Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Tag der Deutschen Einheit

16 years ago today, Germany was officially reunified. A moment to celebrate with Haxe, Sauerkraut and a Radeberger. Still, every time I visit Germany, as last weekend in Rostock and Berlin, I become aware of just how complicated, painful and incomplete the process of reunification has been.

In many ways, the remaining division between East and West has come to reflect and amplify an ambiguity which I think is felt all over the continent. I remember quite vividly a long conversation I had this summer at the Keele Postgraduate Association with a friend of mine, Oliver Fritsch. Oliver, who is now doing his PhD at the University of Osnabrück, grew up and studied in Leipzig, Saxony. Like many other talented young professionals he has left the East and what is generally perceived as a mentality of passivity, welfare dependence and lack of "Unternehmungsgeist". At the same time he agreed to my analysis that part of the problem with the reunification has been the paternalistic arrogance by which the West Germans set out to transform the old GDR.

Oliver told me over again how much that has changed in the last fifteen years and in what profound sense the lives of ordinary people have been disrupted by unemployment, the onslaught of neoliberalism and economic globalization. I remember his surprise when I told him that many people in Sweden would say the same about the last fifteen years here. At least to me, the difference between Sweden and Germany is more a difference in degree than one in kind.

In the last national elections in September, the Swedish populist party, Sverigedemokraterna, had their greatest electoral success yet. With their xenophobic, welfare chauvinistic agenda they feed on the same kind of fears and racist undercurrents which gave the German NDP close to seven percent in the regional elections of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. These are important warning signals. As I have argued elsewhere, I believe that we, as egalitarian liberals, have to confront this feeling of ontological insecurity with a politics of radical engagement. By offering a compelling vision of the future we can tap in on the remaining idealism of "die Wende" and show that the future can be one of open borders, flourishing democracy and growing prosperity through ecological responsibility.



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