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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: August 2010

2 - When East Meets West: Postwar German-Polish Reconciliation


Germany and Poland, the two Central and Eastern European neighbors, experienced enduring, traumatic conflicts with one another in modern history, which culminated in the immensely destructive World War II. After the war, the danger of military confrontation continued to haunt the two countries as they were separately allied with the United States and the Soviet Union. However insurmountable the historical and structural hurdles to reconciliation between these countries seemed to be, their relationship began to improve starting in the early 1970s and approached the stage of deep reconciliation in the 1990s. I argue that German-Polish reconciliation to a significant extent can be attributed to the institutional measures of historical settlement that began in the 1970s, including German restitution to Poland and bilateral cooperation among historians. Endorsed at a time when the systemic conditions turned favorable, these efforts nurtured a positive mutual image and trust that cushioned the impact of negative international conditions in the 1980s and paved the way for eventual reconciliation between the unified Germany and Poland after the Cold War.

This chapter begins with an introduction of the historical background of German-Polish relations and divides the reconciliation process after WWII into four periods. Subsequent sections apply realist and national mythmaking theories to each period and assess their relative explanatory power.