Together with securing the removal of Soviet troops from Polish territory, the reemergence of a united, economically powerful Germany presented Warsaw's greatest foreign policy challenge after 1989. Fear of a resurgent Germany motivated Skubiszewski's initial desire to preserve the Warsaw Pact as a political alliance guaranteeing the Oder-Neisse Line as Poland's western border. Warsaw also welcomed the continued presence of United States forces in Europe as a check on potential German expansionism. At the same time, however, Germany represented the largest potential source of economic assistance and investment for Poland, accounting in 1990 for one-fifth of Warsaw's imports and one-quarter of its exports.
Throughout the postwar period, relations between Warsaw and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) had ranged from cool to hostile. In 1981 Poland's international isolation following the imposition of martial law further set back bilateral relations. Despite the overall expansion of economic ties in the postwar period, intractable differences remained over such issues as treatment of the 300,000 ethnic Germans in Poland, German territorial claims on Poland, compensation for Polish victims of Nazi persecution, and the permanence of the OderNeisse border. Warsaw consistently and energetically opposed all movement toward German reunification and revanchism. On the other hand, bilateral relations between Poland and East Germany were never warm, in spite of their official alliance in the Warsaw Pact. Poles resented East Germany's general enthusiasm for communist orthodoxy and its support of Jaruzelski's martial law decree in 1981.
West German chancellor Helmut Kohl visited Warsaw in November 1989 to accelerate the recent improvement of relations between the traditional enemies. Kohl hoped to gain Polish guarantees for German minority rights and to quiet fears about German revanchism that had escalated with impending reunification. West Germany extended some US$2 billion in economic assistance to Warsaw and acknowledged Germany's guilt for attacking Poland in World War II. Kohl also reaffirmed a 1970 bilateral treaty promising to respect existing borders. After Kohl subsequently caused an international stir by hedging on that commitment, the border issue was buried when Germany officially renounced all claims on Polish territory and recognized the permanence of the existing border in May 1990.
December 1991 marked a milestone in Polish-German relations when the parliaments of both countries ratified a treaty of friendship and cooperation. On that occasion, Prime Minister Bielecki stated that the common strategic goal of a united Europe had inspired Poland and unified Germany to a level of mutual trust unprecedented in the long history of their coexistence. Bielecki and his successors viewed Germany as Poland's key to integration into the West. In turn, Germany considered Warsaw the gateway to vast economic opportunities in the East. A central element of the treaty was strict adherence to international standards in the treatment of ethnic minorities.
In 1992 bilateral relations continued to improve. On an official visit in the spring, Walesa praised Germany as a democratic, liberal, and modern state and urged greater investment in Poland. In July the new German foreign minister, Klaus Kinkel, visited Warsaw to sign routine customs and border agreements. Kinkel praised Poland's treatment of its German minority, which had gained seven representatives in the Sejm and one in the Senate in the October 1991 parliamentary elections.
Despite the many positive signs of a lasting rapprochement between Germany and Poland, however, in 1992 Poles remained suspicious of their powerful western neighbor. European economic instability during the late summer brought into question the feasibility of the EC goal of monetary and political union and rekindled fears of German economic domination. Widespread vandalism and violence by xenophobic extremists in Germany also contributed to Polish unease.
|Country Studies main page | Poland Country Studies main page|