New Irritants Plague Already Tense German-Polish Ties | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 26.06.2007
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New Irritants Plague Already Tense German-Polish Ties

Germany says it wants to heal tensions with Poland but crude comments about the past by the Polish prime minister and a mocking caricature of Chancellor Merkel have raised doubts about a speedy reconciliation.

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Relations between Poland and Germany are at a low

Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski on Tuesday compared modern day Germany to the era that brought Adolf Hitler to power but said Europeans did not dare speak out.

"Something very negative is going on in Germany," Kaczynski said in an interview for Polish public radio on Tuesday. "Like in an era which already passed, when the large majority of Europeans didn't have the courage to talk about it, it is the same today."

"So I'm issuing a warning, and I'm addressing the German authorities as the Polish prime minister, do not tolerate this kind of thing, these kind of statements, because that leads to the worst, to trouble which can happen in Europe, but which in affecting Europe will hit the Germans too," he said.

Kaczynski was reacting to a caricature in a Berlin daily about replacing the majority voting process in the new EU treaty with the square root of all World War dead. The cartoon referred to Polish proposals last week to change the voting system with an arithmetic calcuation that would take the square root of populations and comments that Poland's war dead should be taken into account.

"There is now a situation in Europe in which one cannot talk about German blame for the war, but very well about Polish concentration camps and a Polish responsibility for the Holocaust," the Polish leader said.

Breast-feeding image sparks anger

Kaczynski's comments add further fuel to a bonfire already crackling between the two nations. In the aftermath of a turbulent EU summit, where Germany and Poland clashed over the voting procedure in the new EU treaty, German mass-market Bild tabloid dubbed the Polish president and prime minister, twins, "poison dwarves."

The Polish press this week seemed to be contributing just as little to reconciliation between the two nations.

Polen Deutschland Presse Titelblatt Wprost Angela Merkel und Lech Kaczynski

The front page of "Wprost," a conservative magazine which often has controversial covers

Some German politicians said Tuesday they were outraged by the latest cover of Wprosta, a widely-read conservative Polish weekly magazine, depicting German Chancellor Angela Merkel breast-feeding the Kaczynski twins under the title "Stepmother of Europe."

"Germany used to be an advocate of Poland, but now it's become our prosecutor," read the subtitle of the leading article.

"The Poles should stop outdoing themselves with tasteless remarks," said Christian Social Union's foreign expert Eduard Lintner. "Sooner or later, this will have an effect on the mood in Germany, which is, at the moment, still cooperative."

According to Markus Meckel, head of the German-Polish parliamentarian group, Poland needs to rethink its diplomatic strategy.

"In the last weeks and months, Poland has lost many friends," Meckel, who is a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) said. "In the future, the country should think hard about how it could win over partners and friends."

"A little funny"

Neither the Chancellor nor the Kaczynski twins have commented on the cover story.What has rankled Germany is that one of the authors of the story in the Polish weekly, Mariusz Muszynski is an advisor on Germany to the Polish foreign ministry.

The editor of Wprost, Stanislaw Janecki, however told German media that the reaction in Germany was overblown.

Polen Lech Kaczynski und Jaroslaw Kaczynski

Who's who? The Polish power twins have been stirring things up in the EU

"The cover's message," Janecki told Spiegel Online, "is that Germany, especially Ms. Merkel, was trying to treat Poles and the Polish leaders as small children completely unable to act on their own and somehow dependent on Germany.... There is the impression that Germany, being more powerful, wants to dominate Poland and that the Kaczynski brothers want to stand up to this domination."

He said he could not imagine Merkel taking offence.”We looked for a model that was not too thin but who had a beautiful body,” Janecki said. "We imagined it to be a little funny. The stepmother is often more sexy and more friendly that the real mother is."

He pointed out that the image isn't just critical of Merkel. "It is also critical of the Kaczynskis because the relationship between these politicians has become abnormal. It has become threatened by history and by national points of view. There are many factors, but the relationship is clearly not working," he said.

The Wprost cover is just the latest in a long-running media satire saga between the two countries. Last year, Polish President Lech Kaczynski cancelled a meeting with Merkel after left-wing Berlin daily Taz portrayed him as a Polish potato. Wprost too is known for its hard-hitting covers and has published irreverent satirical images of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Erika Steinbach, head of the German Expelle Association.

"Poland is a big, important partner"

The latest tensions come just a day after Germany struck a reconciliatory tone with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier saying his country "has a duty to patiently seek a dialogue with Poland, especially in difficult times," given the fact that both countries were linked by "a terrible 20th century history."

German Government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said that Chancellor Angela Merkel's administration was committed to playing its part in ensuring close ties between the neighboring countries.

"Poland is a big, important partner," added Wilhelm.

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