The outspoken head of the German League of Expellees has shaken fragile Polish-German relations by comparing Poland's ruling parties with German far-right extremists. Polish and German politicians were taken aback.
Erika Steinbach wants to raise awareness for German wartime expellees
The speaker of the Polish parliament Marek Jurek has called on Germany's Christian Democrats (CDU) to reprimand Erika Steinbach, a CDU parliamentarian and head of the German League of Expellees.
Steinbach had told the daily Passauer Neue Presse that the ruling Polish coalition, led by the conservative Law and Justice party, had no interest in reconciliation.
"The parties that govern Poland are comparable to the German Republicans, DVU and NPD," the paper quoted Steinbach as saying in its Tuesday edition.
She was referring to Germany's most prominent far-right parties.
The National Democratic Party (NPD), which has been compared to Hitler's National Socialists, has said it wants Germany's borders redrawn along pre-World War II lines. A number of NPD Web sites have also claimed Poland was to blame for the outbreak of the war.
"All the gestures from Chancellor Angela Merkel towards Warsaw have apparently gone unnoticed there," Steinbach said.
Steinbach's remarks came as leaders from Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, and its Polish counterpart, the Sejm, met in Berlin on Tuesday. After the meeting, Jurek said Steinbach's comment was "not an appropriate statement."
"I hope there will be an end to these kinds of comments in the future and that Steinbach's party colleagues will respond to such remarks more forcefully," Jurek said.
Steinbach's remarks could aggravate strained relations between the two neighbors ahead of a crucial meeting. Merkel is due to travel to Poland in mid-March to try to win support for her drive to re-launch the European constitution.
CDU distances itself from Steinbach
Steinbach received unexpected support from opposition Green politician Volker Beck.
Beck, parliamentary secretary of the Green party, said Steinbach's remarks held true for some Polish parties.
Poland's leaders are identical twins
"In my opinion, the League of Polish Families, which supplies the culture minister, has neo-Nazi traits," Beck told the Dortmund daily Ruhr Nachrichten.
Beck said Law and Justice -- the party founded by Polish President Lech Kaczynski and Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski -- was a mix of the right wing of the Christian Social Union, the CDU's Bavarian sister party, and right-wing extremists.
Steinbach's party distanced itself from her remarks.
CDU Secretary General Ronald Pofalla said they "did not correspond with the German CDU's opinion."
Markus Meckel, a lawmaker with the CDU's coalition partner, the center-left Social Democrats, called Steinbach's remarks "outrageous."
"Erika Steinbach should apologize immediately to the Polish government," Meckel said in a statement.
A sensitive bilateral issue
Steinbach is well-known -- and unpopular -- in Poland for her efforts to build a memorial center in Berlin for German wartime expellees. Many Poles who recall the brutal Nazi occupation of their country during World War II are suspicious of her efforts to draw attention to the plight of expelled Germans.
The displaced headed west by any means towards the end of the war
Some 14 million German nationals were displaced, deported or expelled from their homes in eastern Europe from 1944 onwards as the Soviet Red Army advanced and Germany's Third Reich crumbled.
The case of Germans expelled from formerly occupied Polish territory or regions transferred to Poland after Germany's defeat has posed diplomatic problems for the countries for years. But it has been a particular bone of contention since the conservatives came to power in Poland in 2005.
Merkel, in line with all postwar German governments, has attempted to remain as neutral as possible on the issue to avoid clashing head-on with the large numbers of affected Germans or with the Poles.