The World From Berlin German Expellee Leader Hurts Her Cause With Polish 'NPD' Comments

Erika Steinbach, who heads an organisation representing Germans expelled from Eastern Europe after World War II, has done herself a disservice by comparing Poland's ruling parties to German far-right groups, say German media commentators.


Erika Steinbach addressing the German Federation of Expellees last year.
AP

Erika Steinbach addressing the German Federation of Expellees last year.

It's safe to say that German conservative politician Erika Steinbach is not popular in Poland. It's also safe to say that her comparison this week of Poland's ruling coalition with far-right German parties is unlikely to make her any more loved.

Steinbach heads an organization that represents Germans expelled from eastern Europe after World War II and has been campaigning for a Berlin-based Center Against Expulsions. The planned center is intended in part as a memorial to the millions of Germans who were evicted from or fled Poland, then-Czechoslovakia and other parts of eastern Europe when the Third Reich collapsed and Germany's borders shifted westward.

Poles are deeply suspicious of German expellees' attempts to commemorate their plight because they see it as belittling the brutality of the Nazi occupation. After all, the expulsions, recalled in a German made-for-TV feature film called "Die Flucht" ("March of Millions") aired last weekend, resulted from World War II and the German aggression that started it.

Steinbach is regularly vilified in the Polish media. News magazine Wprost in 2003 famously depicted her in a front cover montage wearing an SS uniform and riding then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

Steinbach, apparently exasperated by the Polish sniping, hit back this week, comparing Poland's governing parties with far-right German groups. "On the Polish side, there apparently is little interest at present in taking the tension out of relations with Germany," Steinbach was quoted as telling the German daily Passauer Neue Presse.

"The parties that govern Poland are comparable with the German Republicans, DVU and NPD," she added, referring to three fringe far-right parties in Germany. "We can't expect too much."

The comparison was quickly rejected by German lawmakers in Berlin, and Polish Parliament President Marek Jurek, on a visit to Berlin, said Steinbach's comment was "not an appropriate statement." Germany's newspapers, too, were not impressed in editorials in their Wednesday editions.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"One can say a lot about the Polish governing party 'Law and Justice' (PiS). Its foreign policy is erratic, its Europe policy not constructive, and the merciless way in which it has been processing the communist past has so far mainly hurt former civil rights activists and the Catholic church, not the leaders of the former apparatus of repression. But the PiS is no far-right party as Erika Steinbach has claimed.

Steinbach and Schröder did not pose for this 2003 front cover of Polish magazine Wprost.

Steinbach and Schröder did not pose for this 2003 front cover of Polish magazine Wprost.

"It's understandable that Steinbach bears a grudge against Polish politicians and the media. She is defamed in Poland in a fashion that recalls the former (Communist) party propaganda and which is probably unique among the democratic states of Europe. Her opponents don't shy away from inventing discrediting quotes or the grossest of fabrications.

"But the latest quote about the PiS really did come from her and it will strengthen the Polish government's resolve to reject any negotiation with expellee groups, even with those striving for reconciliation who do see themselves represented by Erika Steinbach.

"But the hefty reactions now expected from Warsaw are also likely to strengthen those in Berlin who want to set up the planned Center Against Expulsions -- which is in no way anti-Polish -- without Polish participation."

Conservative Die Welt writes:

"There's something wrong with relations between Germany and Poland. The tone is sometimes so hostile that it resembles a bad movie. Even if it only appeared in a little sectarian newspaper, displaying a picture of a German chancellor with a Hitler moustache goes far beyond the liberty that (German newspaper) Die Tageszeitung took when it compared the Kacynskis to potatoes. Humor and irony, the little helpers of criticism, are lost when things go that far.

"Speaking out of desperation, (Steinbach) has truly not done her cause any favors."

Conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Erika Steinbach insults Poland's government, but it is currently trying out a constructive Europe policy and simply doesn't pay any attention.

"Despite its vulnerability, the strengthening cooperative tendencies in Poland's policy towards Germany are beginning to bear fruit. Berlin, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, is in intensive discussions with the eurosceptic Kaczynski brothers about the planned European Constitution and is getting some unexpectedly friendly signals.

"While the Polish national conservatives had pronounced the draft constition 'dead' in 2005, initial signs of compromise started emanating from Warsaw last year. At the start of 2006, Poland's then-Foreign Minister Stefan Meller withdrew the death certificate and proclaimed that the Constitution was only 'sick.' ...

"(German Chancellor) Angela Merkel, who will visit (Polish President) Lech Kaczynski next week, ... will indeed be attempting an expedition in difficult territory, but it is by no means a campaign in an enemy land."

-- David Crossland, 12:30 CET

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