Controversy over German expellee leader as Merkel visits Poland
Talks between the German and Polish leaders are dominated by debate over controversial politician Erika Steinbach and her potential appointment to a sensitive role
Berlin -- The controversy over the leader of an association devoted to recalling the sufferings of ethnic Germans expelled from Eastern Europe after World War II continued on Monday, as Chancellor Angela Merkel held talks with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk in Gdansk.
Guenther Beckstein, prime minister of Bavaria, Germany's largest state, gave his clear backing to Erika Steinbach, the president of the BdV association of expellees.
Beckstein, a Merkel ally, rejected criticism from Poland and from Germany's Social Democrats (SPD) of Steinbach's potential role in setting up a centre in Berlin to recall the sufferings of some 15 million German speakers expelled from their homes after the war.
Merkel should send out a clear signal during her visit backing Steinbach as a member of the board tasked with setting up the centre, Beckstein said.
There could and would be no centre against the expulsions without Steinbach's full participation, the Christian Social Union (CSU) politician said.
"Criticism directed at Erika Steinbach by the SPD is shameful. The SPD is attacking the legitimate interests of the expellees in Germany," Beckstein said, accusing the Social Democrats, the junior partner in Merkel's broad coalition, of aiding Polish nationalists.
Steinbach, a member of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), is a highly controversial figure in Poland, where the BdV is seen as attempting to revise WWII history, casting Germans as victims as well as oppressors.
Merkel and Tusk were to discuss a range of issues during their meeting in the Polish port, with Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty at the top of the agenda.
The Poles have unexpectedly agreed to a commemoration centre for the expellees being built in Berlin, but have opposed having Steinbach on the centre's board.
Ahead of the Merkel visit, the Polish government's commissioner for German affairs, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, told the Rzeczpospolita newspaper he was unhappy at the prospect of Steinbach having a prominent role.
The German government had agreed that the "causes and consequences of the war should not be glossed over," he said
However, Steinbach said recently she expected the BdV to have a seat on the centre's board.