Postwar Reconciliation in Central Europe and East Asia

The Case of Polish-German and Korean-Japanese Relations

by Olga Barbasiewicz (Volume editor)
©2018 Edited Collection 168 Pages


The Cold War in Europe and Asia has lastingly affected the postwar reconciliation processes: Korea and Germany remained divided into two countries, Japan evolved into the closest ally of its past enemy, and Poland, which was among the Allies of World War II, was left under the influence of the Soviet Union. In view of their complicated postwar history, these countries can serve as examples for comparison of the postwar reconciliation processes. This book addresses the case of Central Europe and East Asia – regions which suffered from war atrocities and still have to cope with their war experiences. The aim is to identify tools to implement a strategy of rapprochement between past enemies who need to find solutions for their coexistence in the contemporary world.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of contents
  • Introduction: War Memory, Reconciliation and Bilateral Relations in Central Europe and East Asia (Olga Barbasiewicz)
  • Europeanisation of Reconciliation: Polish-German Lesson for Asian States? (Justyna Turek)
  • The Role of the Non-Governmental Organizations in the Process of Polish-German Reconciliation (Beata Jurkowicz)
  • Between International Norm, Political Expediency and Search for Reconciliation: Prime Minister Abe Shinzō and the 70th Anniversary of the Asia-Pacific War (Kamila Szczepańska)
  • How Much Does the Reconciliation Matter? The Japanese-American Alliance in the Context of Regional Stabilization in East Asia (Olga Barbasiewicz)
  • Korean Role in Northeast Asian Community Formation: Economic vs. Ideational Factors (Marcin Grabowski)
  • Reconciliation through Social Media: The Image of Japan in the Social Networking Sites (SNS) of South Korea and Japan (Renata Iwicka)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index

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Olga Barbasiewicz

Introduction: War Memory, Reconciliation and Bilateral Relations in Central Europe and East Asia

The question of war memory in foreign policy and the struggles for reconciliation are often undertaken by researchers from different perspectives.1 Central Europe and East Asia, which suffered from atrocities in World War II and still have to cope with their past, seem to be a valid example for comparison. In order to find solutions for coexistence in the contemporary world, they need to discover suitable tools to implement a strategy of rapprochement.

It is hard to find ideal examples of two states, both in Asia and in Europe, that in the past fought against each other and have now reconciled, coexisting in a complex international environment. Different political situations in the years that came after the war, as well as different post-war international pressures, made the choice complicated. The Cold War in Europe and Asia affected the post-war reconciliation process, leaving Korea and Germany both divided. Furthermore, it made Japan the closest ally of the United States, one of its past enemies. Poland, one of the allies in the World War II, was left in the Soviet sphere of influence, which was a clear violation of the Atlantic Charter. These countries, through their complicated, post-war history, can serve as examples for comparison of the post-war reconciliation processes. As Kil J. Yi stated “The Korean Peninsula […] was virtually the Berlin of Asia. Japan played the role similar to that of West Germany in Europe, the largest and wealthiest bulwark against the communist powers in the ← 7 | 8 → region.”2 This comparison can be taken as an example for Japan and South Korea, as well as Germany and Poland are the countries, that experienced the tragedy of war. While being neighbouring countries, they also shared the experience of being occupied – Korea by Japan from 1910 until the end of World War II and Poland by the Kingdom of Prussia for 123 years until the end of World War I. Nonetheless, the more important for Poles in the context of post-war relations with their Western neighbours was certainly the terror of German occupation during 1939–45. Subsequently, for Koreans the war tragedy is identified as the continuation of the Japanese occupation of the Peninsula, while for Polish national identity, the 20-years-long period of independence was crucial in separating the memory of over one century occupation from this of World War II.

