The German Predicament: Memory and Power in the New Europe

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

CHAPTER NINE
The Big States: Italy, France, Great Britain

On the morning of an important soccer match between England and Germany, one conservative minister expressed fear that England would inevitably lose to Germany at its very own national sport. Margaret Thatcher responded, "Well, we've beaten them at their national game twice this century."

-- Economist, 8 June 1996


Italy

The Italian reaction to German unification was moderately positive, with little enthusiasm but with no major fears. In terms of popular approval, Italians overwhelmingly viewed German unification as legitimate. In the Eurobarometer poll of November 1989, 80 percent of Italians questioned were favorable to the unification of the two German states, 10 percent were opposed, and 10 percent had no reply. By the spring of 1990, the numbers of Italians who were "personally in favor of . . . the unification of the two German states" had dropped slightly to 77 percent, while 11 percent were opposed, and 12 percent had no reply. 1

Nevertheless, there existed a clear difference between the "legal" (public) opinions expressed in these surveys and the "real" (private) ones articulated informally and -- only in part, of course -- reported by the Italian press. Generally, Italians did not exhibit anywhere near the dislike for Germans of the Poles and Danish and Dutch elites. Nor did Italians convey any of the imperial envy visà-vis the Germans which we encounter in the French and British cases. But apprehensions had not disappeared. There still existed worries about the Germans' inability to handle power, even if fears about their Prussian militarism had abated. Concerns remained, especially on the Left and in liberal circles, that the Germans might have difficulties reconciling power with democracy.

Some Italians felt that democracy had been easy for the Bundesrepublik, which had abdicated power to the Americans on the global scene and to the French and Americans in Europe. But what about Germany's role in the new Europe and the new world order? The tenor of Italian views was of caution informed by history rather than hysteria. On the mass level, most Italians seemed to think that German unification would benefit Italy. Asked in the spring of 1991 whether a unified Germany made them hopeful about their own country's future, 26 percent of Italians replied that they were very hopeful, 44 percent rather hopeful,

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