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Once Volatile, Crossing Is Opening With a Whisper
SLUBICE, Poland — As of 12:01 a.m. on Friday, the border between Poland and Germany, one of the most violently contested frontiers on earth, is being thrown open. Yet, for the most part, the barriers are coming down more with a whimper than a bang.
Along the 280-odd miles of the border — from the German town of Zittau in the south, where the German and Polish dividing line ends at the border of the Czech Republic, to the Polish port city of Szczecin in the north — what is most striking is the relative indifference to the change.
For centuries, Poland was Europe’s marching ground — when it was not dismembered and wiped off the map by some combination of Germany, Austria and Russia. The kingdom of Poland battled the Teutonic Knights as far back as the Middle Ages, and Hitler’s blitzkrieg in September 1939 lives on in the minds of the elderly and the imaginations of the young.
Once Hitler’s army was defeated, millions of Germans were forced out of major cities now in Polish territory, like Breslau, now known as Wroclaw. Cities along the Neisse and Oder Rivers that form most of the border became divided towns like Frankfurt-Slubice or Görlitz-Zgorzelec.
That the peaceful dismantling of border posts is largely a ceremonial nonevent testifies to the quiet success of the project of European integration, often criticized. But the political border remains, and historical grudges linger just under the surface. Communities on the two sides of the rivers remain culturally and linguistically separate.
“After the war, the cities turned away from each other,” said Ryszard Bodziacki, the mayor of Slubice (pronounced swoo-BEE-tseh), once part of Frankfurt an der Oder, the eastern German city not to be confused with the better-known Frankfurt am Main in the west. Mr. Bodziacki is working with his counterparts across the Oder to reintegrate the two cities, whether through joint work by police forces and fire brigades or by sending Polish children to German schools.
That cooperation will be easier in practice starting Friday. The border controls are ending because Poland is officially joining the borderless zone within the European Union known as the Schengen area, named for the town in Luxembourg where in 1985 a group of Western European countries signed the first agreements to open their boundaries.
Now Poland and eight other countries, most from the former Soviet sphere of Central and Eastern Europe, have adopted the common visa, asylum and external border procedures required for membership. The police will still patrol inside their borders. But once the new members have joined, it will be possible to drive clear from Lisbon, Portugal, to Tallinn, Estonia, without taking out a passport or identity card.
The movement from east of the common border has caused jitters in Germany, where the police have protested what they say will be a surge in crime in Germany once controls at border posts cease.
Crime gravitates toward open borders, their union representatives say, and the earnings gap between Germany and its poorer neighbors like Poland and the Czech Republic tempts criminals. Josef Scheuring, chairman of the federal-police union that organized the protests, said the change had happened on a political timetable.
Politicians made decisions before the technical side could be worked out, on issues like the delayed upgrade to the Schengen information-sharing network and the harmonization of radio frequencies between the German and Polish police. “Greater Europe will only be accepted by the people if it is safe,” Mr. Scheuring said.
But with seeming unanimity, Poles say they view their country’s entry as proof that they have achieved an equal footing with their partners to the west.
“This border is well protected,” said Andrzej Adamczyk, deputy director of the Polish border guard’s border-management office. He pointed out that European Union officials had approved the guard’s work, which included investments in night-vision technology, cameras and new vehicles.
The German news coverage of the border opening, what there is of it, has largely been about Germans’ installing metal shutters, putting up barbed wire and even buying guns. But in conversations with local residents along the way, the fortifiers seem to be a vocal minority rather than part of a popular groundswell.
“It’s reasonable to let people live and travel freely,” said Christian Pfeiffer, 30, a psychologist, who was out with friends at a Christmas market in the German border town of Görlitz.
Even before now, the border was only a minor nuisance, crossed easily by Germans and Poles for cheaper gasoline or cigarettes, or to go to work. In most cases, citizens of the European Union have passed through the checkpoints with little more than a flash of an identity card, no passport necessary.
“I think it’s a good thing,” said Monika Kraska, 22, a hairdresser in Slubice. “There won’t be any queues.” German clients visit the tiny salon where she works for inexpensive haircuts.
Notably absent from the discussion is the long-expressed fear that Poles will pour across the border to snatch German jobs. That is not just happenstance. When Poland joined the European Union in 2004, Germany left significant legal hurdles in place to prevent its neighbors from coming to work.
Pictures and video at:
This hopefully won't be a big deal. Trouble can go both ways.
Interesting that they don't mention the soviets when they discuss moving the 1939 borders.
On the subject of 1939'ish I took my mum to see the stage adaptation of the sound of music for Christmas. It was rather commical how instead of saying heil hitler they said heil "ick!" several times as if they had a speech impediment or hiccups. Seeing as the nazi invasion of Austria is a rather integral part of the storyline I found this political correctness bizarre. Bit like the "don't mention the war" sketch in fawlty towers.
They don't mention the Soviets because in this case it was about German-Polish issues. You could also say it missed out the Jews (for once!!).
