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Vol 3, No 3
22 January 2001
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News from Germany News from

All the important news
since 13 January 2001

Jens Boysen


BSE keeps haunting Germany

After the recent resignation of both the federal ministers for agriculture and health over the ill-fated handling of a growing number of cases of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy or "mad cow disease") in Germany, the new minister for consumer protection and agriculture, Renate Künast (Greens), has had to start her term of office telling the public about "500 or more" BSE cases likely to surface during 2001.

View today's updated headlines from Germany
Künast announced a series of technical and administrative reform steps to be taken in order to improve state surveillance of agricultural production. Polls have shown the majority of Germans are in favour of restructuring agriculture toward more natural forms of production; like in other EU member states, this challenges the long-criticised, narrowly business-oriented Common Agricultural Policy of the European Community.


Länder prerogatives as an obstacle

Another, specifically German, problem is the distribution of competencies between the federal and regional (Länder) levels, which leaves the government largely dependent on Länder-based services. In turn, these are influenced by the political interests of the Länder governments. For once, growing pressure from the EU level might indeed strengthen the national agencies vis-à-vis the regional ones.

Among other things, minister Künast has announced the introduction of a uniform quality badge for food products, aiming to clear up the plethora of hard-to-compare certificates that have been issued by different agencies over the last decades.


Fischer under fire but safe

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has testified before the regional court at Frankfurt/Main in a trial against a former friend of his from the 1970s. The man in question, turned terrorist as a result of his "revolutionary" upbringing.

Hans-Werner Klein is under trial because after his rebel years as a Frankfurt-based street-fighter against the allegedly reactionary system of the 1960s and early 1970s, he became associated with international terrorist Carlos "the Jackal." It is through this association that he became involved with several terrorist activities including manslaughter.

Joschka Fischer was also an opponent of the reactionary system during the 1970s, but in 1977—when left-wing terrorism in Germany peaked and the centre-left government of Chancellor Helmut Schmidt made clear that it meant business—Fischer denounced violence as a means of political action and helped found the Greens as a legal alternative.


Morality and foreign policy

Yet, the opposition of the Christian Democrats and Liberals is unwilling to let Fischer get off the hook so easily, especially after he admitted to being a ringleader in Frankfurt's violent "extra-parliamentary opposition" prior to 1977. The extent to which Fischer can be held personally responsible for illegal actions executed in the 1970s, possibly under his political guidance, remains unclear.

Although the legal prosecution of Fischer is no longer applicable, the opposition parties see him as "morally unfit" to continue representing Germany.

Fischer has apologised to a police officer he attacked in 1973, but ruled out any further steps. He is unlikely to resign given the support he receives from the Chancellor and Cabinet, as well as from a majority of the public, who while denouncing Fischer's past, appreciate his record at the helm of the Foreign Ministry since 1998.


Prussia forever...

On 18 January, the heads of state and Berlin authorities opened the festivities commemorating the 300th anniversary of the "birth" of the Kingdom of Prussia. That same day in 1701, Marchgrave Friedrich (Frederik) III of Brandenburg crowned himself "King of Prussia" (becoming Friedrich I), in the castle at Königsberg, the capital of East Prussia (today Russian Kaliningrad).

This titular elevation of one of the electoral princes of the Holy Roman Empire opened a stupendous 200-year development of the state, renamed simply "Prussia," from a patchwork of tiny, poor territories scattered across Germany into one of the leading powers in Europe, and finally the core of the German nation-state. Having shaped and shared modern German history, Prussia was effectively destroyed as an independent unit by an alliance of reactionary forces in 1932, and formally dissolved in 1947 by the Allied powers of the Second World War.


The ghost of greatness

Ever since—and even before—Prussia has been the object of much controversy, usually being described in either an extremely positive image or an extremely negative one. After its rise into the history books, Prussia has become distant as a concrete historical body and instead, has served as a projection screen for the woes and desires that history has left the Germans with after the apparent end of the Prussian nation-state in 1945.

To many minds within divided, powerless and petty-minded post-war Germany, Prussia stood for everything that had been "great," for better or worse. The fight over Prussia was remarkably similar in both East and West Germany at the time; in the 1980s East and West sought to recapture the "progressive" legacy of Prussia. Reunification and the return of parliament and government to Berlin have posed the question anew of what Prussia should mean to democratic Germany. Ironically, in the Weimar Republic, Prussia was the only reliably democratic land.


Whose Prussia?

Today, only the Länder of Brandenburg and Berlin seem to regard themselves as heirs to Prussia since it is almost exclusively there that celebrations take place. The celebrations are mostly modest and emphasise the "civic" elements in Prussian history: dedication and altruism to the the King, administrative and educational modernity, reform-mindedness, religious tolerance, and the hard work of colonising and developing vast chunks of Central Europe.

This humbleness is very Prussian, but at the same time an expression of the fear to deal with the allegedly "dark side" of history: the "military state," "imperialism," the taking part in the partitions of Poland, and most of all, the difficult relationship of its legacy with the Third Reich.

There are also those who claim they never wanted to be part of Prussia in the first place—the Rhineland and Lower Saxony, for example. Instead, they prefer to draw on allegedly "cleaner" traditions. Non-Germans who shared Prussia's history—Poles (including Kashubs and Upper Silesians), Lithuanians, Czechs, Walloons—also follow this tact. In the end, Prussia's story is one of Mitteleuropa.

Jens Boysen, 19 January 2001

Moving on:


Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Süddeutsche Zeitung
Die Zeit
Der Spiegel
CNN Europe

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