The chosen case study of Polish-German and Japanese-Korean post-war relations was taken into consideration due to the similarities in their bilateral experience and history. Both nations share the experience of losing territories after World War II: Korea was divided into two countries and Poland lost its Eastern Borderlands (Kresy), which is still vividly remembered by Poles. Other comparison can be made on the basis of war atrocities and victims. The number of human losses is frequently recalled by the public opinion in both Korea and Poland as an important result of hostilities. It is difficult to compare each tragedy or each crime. Moreover, the attitude of victims, society, and politicians toward the offenders and toward forgiveness differs and cannot be measured. Poland lost almost 6 million citizens3 and 17 percent of pre-war Polish nationals lost their lives by 1945. Therefore, Poland is considered the greatest victim of the World War II, because of losing the highest percentage of its population.4 Korea, being a ← 8 | 9 → Japanese protectorate during World War II, lost around 80,000 citizens of which 60,000 were civilians, but due to the lack of independence, the data is hard to estimate.5 While looking at this comparison, we can assume that, when considering the number of war crimes and the number of casualties, Poland suffered more casualties, but the power of using the memory of war as a political tool does not increase with the number of victims, but depends on those who rule the country and the aims they want to achieve.

Politics of Remembrance and History in Europe and Asia

In the case of Japan, the historical debate in the context of reconciliation came from the international environment after the end of the Cold War. This generated an open atmosphere in the entire region. At the turn of the century, one unexpected effect was the popularity of anti-Japanese sentiments, which were rooted in historical criticism.6 These became reflected in government policy, an example being South Korea.

The end of Cold War was also crucial for Polish-German relations. In these relations, it was essential for Poland that Germany should acknowledge Poland’s western border, so The German-Polish Border Treaty signed on 14th November 1990 in Warsaw brought to an end the dispute between Poland and Germany over the border.7 An important problem solved by the treaty was both countries’ obligation to respect each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and not to submit any territorial claims.8

The example of Poland and Germany is an interesting case to research, since as Klaus Ziemer claims, the collective memory of one of the most tragic events of World War II seemingly paradoxically brought Poles and Germans once more closer to each other, although the roles of their ancestors living over 70 years ← 9 | 10 → ago were diametrically opposite.9 This issue was confirmed by Polish President Bronisław Komorowski and German Federal President Joachim Gauck on 29th July 2014 in Berlin, where they delivered speeches, whose main message was “Poles and Germans are nations that are now reconciled.”10 This kind of statement, makes Poland and Germany countries that can serve as a lesson for others, among which the question of history is continuously the case for bilateral struggles. Japan has a hard history with its Asian neighbours, especially with South Korea, with which it shares democratic values and a common patron, the United States, but the historical disputes seem to be one of the strongest political tools, which influences also the social moods. In 2013, BBC World Service Poll showed a continuing downward trend, that started in 2011, which proved that South Koreans have a more unfavourable view of Japan’s influence than they had the year before (21% positive, down 17 points, vs. 67% negative, up nine points).11 Therefore, the case of bilateral relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) seem to be an issue, that can be analysed from a comparative perspective, taking into consideration the case of European countries that reconciled, to work out the patterns that were and can be useful in both cases. The case of Polish-German relations, can serve as a good comparison, due to the historical similarities, as well as the opinion of political representatives, that the memory work there is over.

Reconciliation in the Scientific Approach

The notion of “reconciliation” is very broad and differs in regards to the discipline and the experience of each nation. It can be defined as an ongoing process which needs efforts to achieve full success. Reconciliation among nations is a notion that is hard to measure. There are different stages of reconciliation, that countries can experience. They range from a tense ceasefire to a true friendship and trust.12 But the most important aspect of the countries’ rapprochement is the cessation of seeing each other as enemies.13 Therefore, reconciliation can be ← 10 | 11 → defined as the process embracing the end of the conflict and removing of barriers identified as perception of being victimized by adversary side.14 It is complex, lengthy, and potentially reversible, and characterises in the willingness of societies, social groups and states to “(re)claim their capability to coexist in peace and to move beyond the experiences of violence and conflict”.15 According to Lily Gardner-Feldman, reconciliation has four dimensions, i.e. history, leadership, institutions and international context.16 Institutionalisation of the process involves the establishment of permanent, long-standing, bilateral institutions on the governmental and ministerial level, and implementing preferential policies between both countries.17 Moreover, the countries that reconcile have to accept historical facts, as well as be govern by political or religious leaders who will make mutual symbolic gestures, establish and continue bilateral relations, even though some common disagreements.

