Berlins ‘ethnic cleansing’ exhibition plus the infamous potato jibe against the Kaczynski brothers in a Berlin newspaper make neighbors’ sticky relationship stickier still.
On the face of it, what could be so ‘controversial’ about an exhibition in Berlin looking back on 100 years of expulsions and ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Europe? From the ‘Armenian genocide’ to two monotonous world wars, to the Yugoslavian conflict of the 1990s, ‘cleansing’ certain areas of certain nationalities and ethnic groups has been a dark feature of the twentieth century.
Good topic for an exhibition, then.
Except this exhibition, ‘Paths Unchosen’, has been initiated by MP Erica Steinbach, head of the German Expellees Union. The motive behind Paths Unchosen is to highlight the plight of German expellees from Poland and elsewhere after 1945.
Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski called the exhibition "a bad, worrying and sad event" and said: "it is not doing anything positive for Poland, Germany or Europe."
Former Prime Minister, Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz – now acting mayor of Warsaw - cancelled a trip this week to Berlin in protest.
"It's an attempt to relativize the history of World War II," Kaczynski said. "It's important to remember who the murderers were and who were their victims."
According to Allied information sources revealed after 1990, the German deportation and migration affected up to 16.5 million Germans from Soviet occupied areas in Poland and elsewhere.
The Potsdam Conference called for this process to be done in an ‘orderly and humane manner’ but maybe over 1 million Germans died in the process from disease, malnutrition, murder.
Radio Polonia quotes Piotr Nowina-Konopka from the Warsaw-based Schumann Foundation.
[Head of German Expellees Union] “Mrs Steinbach is neither a historian nor an expellee; she hasn’t a moral right to defend the case. Second point – we had already a bad experience with the association under her leadership and that’s why in Poland there is a generally bad feeling about its activities and this latest initiative. Of course, I must see the exhibition to judge whether it’s objective and whether it shows the reason that led to all the cruelties that, without any doubt, happened.”
I am glad he said that he should see the exhibition first before he can judge it, something that hasn’t seemed to trouble Jaroslaw Kaczynski or Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz.
Eva Kraftchyk of the German DPA agency understands Poland’s suspicions that Germany is trying to rewrite its history, but she thinks such fears are exaggerated.
“The tone of discussions in Poland over the past months is not very objective. I don’t think that anyone who is serious in Germany would try to pretend that Germany did not attack Poland, is not responsible for the Holocaust and did not start the war.”
Furthermore, Eva Kraftchyk believes that the expellees have a moral right to show their suffering.
“The refugees lost their homes in what is now western Poland, Kaliningrad, the Czech Republic and other countries. That was a very dramatic experience for these people. Now they are very old and they want to tell their stories. I don’t think this should arouse fears that Germany is trying to rewrite its history. It’s about showing all the facts.”
It’s hard not to disagree with that.
Political hot potato
The controversy follows attempts by the Polish government to prosecute a German newspaper over a satirical article – Poland’s new potatoes’ which lambasted President Lech Kaczynski and his prime ministerial brother and their mother, with who Jaroslaw still lives with.
“We were wondering why there is no reaction from the German public opinion” after the “very brutal attack,” in Tageszeitung, a Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman, Andrzej Sados, said in an interview. “This was not an attack on the Polish politicians, but on a third person, on the mother of the president.”
On July 21, the Warsaw prosecutor’s office announced that it was investigating whether to file charges against the author of the article – something that would be unique in European law if it succeeded, which it won’t.
Far right catholic newspaper Nasz Dziennik, owned by the Radio Maryja media group, printed a list two weeks ago of German correspondents working in Poland. The article urged readers ominously to “remember the names.”
Successive generations of Poles have grown less and less antagonistic to Germany – they don’t remember the war and don’t relate to the older generations memories of it. Some politicians, however, haven’t got over it and seem willing to use history – as Erica Steinbach appears to be as well – to reopen the old sores. It looks good to some of the home audience but looks a little grubby from the outside.