Berlin Wall commemoration 248.88.
(photo credit: )
Twenty years ago, the Berlin Wall came down. Germany then developed into a trustworthy partner and solid ally in Europe. Did this mean there was a good ending to the terrors of German history? Did November 9, 1989, with its "peaceful revolution" of East Germans, make up for November 9, 1938 with its Kristallnacht?
Shortly after the fall of the wall, international skepticism about a newly powerful Germany in the center of Europe stood in contrast to German euphoria. Today, the situation seems to have reversed. Germany is seen as a stable democracy, exemplary in its support for Israel. And Germany has showcased its friendliness and openness by being a good host for international events such as the World Cup.
Relief that the worst fears about the land of the perpetrators were unjustified, so that the world no longer needed to deal with the "ugly Germans," was cause for celebration. There are plenty of other problems in the world, and it is good to put the traumas of World War II, the Holocaust and German division behind us.
AND IN Germany? There, despite official celebration on the anniversary of the fall and elation at the international sense of relief about a good, normal country, there is skepticism in the general population about the consequences. Neo-Nazi crimes, anti-Semitic insults and anti-Israeli sentiment are on the rise. Should we ignore this to protect our relief?
The governor of the east German state of Brandenburg, Matthias Platzeck, said recently that it is time to have a reconciliation with "the Left" - the party that succeeded East German communists - just like people have reconciled themselves to the Waffen SS in the west. This thought reveals a dilemma of Germany's social policy after the fall of the wall, one that is responsible for modern neo-Nazism and contemporary anti-Semitism that focuses on Israel.
During unification, the west invested heavily in infrastructure in the east while it turning a blind eye to the social reality there. This was done for pragmatic reasons; the idea was to align the east with the west, and thus governance structures from the west were simply transposed onto the east.
In the process, east German elites were sidelined. The curious justification for this by the children of the earlier perpetrators was that they didn't want to repeat the mistakes of the Federal Republic and integrate former Nazis into society - this mistake, they said, should also not be repeated in the east with the communists.
But a significant fact was forgotten: Nazi crimes were also committed in the territory that became East Germany. Nazis, Nazi supporters and bystanders were integrated into East German society. In East Germany too, people profited from the murder of Jews. And whereas society's involvement in Nazi crimes has been very slowly and laboriously worked through in West Germany, in East Germany the population was spared this painful confrontation thanks to a general ideological amnesty.
The people had been seduced by fascism, the amnesty declared. In east Germany, November 9, 1938 is not a day of remembrance of the general pogrom against Jews. Instead, it is commemorated as the launching event of the fascists's imperialist war. There is hardly any individual reckoning with the Nazi past. East Germany has reinvented itself as the "better" Germany, and refuses to acknowledge German guilt.
The wall functioned as a corset within which all kinds of stereotypes, including anti-Semitism in the shape of anti-Israeli policy, continued to operate. After the fall of the wall, the east was able to breathe out this conserved legacy. The West was not interested in delving into east German sensitivities, and definitely not into this one. To revisit the difficult path to democracy would have been uncomfortable and would have required much more than building highways and setting up administrative structures. It was easier simply to accept the myth of east Germany as a space devoid of history, for which people use the term "anti-fascism."
THE WEST'S willful ignorance has had dramatic consequences. Neo-Nazis in various guises dominate entire regions in the east. They wear suits and sit in regional parliaments, they set the tone among youths at everything from small-town discos to medieval fairs, they beat up and even kill people who are not like them (homeless persons, ethnic minorities, gays) and they control discussion forums on the Internet. They do all this while openly invoking their grandfathers.
The east German successor party, "the Left," has managed to become widely popular because it did what the other parties neglected to do - it showed interest in the moods and sensitivities of the population. But this is the party in which the litmus test for progressiveness is to question Israel's core principles. Slowly but surely this party is becoming established in the West as well.
Neo-Nazis and the Left express extremist ideas that are becoming commonplace in general German society: a sometimes malignant anti-Zionism that is completely oblivious to the realities of the Middle East. Thus it is necessary to say that the fall of the wall and the accompanying euphoria have made something possible that would not have been possible 20 years ago. A run-of-the-mill social worker in Berlin may now tell the youths he works with, without causing concern: "Don't say Jewish pig. Just say you are critiquing Israel's policy."
Germany remains caught in the framework of its history. Did November 9, 1989 replace November 9, 1938? That remains wishful thinking, international elation notwithstanding.
The writer is founder and chairwoman of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation (http://www.amadeu-antonio-stiftung.de/eng/) which monitors neo-Nazi activity in Germany.