Merkel shrugs off calls to decide dispute over refugee museum

Angela MerkelBerlin - German Chancellor Angela Merkel rejected Monday pressure to decide about a controversial museum appointment which has raised tension with Poland in recent weeks.

Ethnic Germans expelled from eastern Europe after the Second World War have demanded that their national leader, Erika Steinbach, be appointed to the board of a planned taxpayer-funded museum in Berlin depicting the refugee ordeal.

There was "no urgency" on the issue, Merkel's deputy spokesman Thomas Steg told reporters Monday in Berlin.

He said Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader Merkel's assessment of the situation had not changed.

The close-knit expellees continue to nurture centuries-old customs, folk costume and history from the areas they left, as well as stories of murder, rape and pillage as they lost their homes.

Poles suspect that the groups also nurture a desire for revenge. Steinbach, as the refugees' articulate national spokesperson, has been personally vilified, and even depicted in the Polish press as a closet Nazi because her father moved to Poland in the Nazi era.

Reports said Steinbach had offered to stay off the board, but had been over-ruled by the BdV expellee federation which nominated her.

The other party in Merkel's coalition government, the Social Democrats, as well as the opposition Greens and Free Democrats (FDP), have appealed to Merkel to publicly promise that she will not place Steinbach on the board, asking Merkel to calm Polish fears.

Senior government sources said last week that the issue might be postponed till after this September's German general election. Steinbach is a federal deputy for the CDU. Expellees and their descendants have tended to vote mainly for the CDU.

One expellee association, of Sudeten Germans expelled after the Second World War from an area now part of the Czech Republic, threatened on Monday to boycott the museum project if Steinbach were barred from the board.

It said most expellees would not adopt the national memorial as their own if Steinbach were excluded. Spokesman Bernd Posselt said, "Then it would be better to pull out of the memorial and do our own thing."

But other voices suggested Merkel should rebuff the expellees quickly to limit the pain.

"It's not in Germany's interests to let this drift," FDP leader Guido Westerwelle told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa on Monday. (dpa)