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Wulff, Komorowski want to strengthen Polish-German relations

Germany's new President Christian Wulff visited Poland Tuesday to meet president-elect Bronislaw Komorowski. It was the president's first state visit to Germany's eastern neighbor.

Germany's President Christian Wulff (right) and Polish President-elect Bronislaw Komorowski

Both men start their terms in office at about the same time

On his first visit to Poland as Germany's new president on Tuesday, Christian Wulff met with president-elect Bronislaw Komorowski and pledged to strengthen Polish-German relations.

Both the new German president and his Polish counterpart-to-be spoke about the coincidence that made both of them start their term in office at more or less the same time.

Wulff was elected on June 30 following the resignation of former president Horst Koehler in May. Komorowski replaces the late president Lech Kaczynski, who along with his wife and 94 passengers was killed in an air crash in Russia in April.

The men took the opportunity of their first meeting to look ahead to a new level of cooperation between the two countries.

Komorowski spoke of the idea of patronage to be extended by both leaders over initiatives aimed at building rapprochement between the two nations.

"We attach special attention to youth exchange schemes," said Komorowski. He noted that a conference of the two countries' intellectuals was planned to take place in Krzyzowa, the symbolic place of reconciliation between the two nations in the early 1990s.

"The conference will serve to seek new ways of addressing European societies, notably the younger generation," he said.

An appeal for stepped up European integration

Wulff spoke about the importance of Polish relations with his country. "Polish-German relations are of great significance, because Germany bears a historical responsibility, which it is ready to meet," he said. "We owe the unity of Germany to the Polish Solidarity movement. We intend to work together for further European integration."

Wulff was full of praise for what he described as Poland's ability to transform the idea of Solidarity into solid economic foundations that have made the country the envy of Europe.

This spirit of openness is welcome news in the streets of Warsaw. The public supports the president-elect's moves to improve relations with the Poland's closest neighbors, including Germany.

The specter of German domination

Germany's President Christian Wulff and Polish President-elect Bronislaw Komorowski

Wulff also met with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk

Observers note that the visit by the new German president coincides with events marking the 600th anniversary of the battle of Grunwald, in which Polish and Lithuanian troops defeated the Teutonic knights, a German order of crusaders who made incursions against their neighbours. This was one of the crucial battles of the late Middle Ages, held up under communism as a symbol of East European nations teaming up to fight a perceived German encroachment.

But to many Poles of the younger generation, the ceremonies - including a reenactment of the battle by knights dressed in medieval armor - are just that.

Yet older politicians, like nationalist opposition leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who narrowly lost the presidential election earlier this month, continue to play on old sentiments. Kaczynski, twin brother of the late president, has frequently raised the specter of German domination in the past.

Old sentiments prevail

Andrzej Jonas, editor of the Warsaw Voice magazine, told Deutsche Welle that Kaczynski was likely to play the German card once again in next year's general elections.

"This way of acting is recognized in Poland by many populists as a very fruitful way to awaken old ghosts," he said. "Obviously, there's a danger to the Polish mentality and to relations between Poland and the rest of Europe, mainly Germany, but unfortunately it is used for primitive political purposes."

Opinion polls reveal that some of the Polish electorate is still responsive to xenophobic rhetoric. The situation is further complicated by the recent presidential campaign, in which the late president's patriotic agenda and his attachment to history were exploited by his twin brother.

As Poland's two liberal leaders, Komorowski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk, set out to build new bridges, internal Polish politics are still likely to cast a shadow over Polish-German relations.

Author: Rafal Kiepuszewski/db
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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