Historical Retribution?

YaltaThe Yalta Conference really did create more problems than the Big Three could have ever imagined (see previous post). In fact, we’re still picking up the pieces of a shattered Europe today. Politically, we may be uniting and drawing closer to each other but culturally and (especially) historically there are still many matters and events that divide the Old Continent.

Historical Identity
History is the receptacle of all knowledge that comes to form a group identity. But what if that group wishes to change its identity? Then it changes its history or at least attempts to change history. Commentators, historians and sociologists are both concerned and fascinated with Erika Steinbach‘s fervent claims for a Centre for Expulsions to be built in Berlin commemorating the Germans who were removed from their homes and made to re-settle west of the Odra River.

Historical Context
Nobody claims that these people should not be remembered. The problem is that there is a peculiar lack of perspective, proportion and dignity in the whole affair. Steinbach, much to the annoyance of (literally) millions of Poles as well as many other nationalities in this region fails to see the fact that the Poles also suffered through forced evictions from their homes in the former Eastern Territories. In fact, many historians claim that the ‘eastern’ expulsions were more terrifying, brutal and often more bloody than the western ones (although this is besides the point). What is particular painful for Polish people is the fact that the Poles – not the Germans – were the primary victims of the war (as it was the German Army which invaded Poland and not the other way around).

History Revisionism
Steinbach is set on re-writing history, or rather playing with historical relativism. Her argument is that these German expellees should also be remembered and she has spent many years playing the ‘poor German expellee’ card which of course has endeared her to many people. At the same time, her failure to commemorate the millions that suffered east of the Odra is indicative of her stance on the matter.

Historical Relativism
Historical relativism is the key term here. One cannot simply ‘leave out’ important chapters of history in order to discuss another. Officials have been imploring Steinbach to create a Centre for Expulsions that would commemorate all the peoples of Europe who were forced to leave their homes. There is a long history of expulsions and forced migrations in European history which includes mosts of the continent’s nations as well as the Jews of Ashkenaz. By focusing on the German ‘problem’ and German suffering Steinbach is conveniently avoiding the majority of Europe’s post-war expellees who were predominantly Polish.

Historical Problem
Furthermore, the idea of building the centre in Berlin is more than just a little comical. Why not Wrocław or Gdańsk? In the context of history, the centre is a stark example of arrogant manipulation. In light of German-Polish relations, the centre is damaging. In the face of European unification and cooperation the centre is simply an abomination.


8 thoughts on “Historical Retribution?

  1. Merkel seems far too intelligent to actually let the project go ahead, at least in the form Steinbach currently suggests; presumably there’s a degree of political advantage to be gained by letting S. spout her nonsense in the German media, especially in the less progressive East of Germany, but I don’t really see this as becoming a reality. It also helps that Donek is now the main face of Poland’s diplomacy to the world, and not Jarek.

    Yes, the whole affair is poisonous, and the Poles have the obvious historical right to be aggrieved. I am not a relativist (which people accuse me of, esp. when being an atheist comes up in the conversation), and I agree that there are absolute rights and wrongs, and degrees of wrongess exist. But is this Steinbach thing really a matter which can derail Polish/German and central European relations in general? Won’t she froth off into rabid oblivion after the next German elections, which I seem to think are coming quite soon?

  2. First of all, Merkel HAS given the go-ahead to this project much to my surprise.

    “…is this Steinbach thing really a matter which can derail Polish/German and central European relations…?”

    Arguments/disputes/wars have exploded over far less…

  3. About a week or two ago I heard in the news about a plan, backed by PO, to build a massive WW II museum on Westerplatte, with one segment being the “hall of the expulsed in the result of WW II” of all nations, including Germans (and to that Lech Walesa said he will object). If I remember everything right Tusk was supposed to discuss that idea with Merkel anytime now. Anyone heard about/kept a track on that?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s