The German Predicament: Memory and Power in the New Europe

By Andrei S. Markovits; Simon Reich | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT The World of Post-Communism: Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary
with Manik Hinchey

BMW is building an automobile plant in South Carolina. They say that they will produce all-terrain, all-purpose four-wheel drive vehicles there. Boy, we better be worried. Last time the Germans built these kind of machines you know quite well what they did with them: they drove them straight to Poland.

-- David Letterman, The Late Show

Reactions to German unification on the part of Germany's eastern neighbors were varied and heavily influenced by each country's historical experience. The response of the Hungarians was extremely positive, but the Poles and Czechs were decidedly more ambivalent. Fifty years after the end of World War II, there is strong evidence that, at least, in Poland and the Czech Republic, the memories of Nazi brutality are still alive. Indeed, they have been passed on to younger generations.


Poland

In the New York Times/CSA survey 2 out of 3 Polish respondents expressed overt opposition to German unification; a survey conducted by the Economist in collaboration with the Los Angeles Times found that Poland was the only country in which German unification evoked "distinct fear" as opposed to "unease" or "concern." It is evident that of all Europeans the Poles have been the most concerned about the changing nature of German power in Europe. This finding is hardly surprising; the troubled history of relations between Poles and Germans over the past seven hundred years made us expect nothing less.

The violence began with the Teutonic Order's subjugation of Poland during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and ended with Polish victory at the Battle of Tannenberg in 1410. The partition of Poland by Russia and two German states, Prussia and Austria, in the late eighteenth century destroyed Poland as a nation until the end of World War I. Not surprisingly, one result has been a wealth of mutual stereotypes. The Polish word for German (niemiec) derives from the word for "mute" (niemy), that is, someone who cannot speak Polish. The Poles also saw the Germans as brutal, powerful, cold, and ruthless. The term

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