The German Predicament: Memory and Power in the New Europe

By Andrei S. Markovits; Simon Reich | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Europe and the German Question

I'm' sure that you have heard that Germany has re-united. The only question
now, I guess, is when will it go on tour again.

-- Jay Leno, Tonight Show

Leave it to the comedians to get to the essence. The vernacular of popular culture often captures sensitive matters that politicians are too hypocritical to articulate, intellectuals too cautious to disseminate, scholars too slow to investigate. Comics, like court jesters of old, are essential to any democratic polity precisely because they tackle taboos.

The German Question has played a crucial role in modern European history. 1 It continues unabated after the events of November 9, 1989 and October 3, 1990. In the new Berlin Republic it has attained a hitherto unseen character, a novel manifestation. What will this Germany be like? Wasn't the band already on tour, with the stage name Bundesrepublik and its members less numerous? What kind of tour will it be? a popular one, cheered by fans all over Europe and welcomed by local promoters? or will an enlarged band, with a different repertoire and new choreography, make its former fans uneasy, fearful, perhaps even angry?

Such questions have preoccupied Europeans, and opinions, views, hopes, and analyses abound. All revolve around an idea of normalcy which is deeply colored by memory and history. Never was this more obvious than in 1995, the "superyear" of anniversaries: the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz; fiftieth anniversary of the bombing of Dresden; the fiftieth anniversary of VEDay, a day of liberation (or was it occupation?) for Germans, and of the founding of the United Nations, and of the dropping of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These anniversaries infuse the debate surrounding history and collective memory in contemporary Germany. 2 They are all about German identity and a still-elusive German normalcy. What is "normal" for Germans? Forty years of a prosperous but politically innocuous Bundesrepublik and a repressive, gray German Democratic Republic? Weimar? The Third Reich? Or the new Deutschland, whose prognosis as a liberal democracy is good but which has yet to be tested?

Ultimately, the question is all about how Germany will construct its new political identity, coordinating power on the one hand and democracy on the other. Until 1949, the synthesis had produced only disasters. Power and democracy seemed entangled in a brutal zero-sum game in which democracy was the loser. All this changed with the Bundesrepublik, which became a model democ-

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