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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Germans fight on Polish soil: Battle it out

The Germans are back, battling on Polish soil!

Poland is a part of Europe. But of course, you say, look at the map.

Poland is a part of Europe. You would think this too obvious to mention. But you would be wrong. Poland has been forgotten, ignored, neglected, abused, wiped off the map completely, and left out of European self-consciousness time after time after time. For much of its long life -- since the 10th century -- Poland has ended up on the wrong sides of rivers and seas and geo-political divides. From 1945 - 1999 it was locked behind an iron curtain, a satellite in orbit around a behemoth that required it to forsake its largely European identity. It might have been smack dab in the center of continental Europe but it surely didn't seem so. Poland felt more like a back-water, isolated, stagnating, while the rest of Europe recovered from World War II and moved on. It was so little known, its own War story was ignored. Even in other European countries, like the souvenir shop I visited in Amsterdam in 1984, one heard, "But Poland isn't a part of Europe."

Well, it is.

Poland has been Europe's favorite lost-in-plain-sight battlefield for centuries. Conveniently located on a largely level plain, with unimpeded access from east and west, Poland is the place where Europe has come to fight for forever. Mongols and Tartars, Turks, Teutonic Knights and Germanic tribesmen. Slavs from Eastern lands and even the now-taciturn Swedes conquered and ravaged Poland over the ages. More Turks, Austrians, Hungarians, Germans, Russians. The French marched through without stopping to take over and won the "Most Popular" award. But then the Russians attacked again. And Germans again. Then the Russians again. Who hasn't invaded Poland?

And now they have come again. Europe came back to fight on Polish soil. But of course, the flat fertile fields and rich mineral resources have been contested for eons.

More startling, the Poles are happy to welcome them. The Europeans -- all of them -- are doing battle in Poland again right now. Portugal and Spain, England and Sweden, Greece, Slovakia, even the Russians got swanky accomodations.

But this time it is different. This evening (Thursday), Germany will fight its heart out. And Italy will be the opponent, not the Axis Ally.

This time it is very different. This time they are fighting on the lush green turf, not for it. This time the trophy will not be the land itself.

Poland is hosting (along with Ukraine) the UEFA -- European Football Championships -- 2012 games. It is the coveted UEFA Cup at stake, not Poland itself. Visitors, so far some 86% of them, have said they will come back again to enjoy the Polish hospitality. It's largely gone off without incident. The Russians were not especially welcome and a brouhaha broke out. And was quickly contained. But that's all.

This time Poland will be left significantly better off economically after everyone has gone home. And what a change that will be.

It is high time that Poland be back in the middle of things! Poland -- in the very heart of Europe where it belongs. And it is about time for Poland to get to host a friendly, even lucrative invasion where the battles will be civilized, if not always civil, and the trophy will not be the land itself.

Tonight Germany fights on Polish soil. But not against Poland. What a great lot of change that is.

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