THE recent vote by both East and West German parliments on the inviolability of the Oder-Neisse border is a small but important symbolic act. The Polish border issue, and Helmut Kohl's waffling on it in January, caused Germany serious damage in the world's eyes. Treating the issue lightly was blind. Germany has yet to recover from the damage. But the resolution voted by the Bundestag and the Volkskammer helps. It affirms the Helsinki accord on borders. Chancellor Helmut Kohl's words were heartening: ``Poland's border with Germany, as it stands today, is final.''
Still to finish is a binding agreement to supercede the current West German constitution, which honors pre-war borders existing deep into current Polish territory. A final agreement will be voted on by a united Germany. It should unconditionally recognize current Polish borders - guarantee them. A final agreement should be worked out together with Poland. The Germanys consulted with Polish president Tadeusz Mazowiecki on the language of the recent resolution, which is one reason the Poles seem happy with it.
The resolution can begin to assuage Polish fears. The border issue fed deep-seated Polish concerns about an expansionist Germany. Those concerns have been so great in past months that a number of Polish officials privately said that without an unconditional statement of inviolable borders from Germany, the Poles would consider a new bilateral security pact with the Soviet Union. Now they can again think about leaning toward the West.
Both Germany and Poland have legitimate grievances against each other. The status of ethnic Germans in Poland still has to be worked out. They deserve full political and social rights.
On the other hand, the Poles have felt consistently snubbed by the Germans. For example, while visa requirements for Czechs and Hungarians have eased, they've stiffened for Poles. Germans don't want Polish economic refugees.
The border vote is the kind of suspicion-lessening gesture needed as Germany reunifies and Poland feels economic and political birth pangs.