2007-12-20

Polish-German Border Dissolves

Nicholas Kulish reports in The International Herald Tribune on a quiet but historically remarkable development due to take place just a few hours from now.

As of midnight Thursday the once contentious border between Poland and Germany will be thrown open. For the most part, it has been more whimper than bang for the fall of one of the most historically fraught and violently fought over frontiers on earth.

Traveling along the 450-odd kilometers, or about 280 miles, of the border - from the German town of Zittau in the south, where the German and Polish dividing line ends at the border of the Czech Republic, to the Polish port city of Szczecin in the north - what is most striking is the relative indifference along the way to the change.

For centuries Poland was Europe's marching ground - when it was not dismembered and wiped off the map entirely by some combination of Germany, Austria and Russia. The Kingdom of Poland battled the Teutonic Knights as far back as the Middle Ages and memories of Hitler's Blitzkrieg storming into the country in September 1939 are still alive in the minds of the elderly and the imaginations of the young.

Once Hitler's army was defeated, millions of Germans were forced out of major cities now in Polish territory, like Breslau, now known as Wroclaw. Cities along the rivers Neisse and Oder that form most of the border became divided towns like Frankfurt-Slubice or Görlitz-Zgorzelec.

That the peaceful dismantling of border posts is largely a ceremonial nonevent testifies to the quiet success of the often-criticized project of European integration.

The report goes on to examine some of the challenges that remain. But they are the normal challenges: linguistic, economic, practical. (More here from the BBC.)

I was impressed during my own travels in Poland with the horrors that beautiful area of the world has endured. It seemed that every locale, no matter how urban or wooded, idyllic or bustling, is the scene of a past massacre. Poland's geographical placement seems to have guaranteed as much: at the crossroads of traditionally imperial powers.

Now, as Europe's peoples continue to join in common purpose, comes this almost unnoticed closing of the book. Here's wishing peaceful days ahead for both sides.

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1 comment:

Grahnlaw said...

We don't know at this stage, how much difficulties the scrapping of internal border controls is going to cause to police forces, but for law-abiding citizens in the new countries the enlargement of the Schengen area is a welcome development.

Along with the expanding Eurozone, this is a core area of European integration.