Opening Old Wounds

The European Union has faced cultural hurdles in getting member countries such as Poland to agree to a proposed population-based EU voting system, due to historical bitterness over Germany’s Nazi past. With a population of 82 million, Germany has the largest population of any EU member country. At the 2007 EU summit, the Polish Prime Minister stunned other EU leaders by claiming that Poland (with a current population of 38 million) has 28 million fewer people today as a result of World War II (1939-45). He accused the Germans of “incomprehensible crimes” against his country, as it was Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 that triggered the outbreak of war. While his views might not necessarily reflect the general feelings of the Polish population, his comments indicate that such attitudes still exist seven decades after the event.

In Asia, one of the challenges in achieving economic integration is a sense of resentment and suspicion felt to a certain degree towards the Japanese, due to Japan’s military occupation of such countries as China (in the 1930s) and Korea (1910-45). The Japanese called their attempt to dominate the Asia-Pacific the “Co-Prosperity Sphere”. Despite modern-day relationship-building efforts, there are considerable historical obstacles to overcome.

Is the past just the past? How should world leaders look beyond culturally engrained historical antagonisms to cooperate on modern-day issues? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.