Say It Straight Out, Would You?

West Germany's parliament tried to get Chancellor Helmut Kohl off the hook on the Polish border question last week. For reasons that still are not clear, parliament's best effort left it dangling from the same hook.

The chancellor had sent the anxiety level soaring in a Europe twice savaged by German armies in this century by refusing to say flatly that a unified Germany would honor its existing border with Poland. Kohl is still stalling, but as Europe began to squirm over what seemed to be an unleashing of old Germany, Kohl's office announced that parliament would speak for him.

But the resolution passed by parliament was no improvement. Much too fuzzy, the statement described neither the existing border that runs generally along the Oder and Neisse rivers nor any other border. It just said that Germany will not challenge the right of the Polish people "to live in secure borders. . . . "

Kohl's artful avoidance of the direct answer has been chalked up to domestic politics. About one-third of today's Poland was German territory before World War II and was turned over to Poland at war's end. Many Germans fled occupying Soviet troops for Germany. They and their children want the land returned to Germany. Kohl, it was said, was catering to their vote, an analysis that made sense for a politician who a year ago faced almost certain defeat in his next election.

One hopes parliament did not duck a direct, calming statement about the Polish border because it, too, is threatened by the next election. Its members also must have known that a half-measure could only intensify Europe's political jitters. The two Germanys and World War II's four victorious allied powers--the so-called 2-plus-4--are scheduled to meet for the first time Wednesday to discuss German unification. Before they get to that question, the allies should insist that Kohl and parliament make it clear why they are being evasive on the Polish border question.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World