in the east play a key role in the success of the German export industry. It is a shared economic success. In terms of population (38.5 million), Poland is number six in the EU, the heavyweight among the new members in the East and a natural partner in the leadership of the EU.

The peaceful turnaround in Poland began in 1989. 30 years later, the relationship is difficult. The PiS has contributed to this with its domestic and European policy. But that shouldn't prevent the Germans from being grateful to Poland on November 9th, honoring the common successes and explaining the common interests to the citizens. Especially after the election. The federal government will have to deal with a PiS government for a few more years. Resentment does not advance the neighborhood.

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