Robin Lautenbach (Journalist, ARD)

14.04.2010 - Interview conducted by Maureen Wiley

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Do you think the recent tragedy in Poland will significantly impact the relationship between Germany and Poland?
It will have an impact in the sense the Polish people are very grateful to feel the empathy from the German side, from normal people, on a daily basis, up to the highest functions of the German state. It was very important, I think, that the German president right away did proper steps to show sympathy to the Polish people, and they all are going to the funeral. This you might call political show business, but I think in a situation like this, symbolic steps are very important.

What are the most significant political issues that strain the Polish-German relationship?
It is very hard to define them because there are not so many. The political problems of the past are of the past. There was the problem of the pipeline in the Baltic, but it will be built and Poland has accepted it and in the end Poland will be connected to the European gas pipeline network and maybe even profit from it.† The political resentment that this was a deal between Germany and Russians, going around Poland and talking to them, well this is almost history, right now. The second question that has been long and widely debated is the question of the museum of the ex-police, and Erica Steinbach being the head of the organization of the German ex-police and this has been settled by the Angela Merkel government in a way that is probably better for both side, so this is now a more internal political question. I also want to make clear that in the worst times of the troubles, the relations between people have never been damaged. On the contrary, there are polls showing that the mutual acceptance and sympathy of the people steadily rose whatever their significant differences may be.

Opinion polls have shown that German have a higher regard for Polish people than they had ten years ago. How do you account for this? Have you noticed any cultural bridges being built between Germany and Poland?
The Germans finally realized that Poles are at least as hardworking as the German believe they are themselves, which has always been a stereotype. The Germans have found out that the Polish economy is strongly growing and they understood that it is not the poorhouse of the continent any longer. It is not only a reservoir for cheap labor or people who want to steal German cars. It is a real normal neighborhood. There are still of course, differences in the income level, in many respects. But many Germans also have now been to Poland, seen that itís a very dynamic country, and still a rather young country.

Why do you think Polish people are so capable of openly discussion the tragic events in Polandís past?
Well it is a part of their cultural heritage. In the 19th†century Poland did not exist. There was only Polish literature, the church, and the Polish language. With these things they defended their identity against the powers from outside. This was a time when insurrections took place that always failed. This created this self-image of Poland, which has good sides and bad sides. It has good sides because it helped them, for example, to survive the Second World War and communism and still believe that there will be a free Poland. It has bad sides in the sense that it is sometimes quite negative, self-destructive, and mythological.