Thursday 21 March 2013

Inconvenient Truths: Lessons from Europe's Past

War brings out the worst in people. That was the message of the new trilogy produced by ZDF about WW2. That is also the message, that Martin Schulz, the current president of the European Parliament wrote in his analysis of the movie today in the Frankfurter Allgemeine. I have been living in Germany for more than a year now, at the great despair of my parents, and I was astonished from the very start by the amount of documentaries about WW2 and all the aspect of the Nazi regime are shown on TV here. It has become a game between Harald and me. Every night he turns on the TV on a channel that shows a documentary about Germany between 1933 and 1945, and I tell him half-shocked, half-amused, “You Germans are so obsessed!” I have always thought, maybe because of my education, that this time was over, part of another era. That the European integration process had waved away bad memories, and that as we move on, this part of Europe’s dark past will forever stay where it belongs: in the history books. The euro crisis proved me wrong; it proved that everything that has been done in western Europe since the end of the Second World War was a very fragile construction.

Five friends' naivity before the war experience
Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter, is probably the first German movie that I saw about WW2. I haven’t seen all three parts yet, but I am definitely recommending it. I wish they could translate it and show it in Greece, because I have experienced something that I profoundly dislike. It started last Easter when Harald and I went to Greece to spend it with my family. After the traditional lamb a neighbor came over and said to me, that we should say that Harald is Austrian because you never know. There are people out there who might not like the fact that he is German. Harald and I laughed of course at the ridiculousness of the comment. But now that I think about it, it is not that ridiculous. Greek media have bombarded Greek public opinion about how the Merkel-Schäuble block wants to destroy the south. Naturally, it was not long until the first pictures of Merkel portrayed as Hitler were published. It was not long until people started talking about comparing the current situation to WW2. This of course pisses off Harald. Germany lost 10% of its population during the war, Greece 4,5%. and the traces of the war are still visible today in Germany in nearly every street.

Schulz reminds Germans of the great gift that the rest of Europe gave to Germany, allowing it to come back to the table of nations, that the Schuman Plan came as an alternative to Versailles, that it was forgiving and not vengeful. This is the existing narrative of European integration; the narrative of forgiveness. Having this narrative in mind it becomes quite difficult to understand the current situation. European bureaucrats are ill equipped to respond or to understand what is happening in the south. The reality is that France’s initial plan for Germany (as drafted by Monnet) was a very Versailles-style treaty. It was only after American pressure that the Schuman Plan was created. The reality is also that for long Germany was punished, divided by the great powers of this world. The fifty years of socialism are condemned to stay in history books as a dark period, and East Germans today are expected to adopt the history of West Germany.

I have many times compared the Weimar Republic to the current situation in Greece. Economic despair can bring out the worst in people; so can uncertainty about the future. Hopelessness brings out the worst of societies. Both the Weimar Republic and today’s Greece are the victims of our economic system. A system that puts profit and money above people; a system that counts wars as positive and health and education as negative in our GDP; a system that puts a monetary value on life (human and animal); a system that made the majority of people in Cyprus defend the money of the top 1% who have never given a crap about the poor. I was shocked when I saw Cypriot citizens defend their banks and rich people’s money (because when you have above than 100,000 euros in the bank you are rich). I heard that the Cypriot government, in an attempt not to touch the bank’s deposits, suggested tax increased and wage and pensions cuts. We are all the victims of our economic system. Unfortunately we prefer to blame easier targets.
Coming back to the movie and Schulz’s comments, I wish that they could be translated in Greek. I wish both Greek and German public spheres would interact more and better. In reality Germany was never allowed to forget about its Nazi past, but all other European countries were allowed to forget about their inconvenient fascist or nationalist pasts. Greeks should be reminded of dangers of all extreme nationalism and Germans should be reminded of the failure of the West German model in East Germany. “East Germans resent the wealth possessed by West Germans; West Germans see the East Germans as lazy opportunists who want something for nothing. East Germans find Wessis arrogant and pushy, West Germans think Ossis are lazy and good-for-nothing” (The Transparent State: Architecture in Politics in Postwar Germany, by D. Barnstone). Reminds you of anything? It’s ironic isn’t it?

Alexandra Athanasopoulou

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