The findings also show that people in the two countries have different perceptions of the threat emanating from Russia, leading Poles to feel a greater level of caution is warranted when dealing with their eastern neighbor. Generally, however, Poles and Germans agree that their countries should take a clear stance on the conflict in Ukraine but avoid any further escalation.
Despite their basically similar interests, however, the idea seems to have taken hold in recent months that Poles and Germans view the Russian-Ukrainian conflict differently. As the current survey, which was carried out on behalf of the Bertelsmann Stiftung and the Warsaw-based Institute for Public Affairs (IPA), shows: There is more that unites the two countries than divides them.
Germans and Poles agree, for example, in their assessment of their countries relationship with Russia. More than three-quarters of respondents in both countries (78 percent) say relations between their country and Russia are poor. And people in both countries say relations have deteriorated, first and foremost because of the Ukraine conflict. However, almost equal numbers of Germans assign responsibility for the conflict to Russia (39 percent) and to both of the parties involved (43 percent), while a clear majority of Poles (61 percent) say Russia is the sole cause.
In Poland, which shares a border with Russia, 78 percent of the respondents feel threatened by their larger neighbor. "The fear of Russia’s military also has historical roots," said Gabriele Schöler, the project manager responsible for the survey at the Bertelsmann Stiftung. At the same time, 41 percent of German respondents also feel Russia poses a direct threat.
Correspondingly, Poles are more critical of their own country's foreign policy and of Germany's. While most Germans (53 percent) feel their government is dealing with the Russian-Ukrainian conflict in an appropriate manner, a slim majority in Poland (51 percent) does not agree with the measures the Polish government is taking. Poles also tend to see the German government’s reaction to the Ukraine conflict in a negative light, with only 28 percent saying they believe Germany’s response has been appropriate.
Clear majorities in Germany (67 percent) and Poland (76 percent) are in favor of the sanctions imposed on Russia. But while only 23 percent of Germans would like to see additional measures taken, 41 percent of Poles say the EU should impose even tougher sanctions.
Most Poles and Germans (56 and 55 percent, respectively) are in favor of providing economic support for Ukraine. However, neither Germans (82 percent) nor Poles (56 percent) want to provide military assistance. Schöler sees this as a "clear signal that both societies do not want to increase the confrontation with Russia."
According to Agnieszka Lada, project manager responsible for the survey at IPA, assessments in each country of the other country's policy toward Russia are based on stereotypes, but also on fear. "Most Poles are still concerned that they are not seen as an equal partner by Germany, while Germans often do not take Poland's historically founded fear of Russia seriously enough," she said.
"The governments in Berlin and Warsaw should view the high level of agreement among people in both countries as a key resource for engaging in a joint policy toward Russia," said Schöler, based on the survey’s findings. "They have many common interests, are toeing the same line politically and know the public supports them. Poland and Germany could therefore serve as key pillars of a new European ostpolitik.
The representative survey was carried out between February 13 and 21, 2015, by market research firms TNS Emnid in Germany and TNS Polska in Poland. In each country, 1,000 people over 18 years of age were queried in face-to-face interviews. The survey was commissioned by the Bertelsmann Stiftung in Germany and the Institute for Public Affairs in Poland. The Bertelsmann Stiftung and the Institute for Public Affairs will present findings from the survey on April 16 at the Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation in Warsaw and on April 17 at the Bertelsmann Center in Berlin.