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Germany, Poland Split on Expellee Center

Dennis Stute (win)October 27, 2005

A proposed Berlin center against war-time expulsions remains a hot-button issue between Germans and Poles: While Warsaw rejects the plan, Germany's likely next government is split on the issue.

Berlin's St. Michael's church has been chosen as the center's siteImage: dpa

On the night of his victory in Poland's presidential run-off election last Sunday, Lech Kaczynski brought up the center, telling reporters that such an institution should not become reality.

Lech Kaczynski Gewinner der polnischen Präsidentschaftswahl
Lech Kaczynski celebrating his victory last SundayImage: AP

And while the national conservative Polish leader tried to counter fears that German-Polish ties could cool during his presidency, he reiterated his opposition to the center during an interview with Germany's largest tabloid, Bild, a few days later.

But Kaczynski's not along in his rejection of the so-called "Center Against Expulsions" that Germany's League of Expellees (BdV) is proposing to open in an unused Berlin church.

"From left to right, there's no political movement in Poland that accepts the center," said Dieter Bingen, who directs the German Poland Institute in Darmstadt.

BdV to blame for Polish stand?

He added that talking about the expulsion of people from the former eastern parts of the German Reich was not taboo in Poland, but "such a center, set up under the leadership of the BdV, cannot be sold to the Polish public."

Bingen said that the BdV not only rejected the German-Polish border treaty that recognized the two country's terrorities in 1990 but also called on the German government to talk about the expulsions during Poland's EU membership negotiations.

Zentrum gegen Vertreibungen Erika Steinbach
Erika Steinbach expects the new government to back the projectImage: AP

The BdV's president, Erika Steinbach, meanwhile said that the Poles intentionally ignored her organization's true intentions.

"Otherwise the majority, including decision-makers, would realize that the center would be the only place that would document that fate of expelled Poles," she said, adding that in addition to documenting the former settlement areas and the flight of about 12 million expelled Germans, the center would include a section on the expulsions of 30 ethnic groups, including Poles.

A German decision?

Steinbach, a member of parliament for the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), also said that the topic of expulsion was part of Germany's identity.

"We don't tell the French or the British or the Poles how they are supposed to deal with their history," she said. "One can expect neighbors to be treated the same."

Pointing to the CDU's election program, she added that she expected Germany's next government to support the center.

Vertriebene aus Polen bei ihrer Ankunft in Deutschland.
The center would focus not only focus on the expulsion of GermansImage: dpa

"In the spirit of reconciliation, we want to make a statement with a center against expulsions in Berlin in order to remind of the injustice of expulsion and outlaw future expulsions at the same time," the program read.

But it's questionable whether the federal government will financially support the center in the future.

The Social Democrats, the likely junior partner in the next government, doesn't even want to express verbal backing for the project.

"It's an explosive topic in the coalition negotiations," said Gert Weisskirchen, the SPD's foreign affairs spokesman in parliament, adding that both sides were currently working on a compromise.