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Schwan warns Merkel refugee row could damage Polish ties

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Schwan warns Merkel refugee row could damage Polish ties
Photo: DPA
14:14 CET+01:00
Gesine Schwan, Berlin's coordinator for German-Polish cooperation, has warned Chancellor Angela Merkel ties with Warsaw could be damaged by a conflict over a planned foundation for World War II refugees, Berliner Zeitung reported on Wednesday.

The head of the Federation of Expellees (BdV), which represents Germans who fled or were expelled from their homes in parts Eastern Europe during and after the war, wants to be on the board for a German-Polish foundation focused on creating a memorial in Berlin. But the BdV President Erika Steinbach is highly unpopular in Poland, where her group has been associated with Nazism and the German occupation.

If Steinbach is part of the board, it will create fears in Poland that her controversial pet project to create a centre against expulsion in Berlin will go forward, Schwan told the paper. Schwan also said Merkel needs to make a speedy decision about the matter.

“There is a coalition agreement to create a visible symbol against expulsions, and there is a law that should now put everything in place,” Schwan told the paper. “The chancellor must know herself whether she plans to keep these promises in this legislative period.”

Schwan – the Social Democratic candidate for Germany's largely symbolic presidency – has special ties to Poland after conducting research in Krakow and Warsaw and as her time as head of the European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder) on the Polish-German border. If elected as president, she plans to address the Polish parliament in their native language, she told Berliner Zeitung.

But BdV head Steinbach – a member of Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) alleges that the Social Democratic Party has been fomenting discontent in Poland to gain political capital as both the presidential poll and this autumn's general election approach.

“When we began preparations for the centre, there wasn't a single negative tone from Poland,” Steinbach told Hamburger Abendblatt on Tuesday. “But German Social Democrats like Wolfgang Thierse and Markus Meckel have agitated Poland. The issue was brought to Poland by Social Democrats who told people there that the centre would turn history upside down.”

But Schwan told the Berliner Zeitung that the issue has nothing to do with politics.

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