Germans Move to Reassure Eastern Europe
Good-neighbor treaty with Poles is seen as bid to overcome the 'tragic legacy of the past'
IN the months leading up to Germany's lightning-fast reunification, Bonn tried to reassure its East European neighbors that there was nothing to fear in a larger Germany. It is now reinforcing that message in the form of good-neighbor treaties, which many see as the last chapter in postwar reconciliation and the basis for the close relations that Germany and France today enjoy.
The first treaty, with Poland, was signed in Bonn on June 17. A treaty with Czechoslovakia, patterned after the German-Polish treaty, is in mid-negotiation. The Germans say they eventually hope to negotiate a friendship treaty with Hungary as well.
"I have the impression," said Poland's Prime Minister Jan Krzysztof Bielecki at the June 17 signing, "that the tragic legacy of the past, especially the last two centuries of Polish-German history, is [itself] becoming history."
The treaty with Poland broadly covers political, cultural, scientific, and economic cooperation and is accompanied by separate agreements on the environment, youth, and border areas.
It also includes a special plum for each partner.
For Warsaw, the German pledge to push Polish membership in the European Community (EC) was crucial.
"I'm convinced that the Polish way to integration with the European Community leads through Germany," Mr. Bielecki said.
For Bonn, the prize was winning guarantees for the rights of a sizable German minority in Poland - a minority of nearly 1 million people, which Poland is officially recognizing for the first time.
The minority issue has been especially controversial in relation both to Poland and Czechoslovakia. At the end of World War II, about 12 million Germans were expelled from former German territories in what are today Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union. Their ancestors had lived there for 700 to 800 years. Those left behind were stripped of their cultural heritage by the Communists.
Those expellees who ended up in West Germany formed a strong lobby. They caused considerable political trouble for Chancellor Helmut Kohl last year, when he was working out an agreement with Warsaw on the integrity of the German-Polish border. They are loud advocates for the German minority in Eastern Europe, and - despite being partially compensated for their lost homes by the West German government - still demand full compensation totaling billions of marks, the right to reclaim their property, move b a
ck to their homeland, and the right to dual citizenship.
The property, compensation, and dual-citizenship issues were intentionally left out of the goodwill treaty with Poland, and Czechoslovakia refuses to include them as well. The possibility of moving back to Poland, though, was vaguely mentioned in an exchange of identical letters attached to the former treaty.
"Including these issues would be reaching back to the past.... These treaties are directed toward the future," says a government official in Bonn. "Trying to reckon out who took what 50 years ago doesn't lead us any further."
If the Germans were to demand their old houses or more compensation for them, the East Europeans would have their own ample demands - in the form of war reparations. As it is, Warsaw still expects Bonn to compensate Poles for forced labor under the Nazis, says Janu Reiter, Poland's ambassador here.
In general, the friendship treaties "bring an enormous measure of calm" to the emotionalism and tension that have characterized German-East European postwar relations, says Eberhard Schulz, a specialist on East Europe for the German Society for Foreign Affairs here.
Despite Bonn's previous treaties with Warsaw and Prague, true reconciliation was never possible because the Communists needed to maintain an enemy to support their ideology, Mr. Schulz says. Even with the new treaties, the passage of time and generations is still needed to fully heal relations, he adds.
Out of the German population of about 80 million, there are about 2 million card-carrying members in the League of Expellees, which opposes the treaty. Group members expressed dismay with the treaty by hiring two aircraft dragging banners that read: "The treaty is a betrayal - Silesia still belongs to us."
Although they outline broad political and economic cooperation, the treaties cover no concrete financial help and no economic projects.
The economic repair work to be done in East Europe is too great a task for budget-stretched Bonn to do alone, say the Germans, who advocate joint measures by the international community. One example of this was last spring's decision by Poland's creditor nations, including Germany, to forgive 50 percent of Poland's debt.
What Bonn is willing to do, says another government official here, is to "get our partners to come in more forcefully ... with a comprehensive program" for East Europe. These countries, he says, are in a "bad fix" after the collapse of the barter and nonconvertible currency trading system in the former East bloc.
At the EC summit at the end of June and the Group of Seven summit next month, Bonn will push for "interim financial assistance, coupled with an opening of the [Western] markets" to help shore up East European exports, the German official says.
"There must be preferential arrangements for their exports to the EC and the West - even in sensitive areas like textiles," the government official says.
But Schulz is skeptical that the EC will simply open its doors to more products of which it already has an ample supply, such as textiles and agricultural goods.
"East Europe can't count on the EC opening its markets," he says.
Despite Bonn's presentation of itself as merely a supporter of economic growth in East Europe, rather than a major supplier of it, the East Europeans say they are at least getting another link to the West.
"Germany is the most important partner for Czechoslovakia," says Tomas Kosta, an adviser to Prague on German issues. "It is the only EC country with which we share a direct border; it is the biggest trading power; and we share many traditions."