Kohl takes charm offensive to Poland

`Both sides want to emphasise the sense of fraternity, not the differences'
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The Independent Online


Gradually, they have become the best of friends - up to a point, at least. The German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, today begins a two-day visit to Poland, which is intended to emphasise that Germany is - as the newspaper headlines put it - "Advocatus Poloniae". High on the agenda will be Polish aspirations to become fully fledged members of the Western political, economic and security alliance.

In advance of the visit, there were sudden mini-tensions. In an interview for Polish television, Mr Kohl linked the questions of the Polish wish to join Nato with their equally strong desire to join the European Union. In effect, he appeared to suggest that Nato membership was not possible until Poland was ripe for membership of the EU.

Poland reacted indignantly. Andrzej Olechowski, deputy foreign minister, said he was "very worried" by Mr Kohl's comments. Poland acknowledges that EU membership is a long way off. But it believes that Poland would be ready for Nato membership in just a few years, if only the West is willing.

There have been tensions, too, over an incident where German police cracked down on 250 young Poles illegally seeking work. As one German report noted: "The action touched on a very sore point, for Poles: Germans in uniform, ordering people around, interrogating and selecting. It wakes bad memories." The German ambassador was summoned to the Polish Foreign Ministry for an official protest.

None the less, it seems likely that the visit itself - during which Mr Kohl will address the Polish parliament - will pass off without drama. Jozef Oleksy, the Prime Minister, suggested that Mr Kohl's visit should carry the slogan "Together in Europe"; both sides are keen to emphasise the sense of fraternity, not the differences.

In November 1989, Mr Kohl broke off an official visit to Warsaw to rush back to Berlin for the fall of the Wall. It was not until 1990 that Bonn officially recognised Poland's borders, including part of what used to be eastern Germany. Five years on, however, both countries are keen to look ahead.

The visit is the latest in a series of trips by Mr Kohl and by the President, Roman Herzog, to countries whose relationship with Germany is historically burdened. Last month Mr Kohl made an enormously successful visit to Israel. During his first visit, in 1984, Israelis had been wary at best. This time a university institute was even named after Mr Kohl. Even Der Spiegel magazine, which rarely has a good word for the German chancellor (he is equally rude in return), said the visit had gone well. "He is charming our pants off," it quoted one Israeli as saying.

In Poland, there is an added complication to the search for good relations - reflected in the sensitive reaction to Mr Kohl's comments on Nato and the EU. Poland and Russia are the two countries which suffered most from the Nazis, which is one reason why Germany is now keen to have good relations with both. It wants to be seen as a reliable and generous friend.

That both countries suffered enormously from German aggression is more or less where the similarities end. Poland and Russia are each jealous of the other's relationship with Bonn: Moscow fears that Germany (and therefore Europe) wants to exclude Russia from the cosy Western family, of which Poland is a would-be new member. Poland fears that Germany (and therefore Europe) is ready to do a deal over Poland's head, with what Poles still regard as the powerful and untrustworthy Russian bear.

Poland wants to build a fire-door on the Polish-Russian border. Russia and the West, including Mr Kohl, does not.