AFTER a long delay and numerous disagreements, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl is expected to begin his state visit to Poland today. It is an important visit: Mr. Kohl and seven of his Cabinet ministers are scheduled to be in Poland for six days. He says he wants the trip to stand as a sign of ``reconciliation'' between the two nations.
But the preparations leading up to the visit have been much more a sign of division than of harmony. Some observers believe Kohl is more interested in using the visit for domestic reasons (he has an election coming up in December 1990) than for genuine reconciliation.
And a controversy over Kohl's desire to meet with the German minority while in Poland ``shows how far we still are from reconciliation between our two peoples,'' said Horst Teltschik, an aide in the chancellor's office. Mr. Teltschik negotiated the joint declaration that will be signed in Warsaw on Friday.
Although it has been 50 years since Nazi Germany's brutal invasion of Poland, bitter feelings still exist among the people of both countries.
Poland worries about an aggressive Germany that might some day want its prewar borders back, which would include about a third of present-day Poland. Indeed, the right wing in Germany still considers the 1937 borders the legitimate ones, despite a treaty signed by former chancellor Willy Brandt in 1970 recognizing current borders.
Germany has its own concerns. Under communism, the German minority in Poland was suppressed. The German language was banned and the culture driven underground. Bonn's goal has been Polish recognition of rights for this minority - including the right to German schools.
Kohl wanted to meet with the German minority in Poland, but a controversy arose over the meeting place. He originally planned to visit Annaberg, where he was to take part in a German-language church service. But the history of Annaberg offends the Poles. In 1921, Germans there voted to stay in the German Reich and bloodily put down Polish resistance. Under pressure from Poland to change his plans, it looks as though Kohl will attend a bilingual service in Krzyzowa, once a center for anti-Hitler Germans. Polish Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki will also attend.
In the months preceding the visit, West Germany's right wing became increasingly vocal over the border question. Kohl has been losing support from the right wing. One expert on Polish-German ties here believes the trip has turned into an attempt to satisfy these voters, rather than a quest for true reconciliation. The government ``should be ashamed'' over its vague treatment of the border issue and the Annaberg controversy, he said.
The joint declaration, however, has something in it for both countries. Poland recognizes the German minority and its rights, and Germany supports Polish reforms through financial aid. There are also 11 other agreements that will be signed (hence the many visiting ministers), including one involving the environment.
The trip is timely because West Germany is preparing financial support for Poland as the East-bloc nation lurches toward a market economy. Germany is forgiving a portion of overdue Polish debt and accepting payment of future debt in zlotys, to be reinvested in Poland, according to an assistant to Teltschik. It is also ready to provide about $1.6 billion in export credit guarantees. This removes the risk from German exporters: If the Poles can't make long-term payments, the German government covers the loss.
The export-credit guarantees are expected to apply mostly to big, approved projects, such as factories, which should in turn help Poland earn hard currency. German companies are eager to take advantage of the guarantees.