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Culture

German-Polish Year Offers Antidote to Past

The launch of German-Polish year was marked this week with a ceremony held on the bridge spanning the River Oder between Frankfurt and Slubice. But are relations as rosy as they look?

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The German and Polish foreign ministers show how it's done

To the strains of Beethoven's 9th Symphony and a rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine," Germany's State Secretary for Media and Culture Christina Weiss and her Polish counterpart Waldemar Dabrowski kicked off proceedings Sunday and heralded what they hope will be a new dawn for German-Polish relations.

As the fireworks exploded, a team of actors recited Friedrich Schiller's "Ode to Joy" and cabaret artistes entertained the thousands of spectators who'd gathered on the bridge for the festivities.

"This is where the division of our continent was most painful, and where our newly discovered unity was most joyous," said Weiss.

"German-Polish year is designed to foreground the intellectual dimension of bilateral relations," she said. The extensive cultural program featuring a total of some 1000 concerts, screenings, readings and lectures is set to run until May 2006. Another aspect is the many city partnerships set up to boost cross-border friendship, while on May 23, the Willy Brandt Center in Breslau will be hosting a book presentation of "Non-Elective Affinities," a collection of stories focusing on the German-Polish relationship.

Driving towards understanding

Kulturrallye Tridem 2005-Paris-Berlin-Warschau

Representing one of the more unusual faces of the scheme, participants from the cross-cultural project "Tridem 2005 Cultural Rally Paris - Berlin - Warsaw" also put in an appearance. On April 29, 100 young French, German and Polish contestants took to the road for a fortnight-long voyage of cultural discovery, taking in sights with particular symbolism for European identity. Their journey also marked a handover from the 2004 French-Polish year to the current German-Polish year.

Project patrons are Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

"Tridem is an effective symbol for the cultural ties between our three countries," said Weiss.

"Antidote to past traumas"

Horst Köhler und Aleksander Kwasnieski

German President Horst Köhler and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski officially opened German-Polish year last week at the landmark Concert House in central Berlin.

"In our long history, Germany and Poland have never been so close," said Köhler, pointing out that the appointment of a German pope to succeed Karol Wojtyla is just one recent development that has helped bring the countries closer together.

The two statesmen also underlined the progress made in atoning for the atrocities of WWII.

"The opening towards one another of Germany and Poland is an antidote to past traumas as well as stereotypes that have been cultivated for years," said Kwasniewski.

Poland and the EU

Köhler described Poland's accession to the EU one year ago as a "huge success," pointing out that the Polish economy was developing well and emphasizing the economic energy kickstarted by EU entry.

Even so, the bonhomie masked an undercurrent of discomfort between the two countries, brushing under the carpet tension over the wage-dumping issue gathering steam since the EU's eastwards expansion, as well as Poland's own reservations regarding the EU.

Demonstration gegen EU Beitritt in Polen

A Polish woman holds a placard signing 'no EU' during a small demonstration near the National Theater in the city of Lodz, Poland, on Wednesday, June 4, 2003. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder came to central Poland to support the Polish government's campaign for a 'Yes" vote in this weeks's referendum on membership of the European Union. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Poland plans to hold a referendum on the European Constitution to coincide with presidential elections in late 2005. The country is seen to be somewhat skeptical towards the constitution, and a yes vote is by no means guaranteed.

Key issues for the Poles are the reduction of voting powers implicated by the constitution, compared to the structure set down at Nice, as well as widespread feeling that the country was short-changed when it joined the EU, particularly its agricultural sector.

"German-Polish relations are definitely still a highly fragile construct," said Hubert Wohlan, editor of "Non-Elective Affinites" and head of Deutsche Welle's Polish program.

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