Germany and Poland are celebrating 25 years of good neighborly relations. But in an interview with DW, Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski laments the fact that Germany perpetuates stereotypes about Poles.
DW: On the 25th anniversary of the Polish–German Treaty of Good Neighborship and Friendly Cooperation, many politicians in Poland's governing party find it wise to renegotiate. What do the Poles not like about the current treaty?
Witold Waszczykowski: The rights of the German minority in Poland and the rights of Poles living in Germany must be harmonized. We would like to adjust them so that, for example, Polish children can more easily learn their mother tongue in Germany.
Are the rights of Poles in Germany actually the most important bilateral issue today?
We would like for Poles in Germany to be granted minority status, like they had before 1940. The most important thing today is image: In my opinion, German media do not project an objective image of Poles. Stereotypes always play a great part and when the media set a trend, it is hard to change. When a particular narrative prevails, then good news or another perspective cannot stand out. Poland is and remains a democratic nation where elections produced a change of government; society has accepted it. Nonetheless, a part of German media paints a bad and incorrect picture of Poland – as though Poles were anti-European.
German media show what they have been seeing on Polish streets for months: thousands of people demonstrating for democracy.
It is a small group. A few thousand dissatisfied people are not much in a city of two million inhabitants like Warsaw. In France or elsewhere, thousands also take to the streets and bring nuclear power plants and subway services to a halt. Poland is no exception. Citizens have the right to express their opinions. It shows that democracy is working.
Why would Germany suddenly convey a negative image of Poland?
We have become accustomed to calling the current German-Polish relations the best in history. We are connected to Germany through a mature relationship that allows us to openly address differences. Some media outlets are ringing the alarm, as though we were destroying the relationship. Yet objective differences do exist – in security, energy and economic policies. Whenever we refer to differences, some people in Germany feel uneasy because we have our own energy policy, or different interests than Western Europe. There are reasons for the different interests: We are situated elsewhere geographically and have a different relationship with Russia.
So is Russia the reason why Germans and Poles are divided?
We speak openly about this with Frank-Walter Steinmeier. We differ with regard to Russia, but also in the matter of solutions to European problems – or how things should be in the future. We have a greater affinity to Great Britain, which would prefer to contain the European superstate.
Is cooperating with Germany still a priority for Poland today?
Economically, we work closely together; one even speaks of symbiosis. In 2015, we had a trade volume of around 90 billion euros. Today, Poland is Germany's seventh trade partner. Now we need a good neighborly cooperation in security matters. Poland is one of NATO's flanks. Also, our country borders on conflict regions. No other EU or NATO country has a border with an aggressor and a victim of aggression – Russia and Ukraine. That is why we expect sympathy and understanding from Germany in this regard.
Germany is actually one of the countries that advocates the reinforcement of NATO's eastern flank...
But our ideas of deterrence diverge. We believe that deterrence will be successful if NATO stations troops here. Germans argue that it would come across as confrontational to Russia. That is where we disagree.
And how is the rapprochement of the positions progressing?
NATO has made progress. The alliance is sending battalions to four countries: Poland and the Baltic States. The participants are being decided on. Germany has apparently chosen Lithuania.
What must happen for you to consider the NATO summit in Warsaw a success?
Decisions regarding military presence on the eastern flank must be made, also with respect to danger from the south. Another point is relations with Russia: It's about more than the usual contacts and the NATO-Russia Council meeting - which has yielded little so far. The key to better relations lies in Moscow. That is where international law has been violated; from there, another state was attacked and rebels were backed. We cannot forget all that and lift sanctions. You need a penalty that nonetheless makes it possible to return to dialogue.
What will you drink a toast to at the German-Polish celebrations?
Good neighbors, friendship and peace. The greatest success since 1945 has been that we have not had a great war in Europe. There have been occasional conflicts, for example, in the Balkans or Ukraine, but no war like the long ones Europe has seen. The reasons for this are strong economic and political ties. In this respect, I will drink to peace, but also to the European and transatlantic institutions that stand for the interests of all member states.
This interview was conducted by Roman Romaniec.