The efforts to reconcile can be defined as a “memory work”, which is part of politico-normative perspective, and needs to be done to achieve “just memory” – proper reconciliation and forgetting with the others and with oneself,18 However, in opposition to this assertion that this kind of work can be compared to mourning, it is claimed in this publication that the process can be reversed. The full reversal seems to be impossible among the countries that implemented four dimensions that were identified by Lily Gardner-Feldman, due to the efforts made in bilateral relations, that can impede the deterioration of relations. Moreover, the case studies showed in this book, indicates the countries which stay in a sort of alliance, which from the point of realist approach should reconcile to face the external threats and benefit from the achieved partnership. In the international system the countries profit from the peaceful existence and partnership, to achieve ← 11 | 12 → i.e. economic cooperation. Nevertheless, the very start of reversing the process of reconciliation starts with the use of historical memory to make profits in internal politics. One country’s historical policy that starts from bringing to light in political rhetoric the historical injustice and legacy to emphasize the sense of national pride, which can be defined as an individual benefit of each elector, and to guarantee the electoral victory to politicians or parties that refer to historical feelings. The advanced “memory work” and “reconciliation” can delay the process of bilateral mistrust, but the electoral success can encourage politicians to use the politics of remembrance aimed in the countries with which they stay in the alliance, and to distort partnership and lead to bilateral tensions.

Institutionalization of Reconciliation?

Emphasising the European case of a full reconciliation is crucial while taking the comparative perspective of Polish-German and Japanese-Korean reconciliation. As Lily Gardner-Feldman claims – nevertheless, it would be unfair to claim that only the international institutions contribute toward the rapprochement in the European case. Even if the European Union (EU) sets up an additional level for regional integration, Europeanization goes further providing a framework for deepening reconciliation due to benefits for German and Polish societies.19 But not only the EU with its supranational institutions is a power, advancing the causes of peace and reconciliation.20 The case of alliance between the United States and Japan, often described as a friendship21 is the example that shows the way of influence of the security alliance onto the reconciliation processes. South Korea, staying in the alliance with the United States, and sharing the democratic values within Asia with Japan, is also its ally, though the historical struggle is a disturbing point in reaching the full reconciliation.

It is not only the question of European political leaders, that show the Central European situation as a proper reconciliation. During his visit to Hiroshima in ← 12 | 13 → 2016, American president Barack Obama referred to the Japanese-American alliance, which can serve as an example of Japanese reconciliation with previous enemy, but also to the European case, saying that “the nations of Europe built a union that replaced battlefields with bonds of commerce and democracy”.22 The special role of institutions in shaping the process of reconciliation was emphasised, as a peace building factor. Therefore, in the first two chapters, this book focuses on the Polish-German relations, especially on their social and institutional dimensions, taking into consideration the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), as well as paying attention towards the role of the EU in integrating and reconciling processes between Poland and Germany.

In the first chapter, Justyna Turek provides an analysis of the reconciliation steps between Poland and Germany after the World War II, focusing on bilateral relations and on supranational level, as both countries belong to the EU. In this paper, a special attention is given towards the role of European Community, as one of the factors of reconciliation processes in Central Europe. Nevertheless, she comes from such historical events, such as the forced resettlement, which in Germany is called “expulsion”, claiming it as a burden affecting the relations between both countries for next decades. The question of Polish-German borders is also shown as a burning point in the 20th century, which had to be solved to establish peaceful cooperation between both nations. Turek shows the role of German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s policy to establish a dialogue with Poland. She also emphasizes the disturbing points in the Polish-German relations during the Cold War, giving the case of the Independent Self-governing Trade Union “Solidarity”, which raised the fear on East Germany’s side and contributed towards the visa traffic between both communist countries. While emphasizing the role of the EU in shaping the reconciliation, Turek claims, that it introduced official normative elements of Polish-German cooperation through European institutions. She shows, that by being member state of an international institution, Poland and Germany participate in the EU debates and have impacts on decision making process through institutions such as the European Commission, European Parliament and European Council, which makes them learn how to achieve compromises on supranational level, even when their interests have nothing in common. Turek also refers to the post-2015 situation in Poland to depict the gradual deterioration of Polish–German relations in European and bilateral dimensions ← 13 | 14 →

In the chapter “The Role of the Non-Governmental Organisations in the Process of Polish-German Reconciliation” Beata Jurkowicz analyses the NGOs that participate in the Polish-German reconciliation process, which promoted bilateral relations, having a great influence on shaping a positive attitude of both neighbours. She claims that the institutionalization of the Polish-German reconciliation has had a positive effect on the development of civil society in Poland and resulted in the mutual understanding of both nations. In her research she takes the case of national institutions and NGO’s cooperation in the field of Polish-German relations. Jurkowicz mentions the turning points in the relations between Poles and Germans, which are the Tübingen Memorandum of 1961, the Eastern Memorandum of the Evangelical Church in Germany issued in 1965, and the Letter of Reconciliation of the Polish Bishops to the German Bishops of 1965.

