The course of German politics
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.