Germany, Prussia and a policy of cohesion. From where did Berlin get the idea for today’s EU? (Part 2)

Kaiser Wilhelm II and his generals (Source: Public Domain/Library of Congress)

While writing a synthesis of the history of Prussia, it often came to me that the Hohenzollern state could be treated as a precursor to the EU. After all, the Prussian bureaucracy is nothing more than a prototype of a technocratic Brussels devoid of democratic legitimacy, which knows everything better than the rest.

Grzegorz Kucharczyk


Poland? What Poland?

In this context, Tauber half-heartedly recalls that the Hohenzollerns always wanted to attract new taxpayers and new recruits (as well as the parents of future recruits). On the other hand, he strongly emphasizes the opinion that Prussia “was so wise a country that it introduced as much tolerance towards various religions as possible. In those days, it was an incredible and far-reaching step. […] In this way, Prussia in 18th century Europe was an advocate of freedom of religion and conscience of both its male and female citizens – on the one hand, and on the other hand – state [religious] tolerance, which deserves to be noticed”.

It is true that someone could say that from the 16th century, the Commonwealth was a “state without a stake”, that in the 17th century, when German countries were ravaged by the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), which arose out of religious quarrels, Poland hosted Protestant-Catholic “colloquia charitativa” (fraternal talks) – for instance in Toru ńin 1645; that in the 18th century, Tatars living in the Commonwealth were allowed to build new mosques without any problems. At the beginning of his book, Peter Tauber emphasizes that he only sees “the enlightened and liberal Prussia” as an important inspiration for contemporary German politics. When reading this publication, however, it is impossible not to get the impression that he only sees Prussia as that – “enlightened” and “liberal”.

The apologia of the Hohenzollern monarchy is even easier to undertake if one only knows its history rather superficially. Like Peter Tauber, who is entangled by the Hohenzollerns. He does not know who was whose son, but he certainly knows that “the Prussian state was completely indifferent to the cultural identity of its inhabitants”, and that “Poles who entered its borders as a result of the Partitions of Poland, remained Poles”. Somehow, they succeeded. After all, they had it easy, because they fell under the rule of the most tolerant state in the whole of 18th century Europe (see above), “and the political goal of Germanizing Poles comes from the nationalist ideas of the Imperial Reich”.

Tauber knows nothing about the preparation of the “Prussian-Polish amalgam” in our lands by the Prussian authorities after 1795. He had not heard of Theodor von Schön, the head of the Prussian administration in Polish Pomerania after 1815, who had the ambition to make “Slavs and slaves free and German”. He forgot about Eduard Flottwell, the head of the Prussian administration in Greater Poland (1830 – 1840) who Germanized public offices and removed all Poles from the administration of the Grand Duchy of Poznań. He did not read about the eager votes of the Prussian liberals during the Spring of Nations for the principle of “healthy national egoism”, which ordered the Frankfurt parliament (1848) to adopt a resolution to include Polish lands within a future German Reich, united upstream (not through Prussian militarism).

The chapter on the challenges of contemporary German migration policy begins with Tauber with a quote from King Frederick II that “enriching a country with one inhabitant is worth more than expanding its borders”. It so happened that during the entire long reign of this Hohenzollern ruler (1740–1786), one and the other went hand in hand. The increase in the numbers of those subjected to the rule of Frederick II was not achieved thanks to the work of his “migration offices” in Amsterdam or London, but thanks to territorial gains (Silesia, Polish lands) made as a result of aggression directed at the countries neighboring Prussia. P. Tauber does not seem to see this at all.

In the footsteps of Bismarck and Rathenau

This, of course, is surprising and disturbing. The latter emotion grows dramatically after reading excerpts from the book devoted to the foreign policy of contemporary Germany. In this regard, the Christian Democrat politician demands that Germany take “greater responsibility for Europe”. As we know, all Hohenzollerns thought “European” to him. So is the faithful servant of the Prussian monarchy, Otto von Bismarck. On several occasions Tauber cites the words of the “iron chancellor” describing his role in Europe as “honest broker”. This is how Bismarck labeled himself on the eve of the 1878 Congress of Berlin in the aftermath of the recent Russo-Turkish War; a congress where the principle of “all about you without you” was in force (the Polish issue was not present at all at the Berlin congress; nor was this included in the portfolio of “honest brokers”).

German politicians striving to “take more responsibility for Europe” would do best to follow the example of the German Reich created by Bismarck in 1871. The point is not that Germany would dominate Europe like Prussia dominated in the imperial Reich, but after all – writes Tauber – “just like many people in Germany back then – not only the elite – agreed to the leading role of Prussia, and even wanted it imposed, so today in Europe the question is: “What will the Germans say?”. Whether we like it or not, others in Europe expect more responsibility from us, and you could even say – leadership”.

I do not know if Peter Tauber listened to the “Berlin tribute” of Minister Radek Sikorski, but the reference to the Bismarck Reich in an affirmative tone (otherwise condemned by the author for inciting nationalist ideas pushing such tolerant Prussia to Germanization of Poles) is quite significant in itself. Tauber’s reference to the figure of Walther Rathenau is just as significant, calling him “the last Prussian who stood against the nationalist” German Europe and who appealed to the European identity of the Germans. It is the same Rathenau who, as the head of the republican diplomacy of the German Reich, in 1922 concluded a pact with the Soviets in Rapallo, which, apart from its official goals (establishing diplomatic relations, economic cooperation), was aimed – as German politicians said – “to finish off Poland”.

From Spinelli to Bismarck

Peter Tauber ends his book with the words: “In this [modern] Germany there is still a whole lot of Prussia. And that’s good!”. Depends for whom. The voice of the former secretary general of the CDU is important because it is one of the elements of Prussian reconstruction in contemporary Germany. The final note of this policy was the opening of the Hohenzollern Royal Castle, which was rebuilt from the ground up in the center of Berlin this year as the Humboldt Forum, conceived as “a display window for world science and world culture”, writes Tauber. As you can see, “the sky is the limit” for Prussia. So maybe it is not Schuman or Spinelli who are in fact the founding fathers of a united Europe, but Frederick II and Bismarck?

This article was published in December 2021 in “Do Rzeczy” magazine”.