The second part of the book refers to the political aspects of reconciliation among East Asian countries, with a special attention given towards Japan and the Republic of Korea.

Kamila Szczepańska focuses on Japanese Prime Minister’s Abe Shinzō’s statement on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Asia-Pacific War. Szczepańska’s contribution allows us to explore under what conditions the statement was delivered, as well as what were its internal qualities and limitations. The content of the Abe statement is investigated in relation to expressions of contrition provided by PM Abe’s predecessors and the international reactions to its unveiling. Finally, the Abe statement is assessed in the context of its contribution (or a lack thereof) to pursuing reconciliation in East Asia.

The second chapter by Olga Barbasiewicz, refers to the problem of the so called quasi-alliance between Japan, South Korea and the United States, and tries to answer the question, what is the influence of war memory and reconciliation between the United States and Japan on the contemporary regional stabilization in the Far East, with a certain emphasis of the Japanese-Korean relations. The historical disputes that overshadow the cooperation between Japan and South Korea, seem to be problematic mostly for the United States – the strategic partner for both Asia countries. Barbasiewicz presents a certain “memory game” which is played by each political actor on any side – Japanese, Korean or American – the profit that can be reached by referring to the historical issues, starting in the 1960s with the American involvement in establishing Japanese-Korean basic relations, and especially developing in 1990s, which is addressed toward electorate inside the country, to emphasize the role and importance of certain nation, while referring towards its historical heritage and to build a national pride. In the chapter it is also stated that the reconciliation seems to be crucial in maintaining the position of the ← 14 | 15 → United States and its allies in the East Asia, so the deep reconciliation among the allies is essential for maintaining the balance of power in the region. The events that occurred in 2015 and 2016 between the United States and Japan, according to Barbasiewicz, prove that in case of an external threat, reconciliation can be faster and deeper, and she defines it as a “reconciliation theatre”, which she compares to Paul Ricoeur’s concept of memory work (travail de mémoire).

Marcin Grabowski in the chapter titled “Korean Role in Northeast Asian Community Formation: Economic vs. Ideational Factors” refers to such an aspect as economic cooperation between the countries in the region, especially taking into consideration the South Korea’s 2008 initiative of Trilateral Summit of China, Japan and Korea, built on the Asia Pacific Telecommunity (APT) side meetings, institutionalized by the creation of an Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Plus Three Secretariat in Seoul in 2011, as well as tripartite Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations. Those initiatives are claimed by Grabowski to be a chance for the change of the situation into the direction of further regional integration, proving that it is possible, without taking into consideration the historical disputes. Grabowski defines both South Korea and Poland the middle powers, which role is bridging great powers. Therefore, those two can be compared not only in the field of history, but also in the field of economic cooperation. In his chapter, he shows the ROK as a country that could play such a bridging role with Japan (having more security links with this country) and the People’s Republic of China (having extensive economic links with China). The case given by Grabowski of strong focus on the “middle power” diplomacy (or “jung-gyun-guk” diplomacy) refers to the policy of Le Myung-bak, being president of South Korea since 2008. He puts a special emphasis onto the society of both Japan and Korea, which is still lacking a higher cohesion. While achieving it, according to Grabowski, integration in Northeast Asia is possible, as important factors, especially at transnational level favour this process.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (July)
Quasi alliance The European Union Regional integration Abe statement Social Networking Sites NGOs
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien. 2018. 168 p., 6 b/w ill., 2 b/w tab.

Biographical notes

Olga Barbasiewicz (Volume editor)

Olga Barbasiewicz is Assistant Professor at the Institute of Middle and Far East Studies at the Faculty of International and Political Studies at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow (Poland). She received her Ph.D. in Political Sciences.


Title: Postwar Reconciliation in Central Europe and East Asia
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170 pages