Wednesday, April 17, 2024
European Union

The German problem with Poland. Even liberals despised Poles

Session of the Nationalversammlung (German National Assembly) at the Paulskirche in Frankfurt; the speaker is Robert Blum, ca. June 1848. Coloured Drawing by Ludwig von Elliott, 1848. Historic Museum Frankfurt a.M. (Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons)

Zygmunt Krasinski wrote in one of his letters: “I did not attend the sessions in Frankfurt, because I hate to listen to lies of both the attackers and the defenders, and I do not have enough saliva to spit in the eyes of four hundred faces at once.”

Prof. Grzegorz Kucharczyk

In May, the state of Hesse and the city of Frankfurt am Main held celebrations to mark the 175th anniversary of the convening of the first all-German National Assembly in the former imperial city, which went down in history as the Frankfurt Parliament from the meeting location. The inauguration of the celebration was graced by the presence of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Social Democratic Party), who stressed that the anniversary is an opportunity to celebrate the long tradition of German parliamentarism, constitutionalism, and the rule of law. Thus, all that makes up “European values” today.

The anniversary celebrations are to last a whole year. Lectures, exhibitions, conferences, and concerts are to remind Frankfurters and all citizens of the Bundesrepublik that the path toward “freedom and diversity” was being paved by the Main River more than a century and a half ago.

In a column published a month ago in these pages, I mentioned how the SPD’s anniversary celebrations with Chancellor Scholz served to obscure the historical truth about the Social Democrats’ “freedom jam,” which long before Schröder had them making political and economic deals with Soviet totalitarians. The ongoing celebrations commemorating the Frankfurt Parliament’s deliberations serve a similar purpose, all things considered. They commemorate the event and the stereotypes that have grown up around it.

The first is that the German National Assembly, sitting in Frankfurt from 1848 to 1849, was a unique opportunity for a “bottom-up” unification of Germany, carried out on liberal principles. Unfortunately, the Prussian road to unification, “through blood and iron,” prevailed. And because of this, the German Reich, unified in 1871, became a hotbed of militarism and nationalism, and thus prepared the way for National Socialism.

It is true that liberals and democrats of various factions had a majority in the Frankfurt parliament. It is true that they pushed for German unification. It is true that they worked on a constitution for the future Reich and even passed it, offering the imperial crown to King Frederick William IV of Prussia in 1849. The latter, however, rejected the “crown of blood and mud” (in his own words).

It is also true, however, that the liberals who dominated this German constitution were guided by the principle of “healthy national selfishness.” It was proclaimed even 175 years ago, during the “Poland debate” held in the Frankfurt parliament in July 1848. Discussions were held on whether the future Reich should also include Greater Poland. Polish Gdansk Pomerania was not even mentioned, taken for granted as an “indigenously German” land. Doubts about the future of the Grand Duchy of Posen were dispelled during the Polendebatte by Wilhelm Jordan – an admirer of Hegel’s philosophy and one of the political leaders of the liberal camp. The thesis of his speech was simple: “Enough of this admiration for Poland. The time for healthy national egoism has come.” And besides, Jordan and other liberal deputies argued, Germans living on the Warta River as representatives of the Kulturvolk must not be allowed to fall under the future rule of a nation far less civilized than themselves.

The Frankfurt Parliament, therefore, guided by “healthy national egoism” and a sense of superiority of the German “nation-culture,” decided to annex most of the lands of the Grand Duchy of Posen to the future Reich. In response to this decision, Zygmunt Krasinski wrote in one of his letters: “I did not attend the sessions in Frankfurt, because I hate to listen to lies of both the attackers and the defenders, and I do not have enough saliva to spit in the eyes of four hundred faces at once.”

The principle of “healthy national selfishness” was also followed by the Frankfurt Parliament in the case of Denmark, decreeing the annexation of the entire Schleswig (including its northern part inhabited by Danes) and unequivocally supporting the war of the German states against this Scandinavian state. For the first time, the King of Prussia scrambled with the liberal majority of the German National Assembly when, under pressure from European powers, he decided to stop hostilities and agreed to an armistice. These, by the way, are the “European values” so (allegedly) strongly associated with the activities of the liberal German Constituent Assembly.

This article was published in 2023 in “Do Rzeczy” magazine.