The Jews would not be relevant to the movement of borders decision, unlike the soviets who were directly involved. The phrase "Hitler’s blitzkrieg in September 1939 lives on in the minds of the elderly and the imaginations of the young" is interesting because what lives on most in people's minds there is the brutality of the soviet takeover of 1945.
Was the move of the borders decided at Yalta or was this a purely stalinist idea?
... postwar treaties, drawn up by World War II allies Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the United States, that handed over German land to Poland make impossible any legal recourse for ethnic Germans who lost property in the process.
The full article
German President Revives Controversial Expellee Memorial Row
German President Köhler has said expellee groups should be included in plans for a memorial in Berlin, opposed by Poland, to recall the sufferings of ethnic Germans forced out of Eastern Europe at the end of the war.
In an interview with Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, Köhler said he saw "no plausible reason" to exclude such groups from the project approved by Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government.
"Their expertise would prove helpful," the president said in the interview on Saturday, Dec. 29.
Köhler also referred to demands in Poland that the president of the German Federation of Expellees, Erika Steinbach, be denied a role in what the Germans call a "visible sign" to remember the war victims.
The Polish side "would surely understand that any matters related to German personalities would have to be decided in Germany," he said.
According to German estimates, some 15 million German speakers were expelled from their homes in the aftermath of the war. Up to 2 million are thought to have died as a result of the expulsions.
Poland wants joint European museum
Berlin's plans to build a memorial to ethnic Germans expelled from Eastern Europe at the end of World War II remain a strong irritant in German-Polish ties.
Earlier this month, newly elected Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk urged the German government to abandon the plans for the memorial in Berlin during a visit to the city to meet with Merkel.
At the time, Tusk told the online edition of the mass-selling newspaper Bild that Poland would never accept anything that called into question how the war was seen in its historical context.
Poland fears the planned center might also portray the aggressors as victims.
"It is important that the plans for a center against the expulsions in Berlin are abandoned," he said.
Tusk proposed the Germans instead participate in a joint European project for a World War II museum. He called for establishing a museum that takes the fate of the expellees into account "in a conclusive and comprehensive context" of the war as a whole.
He has suggested the museum could be located in the Polish city of Gdansk, where the war began in 1939. Additional countries, such as Israel and Russia, could be involved in the planning for the museum.
In the interview with Köhler, the German president said he saw no contradiction between the German project and the proposal by Tusk for a museum in Gdansk.
Both facilities could form part of a European network of remembrance that could make a contribution towards reconciliation between the different peoples, he said.
Property claims surface again
Last week, a senior Polish diplomat revived another issue that has strained ties between Berlin and Warsaw, when he called on Germany to assume responsibility for possible property claims against Poland by German World War II expellees who fled territory the Allies handed over to Poland after the war.
"The issue for us is for the German state to take responsibility in a more unequivocal way for all possible claims of German citizens against Polish citizens," Wladyslaw Bartoszewski said in an interview posted this week on the Web site of Poland's commercial TVN24 news channel.
A respected survivor of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz and a two-time minister of foreign affairs, Bartoszewski was recently nominated a special envoy for delicate foreign affairs matters by Poland's new liberal government.
Germany and Poland should sign a joint declaration making Berlin legally responsible for any compensation claims by Germans who left behind property in what became Polish territory after World War II as they fled or were forced out following Germany's defeat, said Bartoszewski.
The 85-year old called for a "diplomatic-legal document formulated as a declaration by the two heads of state or two prime ministers."
German-Polish ties on way to recovery
Threats by German expellees and their heirs to sue Poles who took over abandoned German homes or land after the war have set off alarm bells in Poland.
Repeated pledges by Germany not to support any such claims have failed to allay fears among Poles worried they could lose their homes.
The Polish government has long argued that postwar treaties, drawn up by World War II allies Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the United States, that handed over German land to Poland make impossible any legal recourse for ethnic Germans who lost property in the process.
Over the last two years, under the leadership of President Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother, then Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland's relations with Germany reached their lowest point since the end of communist rule in 1989.
The pair pursued a conflict-prone nationalist brand of foreign policy which the new liberal government under Tusk, who was elected in October, has vowed to transform into a more conciliatory, cooperative style.
Everyone suffered greatly and there’s not a whole lot that can be done other than move on and stop contemplating wrongs from ages ago. Old Germans are just as bad as old Poles when it comes to invoking WWII.
Once that whole generation dies off the topic will disappear.
And according to EU statutes all Europeans are subject to “free and unrestricted movement” and can purchase property at will anywhere within the Union. Want your grandpa’s farmhouse back? Make an offer. You’ll probably get a deal. Poles are buying up East Germany right now, it’s much cheaper than Poland.
"... postwar treaties, drawn up by World War II allies Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the United States, that handed over German land to Poland make impossible any legal recourse for ethnic Germans who lost property in the process."
Same goes for the land Poles lost to the East. Including land my father's family owned. But I didn't mention the border movements to open up that old chestnut of a debate... more to highlight the seeming fear western press has even now of criticising soviet russia.
Isn't it bizarre that property is cheaper in Germany than Poland
East Germany sucks!
