Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Amber Path North: Oder-Neisse Fallout 1

Group says to name disputed Merkel ally to museum
BERLIN, Nov 16 (Reuters) - A German lobby group plans to nominate controversial conservative Erika Steinbach to head a new World War Two museum, in a move likely to heighten tensions in Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet and alienate Poland.

The vice president of the German League of Expellees told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper that the group would name Steinbach, a member of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), as its nominee to the board of the museum.

"On Tuesday, we will make use of our right to propose a candidate and naturally we will select Frau Steinbach," Christian Knauer told the paper.

Steinbach is head of the League and the driving force behind the planned "Centre for Expulsions", a museum which will depict the plight of Germans and other groups forced out of eastern Europe after the war.

She has been a hated figure in Poland ever since she voted against recognising Germany's current border with Poland in a symbolic parliamentary vote in 1990.

The Polish government long opposed the museum, which it saw as an attempt to portray Germans as victims of a war they started. Last year it agreed not to stand in the way of the project, but made clear it would not accept a board seat for Steinbach.

Merkel's cabinet, which meets north of Berlin on Tuesday for a two-day session to resolve divisive policy issues, must approve the nomination but is deeply divided.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, a member of the Free Democrats (FDP), vowed at the weekend to veto Steinbach's appointment if the League nominated her, saying the move risked damaging Berlin's relations with Warsaw.

However, Steinbach is supported by some CDU officials and by the other party in Merkel's coalition, the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), who have said that a veto by Westerwelle would seriously damage ties in the new German government.

Merkel has avoided taking sides on the issue, concerned about hurting ties with Poland but also fearful of a backlash from members of her own party.

Poland's borders were shifted west by international treaty after the war and German communities were forced to leave their homes in Poland, Hungary and the former Czechoslovakia.

Earlier this year, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk personally lobbied Merkel to drop Steinbach, saying a role for her on the museum's board would be painful for Poland.

(Writing by Noah Barkin)

Amber Path North: Oder-Neisse Fallout

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