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The Twentieth Anniversary of the German-Polish Border Treaty of 1990: International Treaties and the Imagining of Poland’s Post-1945 Western Border

Tomasz Kamusella


The Potsdam Protocol provisionally recognized Poland’s new western border subject to final confirmation at a future peace conference. This conference never took place. Poland (under the Kremlin’s tutelage) emphasized the finality of its western border and castigated West Germany and the Western Allies as 'revisionists' for sticking to the letter of the Potsdam Protocol. The policy of détente brought Bonn’s tentative acceptance of this border in the 1970 treaty, however, with the caveat that this act would not bind a future united Germany. The unexpected unification of Germany in 1990 made possible (and actually necessitated) the final confirmation of this border, as duly carried out in the 2+4 Treaty and the Polish-German Border Treaty.

This article analyzes the changing status of Poland’s western border in the international treaties concluded between 1945 and 1990, and the two contentious interpretations of the border’s status. One was espoused by West Germany and the Western Allies, the other by Poland and the Soviet Union. Only the post-1990 unanimity of all the parties involved eventually buried this fault line, though to this day German and Polish ethnic nationalists continue to invoke it, the former to emphasize 'Germany’s primordial right to its eastern German territories,' the latter to summon up the specter of the 'German threat' (niemieckie niebezpieczeństwo).

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Print ISSN: 0886-5655
Online ISSN: 2159-1229