By Lukasz Wojcik
Contemporary German-Polish relations are a historical miracle.
Although the two neighboring nations historically conflicted with each other probably like no other pair of neighbors, they have been able to reconcile not only in the political and social dimensions but, above all, in interpersonal spheres, as evidenced by a number of recent polls conducted on the level of mutual sympathy.
It is difficult to find a similar case in the recent history of the world.
In this context, the current crisis in relations between Berlin and Warsaw is only temporary; these two countries have too much in common. But this crisis will not be without cost to both parties.
The offensive side in the present dispute is undoubtedly Poland.
Germany is limiting itself to sporadic answers.
The Polish government accuses Germans of, among other things, of having subjugated the European Union and attacking recent reforms in Poland.
The Polish government also views the business contacts of the Germans with Russia suspiciously, including the planned joint construction of the Nord Stream II gas pipeline in the Baltic.
Today, most controversies in Polish-German relations concern war reparations, which -- according to the Polish government -- Germans did not pay after World War II.
And in the coming months a dispute about the media might break out, with Germany being the largest foreign investor in the Polish media market.
The Polish government will probably seek legal measures to push the Germans out of the Polish media.
All these accusations are viewed from a friendly distance by Germany, at least for the time being. Poland was not a significant topic of the election campaign before the Sunday elections to the Bundestag.
Of the two major German parties, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) is more demanding of the Polish government's respect for rule of law, which has been broken numerous times in the recent two years.
In this aspect, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is more forgiving, which is largely due to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who by her origin (she was born and raised in communist East Germany) mostly shares the Polish perspective when it comes to the Russian threat to Europe.
She also has more understanding for Eastern European countries, which after 1989 suffered a painful transformation from communism.
Nevertheless, there is consensus in Berlin that although good relations with Poland are a priority for Germany, the interest of the whole EU requires that its members -- including Poland -- respect certain standards.
Immediately after the war, Poland became a source of remorse for Germany.
Between 1939 and 1945, Germans killed nearly six million Polish citizens, nearly three million being Jews. So settling with their past required Germans to reconcile with Poles.
However, the first gesture was performed by Polish Catholic bishops. At that time, there was a Communist regime in Poland, who, with the fear of "evil Germans", established the basis of its legitimacy.
In 1965, Polish bishops sent letters to their German counterparts. Their motto was: “We forgive and ask forgiveness.”
This was the beginning of ever more extensive bottom-up cooperation: The Germans helped the refugees from communist Poland, sent packages to Poland and supported opposition against the communists.
After the freedom revolution of 1989, Germany became the most important advocate of Poland's European aspirations.
Berlin played a key role in Poland's admission to NATO and the EU. At the social level, exchange programs were organized between Polish and German schools.
Many friendships were established, intermarriages took place, and hundreds of thousands of Poles went to work in Germany. Today there are more than two million Poles in Germany (Poland has about 38 million citizens).
The friendly attitude of Germany to Poland does not, of course, stem from guilt alone. Poland is important to Germany for several reasons.
Firstly, with the inclusion of Poland in the EU, Germany was no longer a “front” country; that is, Poland became the new buffer separating Germany from the unstable post-Soviet space.
Secondly, an allied Poland strengthened Berlin's position in Europe, giving an alternative to the integration engine based on the alliance between Germany and France.
Thirdly, Germany has included Poland in its economic “blood circulation”, transferring some of its production (with lower costs) there and gaining access to the Polish market for German products and services.
Poland exploits foreign policy for domestic politics
It is difficult to overlook that Poland has also, both politically and economically, benefited from the alliance with Germany.
But Poland is going through a very specific moment today.
Since 2015 Poland has been ruled by the Law and Justice Party (PiS), a right-wing group with a very clear autocratic reflex in foreign policy.
So the ruling camp in Poland has a conviction that foreign policy is, above all, an instrument to be used in internal politics.
This is nothing new in the modern world, but the Polish case is distinguished through the unprecedented degree to which foreign policy is exploited for inner political struggles.
An example of this is the dispute over the extension of the term of Donald Tusk, a Pole, as president of the European Council, or “president of the Union” as he is referred to.
No representative of Eastern Europe has held such an important position in Brussels before.
Tusk, as prime minister of Poland in the years 2007-2014, was well appreciated in Europe, but it cannot be denied that he would not have become the president of the Union if not for the support of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had good relations with him from the beginning.
PiS is very critical of the previous governments in Poland, and especially of Tusk.
And it is not just about economic or political matters. PiS accuses the previous government of treason and of at least co-responsibility for the death of Polish President Lech Kaczynski in a plane crash in 2010.
The PiS government claims that Tusk is a representative of German interests in Brussels, and therefore, when the decision to renew Tusk's term was approaching in March 2017, the Polish government tried to persuade other member states not to vote for the Pole. Finally, all 27 EU countries voted in favor of Tusk, with the exception of Poland.
Polish accusations against Germany
For the present Polish government, the adjective “German” has become an insult.
Germans, from being a close ally in Europe, have now become an enemy of Poland, an enemy which -- according to a PiS politician -- created a condominium with Russia over Poland, and it is necessary to release Poland from it.
According to PiS, Germany is responsible for the migration crisis in Europe in 2015, after hurriedly opening up borders for refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.
First of all, for PiS, the EU is a tool of German hegemony, and in fact, all EU institutions are just a cover for German national interests, driven by the European Commission and the European Court of Justice.
The Polish government does not want such a Union.
Since the beginning, it has counted on an alliance with the U.K. to reverse the integration process and return to the Europe of nations, the so-called “Europe of fatherlands”.
But this plan failed because of Brexit.
A strong EU is an obstacle for the PiS government, which -- contrary to European standards -- wants to subordinate the judiciary to political decisions and disagree with, for example, the relocation of migrants within the EU, although this mechanism was agreed on by the previous Polish government.
According to the current Polish government, it is Germany who is responsible for this EU pressure on Poland. Such a message is received by the Poles through public media, also controlled by PiS.
In fact, in the dispute with Germany, the Polish government is primarily concerned with a spectacle for internal politics.
A good example is the case of war reparations. The Polish government demands from Germany six trillion euros in compensation for human and material losses suffered by Poland during the Second World War.
It does not acknowledge the repudiation of reparations by Poland in the 1950s, because it believes that Poland was fully dependent on the Soviet Union at the time.
The case is questionable legally, but first of all there is no suitable international court before which Poland could sue Germany.
Besides, it is known in advance that no reparations will be accepted by the German government because Poland has no instruments to force the Germans to do so.
So why does Poland provoke a conflict with its closest ally in Europe? Not to get money; because it is politically impossible.
This is about creating an image of an external enemy with which it will be possible to deny responsibility for all its own setbacks in the country.
Germany is a perfect fit for this role. Although Polish-German relations have improved dramatically in the past 30 years, the stereotype of the “bad German” is still strong among Poles who are prone to being frightened.
Poland’s only choice
Rebuilding Polish-German relations after the war was a very laborious task, but it is very easy to reverse this process of reconciliation.
Yet this would be the greatest geopolitical folly of Poles. Poland cannot move itself to another part of the world. For hundreds of years it has lain invariably between two powers: Germany and Russia.
Russia, since Vladimir Putin took power, has become an authoritarian, anti-Western country that attacked Ukraine three years ago and is still dreaming of rebuilding its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.
Poland then has only one option remaining -- Germany: the most peaceful in its own history, understanding the burden of its responsibility for the last war and seeing a key partner in Poland in building an integrated Europe. If Poland rejects an alliance with Germany, it may once again stand alone against Russian power someday in the future.
*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.