• The missing warning

    Dead fish in Odra river on Polish side. August 2022. Photo: Cezary aszkielowicz/Agencja Wyborcza.pl.

    Looking for good examples of cross-border cooperation between EU countries? Poland has shown how this should not be done.

    Odra is Poland’s second-largest river, and runs along a section of the Polish-German border. Part of its basin is also on the German side. A shared river means common problems and challenges: protection of the environment, defence against floods, the maintenance of bridges, and the development of tourism.

    Besides major floods (the biggest in Poland took place in 1997), nothing happened around the Odra of interest to journalists in the national media, until the dry summer of 2022. Photos of thousands of dead fish flowing down the Odra went viral through Europe. A major river in Poland haddied.

    Finally, the poisoned wave reached Germany. If the Polish had informed the Germans of the coming environmental disaster, they would have had time to prepare. They would have cut off the rivers and canals flowing into the Odra, and mobilised their emergency services.

    Nobody from Poland called their neighbours or even sent an email. Instead, allegations by national-conservative activists appeared, arguing that the Germans had poisoned the Odra, and were trying to shift the blame on the Poles.

    These accusations sounded surreal; it would mean the poison would have had to flow upstream, because the first dead fish were spotted 200 km from the German border, deep into Polish territory, and closer to the source.

    The poisoning of the Odra may be repeated this summer. The river is still salted, the water level will most likely drop due to hot weather and climate change. Poland will face legislative elections and the anti-German narrative is important to the national-conservative ruling PiS party.

    Will that again be the reason, why nobody from Warsaw will message Berlin?

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