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Europe

Leaders Quash Calls for Berlin Expulsion Center

Though they failed to find agreement on the draft EU constitution, Germany and Poland tried to lay to rest one of the most divisive issues between Germany and Poland -- a controversial expulsions center.

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After World War II, millions of Germans were driven from Eastern European countries that had been occupied by the Nazis.

Proposals by a German group to build a documentation and research center recalling the expulsion of Europeans from their homelands during the 20th century riled Polish and Czech leaders for months on end. At the heart of the dispute are the plans of the center's initiators, the Association of German Expellees (BdV), to locate the facility in Berlin, Germany's historically charged capital.

The center, as envisioned by the BdV, would focus on the fate of the 14 million ethnic Germans who were expelled from European countries at the end of World War II as well as the millions of people from all over Europe who were uprooted by war and repressive regimes.

But critics claim the center could focus unduly on German expelles and turn the aggressor into the victim. The Polish government has argued for a Europe-wide center that would examine all types of expulsion that occurred across the continent during the past century.

But during a meeting in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, on Monday, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller both said that Berlin should not be considered for the center.

"Due to the danger of one-sidedness, we do not want such a center in Berlin -- if at all," Schröder stressed before warning people against confusing the cause of expulsion which, he said, "lay in fascism and the wars that developed from it."

"There is no need to rewrite the history of World War II," Miller said after talks with his German colleague. "When Adolf Hitler attacked Poland, he didn't only condemn the Poles and other peoples to death and suffering but also many Germans."

Unresolved issue

Schröder and Miller agreed that a German-Polish initiative could form the basis of a broader European approach to establishing a center on expulsion. Miller suggested the Council of Europe could oversee the project, which could be established in a "neutral" location like Geneva, Sarajevo or Strasbourg.

But Erika Steinbach, head of the BdV, said the two politicians had no influence in the matter. "Neither Poland nor the German government can determine whether such a center comes into being in Berlin," she told Deutsche Welle.

Steinbach did welcome a European initiative, adding "it will not replace our plans in Berlin. We will continue our work with or without the German government."

Ralph Giordano

Writer and journalist Ralph Giordano

Along with Steinbach, the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, have spoken out in favor of establishing the center in Berlin. And they are not alone. Prominent German writer Ralph Giordano (photo), a Jew who survived the Holocaust and a recent recipient of the German Jewish community's highest honor, has spoken out in favor of the center "whether in Wroclaw, Berlin or elsewhere."

Back in August, Schröder said he did not intend on granting the controversial center a home in Germany. This was his first meeting with Miller since making that announcement.

Polen Deutschlandbild Zeitschrift Coverbild

WPROST

Distrust of the Association of German Expellees grew so high in Poland in recent weeks that last week's issue of the Polish weekly WPROST featured a photo montage of Steinbach (photo), dressed as a Nazi officer, riding a subservient Gerhard Schröder.

Steinbach, who was taken aback by such criticisms in a recent trip to Poland, has defended her proposal. "I was shocked by the Polish reaction," she said at a recent panel in Warsaw, according to the Reuters news agency. "It disturbs me that the impression has arisen that we want to rewrite history. On the contrary: without Hitler, there would have been no expulsions."

Dispute over EU voting rights

In a separate development on Monday, Schröder and Miller also discussed the European Union's draft constitution, but the two failed to reach a consensus. Poland and a number of smaller EU countries have contested provisions in the constitution that would give larger EU countries greater voting powers. Miller has rejected calls for a system of rotating seats on the European Commission and instead demanded that each member state be given a seat at all times on the powerful body.

But Schröder remained firmly in favor of former French President Valéry Giscard D'Estaing's draft constitution. Otherwise "80 percent of the states with only 20 percent of the population would overrule 80 percent of the population in material questions," he said. "That raises significant problems of legitimacy for states like Germany that are the largest net contributors."

Miller said their was still time before EU governments are expected to vote on the draft constitution in December to find a compromise.

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