Poland ups the pressure in WWII memorial feud with Germany

26th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

The flashpoint is the provocative leader of Germany's Federation of the Expelled, Erika Steinbach, whose role is such a source of dispute that it will be on the table when Polish and German leaders meet Friday.

Warsaw -- Poland is ratcheting up the pressure on its EU neighbour Germany as Berlin prepares to create a controversial memorial centre for people expelled from Eastern Europe after World War II.

The flashpoint is the provocative leader of Germany's Federation of the Expelled, Erika Steinbach, whose role is such a source of dispute that it will be on the table when Polish and German leaders meet Friday.

"Our position is firm. This person is unacceptable for Poland," Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Tuesday, ahead of talks in Hamburg with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Warsaw has grudgingly accepted the idea of a memorial to German refugees in Berlin, but has warned that the project is on watch because of the potential administrative role for the hardliner Steinbach, which requires German government approval.

Ironically, she has brought rare unity to Poland's fractious political spectrum amid claims she would turn the memorial into her plaything.

"Steinbach is a problem for our country," said President Lech Kaczynski, a eurosceptic conservative who is regularly at odds with the pro-European Union liberal Tusk.

Steinbach, 65, is a member of the right wing of Merkel's CDU party and has opposed past fence-mending accords with Germany's eastern neighbours.

The German government last year agreed on the outlines of a memorial project for ethnic Germans expelled from their homes in areas including parts of modern-day Poland and the Czech Republic at the close of World War II.

Berlin has been wrestling for decades with a way to commemorate the up to 14 million Germans who fled as the Soviet Army advanced or when Poles and Czechs forced them out, without whitewashing the atrocities committed by the Nazis.

Poland and the Czech Republic have warned the memorial could put the Germans' suffering on a par with that of the Nazis' victims.

Steinbach last week blasted Warsaw's use of "blackmail" over her nomination.

But Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski hit back, saying Steinbach was ill-placed to represent expelled Germans because her family had moved to now-Polish territory only during the war.

"Do people who lived there for generations really want to be identified with a person who, like Steinbach, came to our country with Hitler and had to flee with Hitler?" Sikorski said Tuesday.

"She was never expelled... The people who were really expelled were the Polish family driven from their home in which Steinbach later lived, in a land that wasn't hers," he said.

Stanislaw Waszak/AFP/Expatica

0 Comments To This Article