The German Predicament: Memory and Power in the New Europe

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

CHAPTER FOUR
Reactions among the Europeans

Michael Jackson has just returned from Europe where -- among other places -- he played at Fantasy World, the German equivalent of Disney World. What makes this Fantasy World such a special theme park is the fact that in the Germans' fantasy, Germany also includes France, Poland, and the Czech Republic.

-- Jay Leno, Tonight Show

How did public opinion in fifteen countries react to German unification? We understand the limits of this research. No matter how rigorous our methods, we cannot measure how each country's population feels about Germany and the Germans at any given point in time, especially during such turbulent moments as the late 1980s and early 1990s. Publics have become too diverse for us to characterize, for example "the French view of the Germans." Which French? Parisians or provincials? men or women? young or old? working class or bourgeois? blue or white collar? elite or mass? southern or northern? urban or rural? Even the best-designed survey cannot convey with certainty collective views of such complexity.

The value of this exercise is in illustrating broad trends rather than microdistinctions. Just because these feelings and attitudes cannot be presented without a reasonable doubt does not mean they do not exist or they are not important. Opinions do influence people's behavior and so their politics. Even though to speak of a people's collective attitude vis-à-vis the Germans reduces complexity to a simple cliché, we know that such distortions exist in reality and influence collective behavior.

Societies are becoming increasingly fragmented in terms of their opinions, habits, and milieus. But still, in every society, collective characteristics are more than just the sum of individual parts. We agree. with Ludwig Fleck that "we look with our own eyes but we see with the eyes of the collective." 1 Stereotypes and preformed judgments based on history may be an unfair way to guide contemporary behavior. Alas, they form a real if unfortunate. ordering mechanism in an increasingly disorderly world.

Why confine ourselves to responses to German unification? The answer is a combination of the pragmatic and our belief in the explanatory power of extraordinary, indeed epoch-making, events. Confining ourselves to particular events allows for a semblance of comparability between frequently incomparable phenomena. Moreover, public responses at this time are interesting because German unification represents a generational change, an event that occurs rarely but leaves an indelible imprint on people's views, opinions, and outlooks. Here we follow

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