The course of Ger­man pol­i­tics

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Henry Sre­brnik Henry Sre­brnik is a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science at the Univer­sity of Prince Ed­ward Is­land. Guest Opin­ion

It’s now been seven decades since the end of the Sec­ond World War, and most Ger­mans alive to­day have no per­sonal mem­ory of their coun­try’s hor­rific Nazi past. And it is now a quar­ter-cen­tury since Ger­many was re­united and re­gained full sovereignty.

How is this af­fect­ing the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal cul­ture?

The Fed­eral Re­pub­lic (“West Ger­many”) that emerged from the ashes of Hit­lerism, for many years steered by Kon­rad Ade­nauer, un­der­stood that its re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and se­cu­rity, in the era of the Cold War, de­pended on its par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Euro­pean pro­ject that even­tu­ally be­came the Euro­pean Union, and on its com­mit­ment to the Western al­liance, as part of NATO.

With mem­o­ries of the Holo­caust, other war crimes com­mit­ted against vir­tu­ally ev­ery Euro­pean na­tion, and the most vir­u­lent form of racism the world had ever seen, still fresh, the Bonn Re­pub­lic was, so to speak, on po­lit­i­cal pro­ba­tion.

Though Ger­many had lost con­sid­er­able ter­ri­tory, mainly to Poland, was it­self par­ti­tioned into two states, and had to re­set­tle mil­lions of refugees that were ex­pelled from coun­tries such as Cze­choslo­vakia, its role in start­ing a war of ex­pan­sion and ex­ter­mi­na­tion forced it to keep quiet about any in­juries its own pop­u­la­tion had suf­fered.

So is­sues such as the Al­lied bomb­ing of cities such as Dres­den, and the var­i­ous acts against civil­ians per­pe­trated by the vic­to­ri­ous armed forces, in par­tic­u­lar those of the Red Army, were rarely men­tioned.

Ger­many was con­strained by the Cold War and its own Nazi past.

But in the wa­ter­shed years of 1989-1991, Europe un­der­went a zeit­geist shift of im­mense pro­por­tions. The Soviet em­pire in Europe col­lapsed, the USSR it­self dis­in­te­grated, and the Ber­lin Wall came down.

To­day, a woman who her­self grew up in the old Com­mu­nist Ger­man Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic is chan­cel­lor of Ger­many. None of this was fore­seen as late as the mid-1980s.

How has this af­fected Ger­many’s na­tional iden­tity? For one thing, the coun­try has be­come more as­sertive and less afraid of alien­at­ing its friends and neigh­bours.

The very hard line it has taken against Greece in that coun­try’s cur­rent eco­nomic cri­sis is one in­di­ca­tor – some would call it heart­less. Its very public sup­port of Ukraine against Vladimir Putin’s Rus­sia is another.

As well, Ger­many no longer marches lock-step with its NATO part­ners – far less ac­com­mo­dat­ing to Washington’s pres­sures than in the past, it kept out of Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011. It now sees it­self as an equal, rather than a ju­nior part­ner, to the United States.

In fact, given its eco­nomic might, Ger­many feels it needs no ad­vice from coun­tries ad­versely af­fected by the fi­nan­cial melt­down in 2008.

The as­sertive Ger­many that emerged af­ter 1871 and led Europe into two ru­inous wars was fol­lowed by a rump state where any sign of na­tion­al­ism was viewed with sus­pi­cion by much of the world.

Hope­fully the new Ger­many will fol­low a mid­dle course that does not veer too far in ei­ther di­rec­tion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.