The EU: Poland’s Fourth Partition?

Here in Wroclaw, it’s a bright and sunny first day of voting in the Polish EU accession referendum. More guerrilla anti-EU material has popped up, in a last-minute attempt to change people’s minds – this time, it was in the form of posters showing the famous EU twelve-yellow-stars-on-a-dark-blue-field emblem – with a swastika in the middle, and the caption up above “Rozbior Polski” – the partition of Poland. That should strike a chord with historically-oriented Polish voters: in the famous 18th-century partitions of Poland, Poland’s neighboring states (then Prussia, Russia, and the Austrian Empire) agreed among themselves to simply reach out and grab the pieces of Polish territory that they wanted, and Poland was too weak at the time to do anything to defend herself. There were three of these land-grabs, and by the end of the third there was no more Polish land to seize any more, as it all had been taken – and Poland was not to re-emerge as an independent nation for more than a century, namely in 1918 directly after the First World War.

The clear, if not explicitly-stated message of the poster, then, is that accession to the EU will enable Germany to attain the hegemony over Poland that it had and then lost (to the U.S.S.R., which took it up for itself) during the Second World War. And, indeed, sometimes when you take a close look at the Eurochange jangling in your pocket, you could forgiven for wondering just who it was who won the war. You might recall that individual Eurozone countries decorate the Eurocoins they are authorized to mint with national images, so that on the German one- and two-Euro coins you see the German eagle, and on the 50-, 20-, and 10-Eurocent coin there is the Brandenburg Gate, built to stage the Reich’s victory parades. (Check them out, here.) What’s more, given that countries are given permission to issue Euros in proportion to their GDP, it follows that there are more German Eurocoins in circulation than any other type. (In Amsterdam I most often encounter the images of Dutch Queen Beatrix in my small change, of course, but it’s not an infrequent thing to get a German coin.)

Still, all of this aside, the message of this anti-EU poster is patently ridiculous. Because of the size of its population and central location – and, many would also say, because of the cleverness and sense of organization of its population – Germany ever since its unification into one nation in 1871 was going to present a problem “fitting” in a nice way into a Europe that it would rather be tempted to simply dominate. World Wars I and II were attempts to attain that domination – this is hardly any brilliantly original geopolitical thesis – and, even though immediately after the latter Germany was divided, there was still the classic problem of how to “fit” the two parts into their respective parts of Europe. The Soviet Union solved the problem very well – if temporarily – by basically stationing twenty divisions of combat troops in the DDR. In the West, the European Coal and Steel Community (later leading to the European Economic Community, precursor to today’s European Union) was the solution found to “embed” Germany in a super-national organization which would become so key to the Continent’s economic prosperity that war between any of its members would become unthinkable.

That task of tying down and controlling a potential Euro-superpower which had already gotten out of control to devastating effect twice in recent modern history became all the more urgent with German reunification in 1990, but leading European politicians (principally Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterand) were well aware of this, and pushed a plan to intensify this interdependence among member-nations by instituting a common European currency, the Euro. Now the prospect of any falling-out is frightening indeed: How can we ever go back to the old system of national currencies? How can we point out that that group of money there belongs to, say, the French government and the French people, that group over there to the Italians, etc.? (The individual national images on the coins I’ve already mentioned are no solution: They apply only to the coins, not to the banknotes, and besides we all know that monetary wealth overwhelmingly exists not in the form of physical cash but in the form of simple numbers kept in bank records.)

Back in the mid-1950s, Germany’s traditional enemy, France, figured out this new way of controlling Germany, in effect by embracing her – mostly economically, but also in the field of atomic energy, although since then the areas of cooperation have of course expanded even more. Polish accession to the EU, among the other things it means, will also mean Poland “embracing” Germany in a similar way, to control her – but not directly, in some sort of mirror-image to the direct and often cruel sway Germany has had over Poland in the past. Rather, it will be as part of a larger, super-national organization in which, it is true, Germany will often have the largest group of votes (such as in the number of German members of the European Parliament), but in which Germany can never simply impose her unilateral will, because she can always be outvoted. For that matter, Poland’s size will gain her no mean level of representation within EU institutions herself – the equivalent of Spain. Any talk of “partition,” any fear of Germany, then, must be counted as the most ignorant kind of demagogy.

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