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Vol 2, No 34
9 October 2000
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German press reviewCelebrations and Desecrations
Review of CEE issues in the German press since 2 October 2000
Andrea Mrozek

The Day of German Unification was celebrated across the country on Tuesday 3 October. The Süddeutsche Zeitung had a special section devoted to this event on Monday and did not go to press on the holiday itself. Reactions and opinions on the event varied wildly between two extremes: German unification has been a success economically, politically and socially, and German unification has failed to truly come to fruition in all three regards.

Resounding success or catastrophic failure?

On 4 October, the Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote that the reunification of Germany had failed economically in an article simply called "Reunification Failed." The item reported that the new Länder are growing more slowly than the old. However, other papers were more optimistic.

On the same day, the Tagesspiegel wrote that the German economy as a whole was finally coming into its own and furthermore starting to play a role in the world economy. ("Building the East," 4 October) "The tenth year of a unified Germany marks the breakthrough of the structural development of the east German economy," said Rolf Schwanitz, the minister responsible for East Germany in the Chancellor's Office. Furthermore, the article reported that more than half a million small and medium-sized firms which employ at least three million people have started up in the east, a result that "many in the West look at with surprise, even envy."

However, the economics of the union are but one aspect. This was shown by the numerous articles that took a more political slant on the event. "Schröder Did Not Want Unification," read the headline in Die Welt of 4 October. There may have been a holiday celebrating German unification, but there was no holiday from the political quarrels behind the unity. This article wrote of the accusation of the minister president of Bavaria, Edmund Stoiber, that the majority of Social Democrats had stood against reunification.

The same article draws attention to the controversy over the choice of commemoration day. Rita Süssmuth, the former president of the Bundestag (CDU), stressed that from the very beginning, Helmut Kohl wanted only to associate German unification with his own name. Thus, her description of 3 October: "It is not a day that symbolises the peaceful revolution of citizens but rather the day on which Helmut Kohl's accord came into effect." Whether on account of Kohl's choice of days or not, over 50 per cent of Germans do indeed associate German unification with the former chancellor.

However, German history itself has limited the choice of days for celebration of German unification. The fall of the Berlin Wall on the night of 9 November 1989 might seem more appropriate. Yet, Germans cannot afford to celebrate this day in connection with unification when it also marks The Night of the Broken Glass (Reichskristallnacht). It was on this night in 1938 that German Jews were terrorised and attacked and synagogues desecrated across the country.

Another 9 November

Sadly, as it turns out 3 October 2000 will now mark the anniversary of another desecrationthis time of a synagogue in Düsseldorf, which was attacked on this year's Day of German Unification. To make matters worse, reports in the German media of this desecration were overshadowed by discussions of the unification. Furthermore, the desecration of the synagogue in Düsseldorf was not the only act of anti-Semitic violence. Also on the Monday night, commemorative plaques at the concentration camp in Buchenwald were spray painted with swastikas ("Arson Attack Cause for Horror," 4 October, Die Welt) and graffiti was painted on the entrance to a Jewish cemetery in Potsdam. ("Proud of Jewish Life in Germany," Süddeutsche Zeitung, 5 October.

The president of the Central Advisory Board of Jews in Germany, Paul Spiegel, was extremely critical of the minister president of Saxony, Kurt Biedenkopf, who did not even mention the attack against the Düsseldorf synagogue in his speech on the Day of Unification.("Spiegel Levels Criticism against Biedenkopf," Süddeutsche Zeitung, 4 October)

Spiegel conveyed his concern through the following comparison: "what are we to make of the fact that only 700 people joined an anti-extremism march, while tens of thousands joined the protest against the regulation of dogs?" This is an important question in analysing this disturbing problem in Germany. But, further to the point, one has to ask what a demonstration actually accomplishes, whether it be against right-wing extremism or against a measure calling for dog registration. The demonstration of those who are horrified at the anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner violence around them is purely symbolic and changes little in the minds of those who would actually commit the crimes.

"We, the Bureaucrats..."

In another entirely symbolic action, the European Commission has finalised its Charter of Fundamental Rights discussed previously in this column. Die Zeit of 4 October calls it "A Charter with Holes." The Charter will be proclaimed in December at Nizza, in spite of a lack of support for and, what's more, even understanding of the document.

"Where there are no judges, there will be no plaintiffs," grumbled the Austrian Green Party member Johannes Voggenhuber. Die Zeit calls it "The Charter that won't change the world": not the world, not Europe and not much of anything. It is a purely self-congratulatory attempt to secure further power and rights for the European Union, while popular support is lost.

Romano Prodi knows...

Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, knows that support is waning and tried this past week to rectify the situation. Prodi, warned in no uncertain terms against limiting the power of the Commission while strengthening the inter-governmental aspects of the European Union. (4 October, Süddeutsche Zeitung, "Prodi Warns against the Undermining of the European Union") Romano Prodi stressed that the equality between the Commission, the Ministerial Advisory Board and the European Parliament must not be disturbed.

The Commission enters a Renaissance...

Prodi wants to limit the power of governments and cut down on transactions that have been occurring between the EU member states without confirmation from the Commission in Brussels (4 October, "Prodi Warns against the Breaking of the European Union," Der Tagesspiegel). Members of the European Parliament gave Prodi a standing ovation after the rousing speech. The former president of the European Parliament spoke of "a renaissance of the Commission." (4 October, Berliner Zeitung)

...while Europeans live in the Dark Ages

There was much talk in the German press this past week of symbolic actions. On 5 October, Die Tageszeitung in Berlin published an article entitled "The Effect of Symbolic Acts." The author, Bettina Gaus, broaches the issue with regards to the destruction of Jewish propertythe synagogue in Düsseldorf, the grave stones in Schwäbisch Hall and the commemorative plaques at Buchenwaldat the same time, comparing and contrasting this with crimes against minorities in Germany.

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Every act has many symbolic justifications. The celebration of German unification: was it for the restored democracy in the GDR and the families that were reunited or for the victory of Helmut Kohl in signing the actual treaty in the face of opposition? The vandalism of Jewish property: an anti-Semitic grab at attention or a clear message that Jews should not resettle in Germany? Prodi's speech and the European Charter of Rights: attempts to bestow peace and prosperity on European peoples or the strengthening of a bureacracy for personal and individual benefit?

The German press was rife with symbolism this week; it is too bad that at least in the cases of the Düsseldorf synagogue and the European Charter there was no clarity or foresight in the response of German leadership.

Andrea Mrozek, 6 October 2000

Moving on:


Der Tagesspiegel
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Süddeutsche Zeitung
Die Tageszeitung
Die Welt


Catherine Lovatt
Resurrecting 1989

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Not a Shot
in the Dark

Pat FitzPatrick
The Last Domino?

Jan Čulík
A Hard Cell

Sam Vaknin
Losing an Ally

Artur Nura

Emilia Stere
Eminescu's Love Letters

Magali Perrault
Beyond the Velvet Revolution

Martin D Brown
Czech Historical Amnesia

Dejan Anastasijević (ed)
Out of Time

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Hungarian Oil Scandal

Sam Vaknin
After the Rain

Press Reviews:
Oliver Craske
Comparing Revolutions

Andrea Mrozek
Violent Anniversary


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