Even now it looks evil.
Old Germans are just as bad as old Poles when it comes to invoking WWII.
Mike C I don't know who taught you history, this is a offensive comment and a insult to those Poles who died in the 2nd WW. Most Poles have forgiven the Germans for this event, but it is doubtful if the Germans will ever respect Poland and its people.
I was referring to those old Germans who think they have a chance of getting their property back offbeat. Let’s not get dramatic.
Those Germans who fled advancing Red and Polish armies got exactly what they deserved. They knew what was coming to them for many war crimes their elected government committed. Current Prussian attempts to portray themselves as victims are laughable from both legal and moral standpoints.
I am personally sick of idiot politicians on both sides making this an issue.
Times have changed. Time to move on and stop playing victims.
Fair enough Mike C... How you any facts to support your claim that real estate is worth more in Poland than the old East Germany..??
evidence?? It's a market condition...east Germany along Polish border is poor and depopulated…go on the Polish mls and compare prices..there are more and more listings on the german side.
Cheaper for many Poles to live on the German side and commute to work.
"but it is doubtful if the Germans will ever respect Poland and its people. "
I think they will at some point. Many still don't at the moment but I hope that changes. Germans and Poles have very different temperaments. Although there is much overlap in the cultures, there are also many differences.
"Those Germans who fled advancing Red and Polish armies got exactly what they deserved"
I don't agree with that. As with any totalitarian regime, many germans were forced to conform to the nazis. The first inmates of camps were germans who did not agree. Many were brainwashed into believing its message - a message designed to be be believed by the masses. It was manipulation on a grand scale using clever psychology. Those who suffered most were as ever the innocents on all sides.
"Times have changed. Time to move on and stop playing victims."
My father-in-law grew up in Solec upon Vistula, a town which had German and Jewish populations. He's still traumatised by the memory of a couple of local German farmers, a grandfather and grandson, who were captured by the Soviets.
He saw them awaiting their own murder, sitting together under a tree on a sunny day with the most disconsolate faces he's ever seen in his life.
From the Telegraph newspaper
New migration after EU relaxes border control
Thousands of asylum seekers are on the move across Europe as a result of the relaxation of internal border controls.
A new system intended to make it easier for European Union citizens to move between member countries has led to a dramatic rise in illegal immigrants.
At the Traiskirchen refugee camp in Austria, numbers have more than doubled, from 300 to 770, since the rules were changed just before Christmas.
Many, travelling on foot, in vans and taxis, had started their journeys in the disputed Russian territory of Chechnya.
Elena Gairabeka and her five children walked across the border into Austria from the Czech Republic after initially leaving Russia and entering the EU through Poland.
The group, which included a six-month-old baby, faced night-time temperatures of minus 20C during the journey.
Mrs Gairabeka said they made the trip to join up with her husband Muslim, who had entered Austria illegally five years earlier.
Mrs Gairabeka said they arrived in Poland by train but had been unable to continue their journey until the border rules changed on December 21.
The new rules mean that staff at the internal borders can no longer check passports.
The rules do not apply to Britain and Ireland, which are not part of the so-called Schengen zone.
Last month, The Sunday Telegraph exposed lax controls on the new eastern frontier and fears that many more illegal migrants would be able to enter the EU.
"We were able to get to Poland without a visa, and we applied for asylum - that meant we could stay while the application was processed," Mrs Gairabeka said.
"Now the borders have opened I have been able to cross to Austria. We hitched a lift in a lorry part of the way and walked the rest. But I am worried they will send us back to Poland."
Most asylum seekers arriving in Traiskirchen had few possessions and little protections against the bitter cold.
But Mrs Gairabeka said it was worth the discomfort.
"To be honest, we don't care if we live here or in Poland or Britain," she said. "The main thing is that after five years we want to be a family again and my children want their father.
" Mr Gairabeka previously had to travel to Poland to meet up with his family.
Almost 2,000 soldiers still patrol Austria's borders, but they are powerless to check the passports of new arrivals.
With a border that includes the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia, Austria has been the first to experience the wave of new arrivals.
Traiskirchen's mayor, Franz Gartner, said: "The government held parties to celebrate Schengen but never bothered to evaluate the security situation properly. If it is not going to close these borders it needs more camps."
Austria's interior minister, Guenther Platter, pledged that the new arrivals would be sent back to Poland, warning: "Anyone who comes to us from another EU country has no right to asylum here."
German police, who opposed the opening of the borders, have also reported a sharp increase in the number of illegal migrants entering the country.
Some politicians are demanding the borders once again be closed.
Harald Vilimsky, secretary-general of the Austrian Freedom Party, said there had been an "avalanche of asylum seekers", mainly from Russian-speaking countries.
Gerald Grosz, of the Alliance for the Future of Austria party, said the government was turning Austria into "an El Dorado for fake asylum applicants and criminals".
"Austria's interior minister, Guenther Platter, pledged that the new arrivals would be sent back to Poland, warning: "Anyone who comes to us from another EU country has no right to asylum here.""
Ooh! does Gordie know this??!!