German National Identity in the Twenty-First Century – A Different Republic After All?
By Ruth Wittlinger
Palgrave Macmillan – £55.00
Given the current Euro-Crisis and Germany’s ever evolving position of financial strength by way of cohesive action – such as the bailing out of Greece yet again – it’s interesting to learn that it wasn’t so long ago: ‘’in terms of style, ‘’West Germany’s foreign policy was characterised by modesty, moderation, self-limitation and a ‘culture of restraint’ […] diagnosed as a ‘leadership avoidance reflex.’’’
Were such a ‘culture of restraint’ even remotely prevalent within the Reichstag of today’s (unified) Germany, British Prime Minister, David Cameron, would no doubt be leaping for joy, while perhaps not quite so many petrol bombs would be hurled at the police within the feisty parameters of Athens’ Syntagma Square. But as Mick Jagger once so prophetically sang: ‘’time waits for no-one.’’
And it most certainly won’t wait for the dithering manifestos as those espoused by such coalition governments as both Britain and now Greece to catch up, that’s for sure.
More to the point, this excellently written analysis of powerhouse Germany, substantiates the degree to which time, patience and subliminal guilt, will only be (nominally and nationally) excepted for so long – before making way for a revolution in reverse. Especially in terms of shedding the stigmatised skin of another’s barbarity.
As authoress Ruth Wittlinger writes in the fifth chapter (‘Germany’s New Foreign Policy Identity’) of this more than regal and refreshing investigation, German National Identity in the Twenty-First Century – A Different Republic After All?: ‘’The Bonn Republic by and large accepted a position of subordination with regard to its key bilateral relationships. As Adenauer had pointed out, ‘[w]e Germans should be clear, that we really do not count for very much in world history at the present time’ and when considering the international status of other countries such as Britain he acknowledged that ‘we Germans are really not in the same class.’’
As already mentioned, how times change. A mere thirty years down the line, finds Germany (closely followed by France) at the vanguard of European diplomacy. Just last week, Cameron was skulking back to London having been cunningly snubbed by the French President, Nikolas Sarkozy.
To be sure, this book traverses Germany’s political position in the world from the end of the Second World War, right up to the present. By re-examining the various component parts of Germany’s new identities, she leaves no awkward, sociological taboos unturned. For instance, in the very first chapter ‘German National Identity and the Nazi Past,’ she writes: ‘’[…] conservative historians sought to ‘draw’ the famous ‘line under the past’ (einen Schlussstrich ziehen) in order to enable Germans to develop a positive relationship with their nation, whereas (Jurgen) Habermas and his supporters were unwavering in their belief that it was only through making Auschwitz an integral part of German national identity and facing up to the historical responsibilities resulting from it, that Germany could go forward. In Habermas’s view a liberal political culture in Germany had only been able to develop ‘because of Auschwitz’ and ‘the reflection on the incomprehensible.’’’
Living in Berlin, I can clarify that Germany (or its capital city at least) is indeed facing up to the trajectory of its historical responsibility. It ought hardly be surprising that: ‘’West German governments continued to work within the parameters set by the bipolar world and the normative environment that emerged in opposition to the Third Reich’s destructive nationalism and relentless militarism. By becoming a reliable and predictable partner which was tightly integrated into the Western alliance system, West Germany thus managed to regain acceptance in the circle of civilised nations and ensured its security in the Cold War world.’’
For an insight into modern Germany, I couldn’t recommend a better book.
German National Identity in the Twenty-First Century is clearly written, concise, in the know, tough, explanatory and not afraid of the big stuff: ‘’The ‘probation period’ of the Bonn Republic came to an end with unification but the ‘probation period’ of the Berlin Republic has only just begun.’’