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Culture

New Polish WWII museum at the center of a political standoff

Poland's populist government wants to take control of the new World War II museum in Gdansk. A last-minute court decision has unexpectedly blocked the takeover, for now - but the complicated legal battle isn't over yet.

A court order on Tuesday extended the independence of Poland's Museum of the Second World War in Gdansk. The ruling came a week after a previous court decision that allowed the government to gain control of the museum.

The museum's director, Pawel Machcewicz, expects the court's latest move to allow him to stay at the helm of the museum until at least its public opening in early March. Yet further court proceedings could still allow the governing Law and Justice party (PiS) to take control of the museum in the future.

The government is opposed to the international approach of the museum. Its exhibits focus on the civilian suffering of the many nations involved in the global conflict. Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has for years criticized the concept, saying he would prefer a museum that focused exclusively on Polish suffering and military heroism, according to news agency AP. 

Director of the Museum of the Second World War, Pawel Machcewicz (picture alliance/dpa/A. Warzawa)

Pawel Machcewicz does not know for how long he will remain director of the museum

Having lost 17 percent of its population during World War II, Poland is the country with the highest national death toll from the conflict. The museum accordingly devotes space to the country's wartime experience; setting it in a broader international context aims to add depth to the exhibition, explained director Machcewicz.

Political reasons

Beyond criticism of the concept, many observers rather recognize political motivations. The project was launched in 2008 by then-Prime Minister Donald Tusk, now a top EU leader and longtime rival of Kaczynski. It has been speculated that the current government does not want to see the realization of their rival's vision.

The government's alternative plan is to merge the new museum with another one that is currently in planning: the Museum of Westerplatte and the War of 1939. However, critics say this second museum may never be built. The move is widely seen as a way to change the current director, appointed by Tusk.

At a cost of 104 million euros ($111 million), the Museum of the Second World War in Gdansk is Poland's most expensive yet.

eg/kbm (AP, AFP)

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