On the 17th of June, 1991, Poland and Germany signed a ‘Good Neighbourship and Friendly Cooperation Treaty’.
This Treaty formed the third part of a ‘triad’ that unfolded as efforts were taken to build a solid foundation for a new quality of Polish-German relations. This triad consisted of:
1. The Reconciliation Mass in Krzyzowa (this opened up new opportunities for dialog),
2. ‘The German-Polish Border Treaty’ (1990) (this treaty settled long standing territorial issued), and thirdly,
3. The ‘Good Neighbourship and Friendly Cooperation Treaty’, (designed to create a solid foundation for political, economic, social, scientific and cultural reconciliation).

Krzyżowa.  Before the Treaty

The ‘Good Neighbourship and Friendly Cooperation Treaty’, which has stimulated and accelerated the Polish-German agreement so much, probably could not have been negotiated and signed so quickly had it not been preceded by the Mass of Reconciliation in Krzyżowa on 12th of November 1989.

The Mass was attended by the first non-communist prime minister of Poland, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, and the chancellor of Germany, Helmut Kohl, who at the time was working towards the reunification of Germany. At the ‘sign of peace’ portion of the Mass, the two leaders embraced each other. Their symbolic gesture of peace gave the Polish-German political dialogue a new quality. It was an expression of the conviction that the profound distrust that divided Poles and Germans cannot be overcome solely through political negotiations. And, those mutual relations cannot be viewed solely from the perspective of political interest.

Krzyżowa is a place which symbolizes opposition to nationalism and lawlessness; dialogue beyond divisions and a longing for a free, democratic and united Europe. It is no coincidence that it was here both politicians decided to give a clear sign: that after decades of hostility, at a time of breakthrough changes in Central Europe, and despite many differences and adversities, they wanted to jointly build a value-based, partner-like, neighbourly, friendly cooperation. They were signaling that they perceived the future Polish-German bilateralism in the European context; that in their opinion, the quality of European integration and cooperation between the two parts of Europe, divided so far, would strongly be influenced by the quality of Polish-German dialogue.

The Treaty and the International Youth Meeting Center in Krzyżowa

The Treaty is particularly important to our Foundation. It was on its basis that the Polish-German Youth Cooperation was established, which contributed to the development of the International Youth Meeting Center in Krzyżowa - one of the largest centers of this type in Europe. Over the past thirty years, the Center has managed to implement thousands of educational projects with the participation of tens of thousands of young Europeans, mainly Poles and Germans.

It is in Krzyżowa, but also in Oświęcim and many other places that organize youth exchanges, that young people stop perceiving their neighboring country through the prism of prejudices and stereotypes, learn about previously unknown to them history and culture, learn dialogue, and respect for diversity and solidarity. In many Poles and Germans who actively engage today in building good bilateral relations in a united Europe, their interest in a neighbour country, was born during Polish-German youth meetings. Sometimes this interest turns into a lifetime passion. It is also thanks to these people that the "fatalism of hostility" (Stanisław Stomma), which determined Polish-German relations in the past, is less and less a threat to our common and good future.

Poland and Germany in Europe

Over the past thirty years, the societies of our two countries have achieved a great deal and at the same time have changed a lot themselves. Poland to a large extent made up for the economic and social stagnation resulting from the communist domination by becoming a member of NATO and the European Union. Germany united and consolidated its position as the keystone of European integration. It would not be possible without the close cooperation of both countries. Their joint success resulted from the enormous effort of the political elite and many representatives of the civil society. We appreciate both this effort and its real historical effects.

Despite the progress, Polish-German relations in recent decades have not been free from tensions. These tensions most often resulted from the implementation of political and economic projects, or in the area of the culture of remembrance, where one country did not sufficiently take into account the needs of their neighbor. Too often "reconciliation" has turned out to be a more of a rhetorical reference rather than a genuine foundation of a relationship, and "rapprochement" a political tactic rather than a strategy to promote authentic closeness.

However, a critical assessment of the development of Polish-German relations should not lead us back to their cooling down or distrust, but lead us to a stronger determination towards an ever deeper dialogue. This should include even more intense activities for authentic partnership, solidarity and community building between Poles and Germans as part of a united Europe. We double down on this focus, for we remember that the alternative is a return to national animosities and conflicts. In the face of the many problems that humanity will face in the next decades and in the shadow of powerful states that have not renounced their imperial plans, such an alternative may be tragic for Poles and Germans.

Can the Treaty still be an inspiration?

Today, thirty-two years after the Reconciliation Mass and thirty years after the signing of the ‘Good Neighborship and Friendly Cooperation Treaty’, we need to return to thinking about Polish-German relations in the way that the participants of the Reconciliation Mass in Krzyżowa, and later the authors and signatories of the Treaty, thought about them.
Then the world changed profoundly. The uprising for freedom in Poland, and then also in the GDR and other Central European countries, created opportunities as well as threats unheard of for decades. The then political elites of Poland and Germany found an adequate response to this situation: dialogue, understanding, cooperation, solidarity, European integration - despite all, sometimes enormous, difficulties. We owe to this wise answer the robust continuation of the decades-long peace between our nations and the development of our partnership.

Today, history has sped up again. The climate crisis, digitalization, the development of biotechnology or a pandemic create enormous threats, but also opportunities to develop solutions that will make the world better and safer. Contemporary challenges, like those of thirty years ago, call for an united response. We believe that even today, despite all the difficulties, sometimes enormous, this response must be dialogue, cooperation and solidarity. Due to the nature and scale of today's threats and challenges, we cannot cope with them by acting each only in our own interest, or against each other.

Krzyżowa. We are building a diverse, responsible civil society

The Krzyżowa Foundation for Mutual Understanding in Europe is the work of civil society and it cares about the social dimension of Polish-German relations, perceiving them in the context of European understanding and civic involvement, a culture of democracy and cooperation beyond divisions. It works in the spirit of openness and social inclusion.

At the same time, the Foundation is aware that grass-roots initiatives create space for politics to act constructively, inspire it, and in part - as the process of Polish-German reconciliation before 1989 has clearly shown - even force it to take specific steps.

We will not cease our efforts to ensure that the next generations of Poles and Germans better understand their neighboring country and together care for a better future. We are glad that on this path we meet many who think like us.

 

Presidiums of the Foundation Council and Supervisory Board as well as the Management Board of the Krzyżowa Foundation for Mutual Understanding in Europe
prof. dr hab. Waldemar Czachur, Ole Jantschek, dr Benedict Schneiders, dr Agnieszka Łada, Dorota Krajdocha, dr hab. Robert Żurek

 

8 x Reconciliation

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