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The “German question” as it has been posed with renewed intensity in Western capitals over the last five years is really two questions. First, is the Federal Republic still a fully committed and reliable member of the Western alliance? Do not its distinctive foreign policy toward East Germany, Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union (Deutschlandpolitik and Ostpolitik), its harking back to détente, and its disagreements with the Reagan administration reflect a revived yearning for reunification, and Germany’s historic, geopolitical propensity for maneuvering between East and West?
Second, is West Germany still a stable pillar of Western liberal democracy? Do not the so-called “Peace Movement,” the spread of “anti-Americanism,” and the rise of the Greens presage a slide away from the Anglo-Saxon style of parliamentary democracy imposed after 1945, toward a more “national” and “socialist” polity that would altogether reject “bourgeois democratic” institutions, capitalism, and NATO as the lock, stock, and barrel of an alien “System”? “Rapallo” is a catchword for the first fear; “neutralist nationalism” for the second.
West Germany has always been extremely sensitive to comment from abroad. Every Sunday morning, instead of going to church, millions of West Germans tune in to Werner Hofer’s Frühschoppen TV discussion program to hear what “das kritische Ausland“—that is, a group of foreign journalists—has to say about their country’s performance the previous week. But with the new selfconfidence which the Federal Republic acquired under Helmut Schmidt, politicians from all parties do not conceal their irritation at the revival of suspicious questioning from Washington, London, Paris, or Rome. In otherwise diplomatic memoirs of his time as head of West Germany’s Ständige Vertretung (i.e., quasi embassy) in East Berlin, Klaus Bölling, one of Schmidt’s closest advisers, suddenly explodes:
We could not discount leading articles about the dangers of German nationalism in Le Monde and The Times as mere journalistic opinions. Leadership circles (Führungszirkel) in Western capitals found that it paid to revive fears of an overmighty, reunified Germany in order the better to discipline us. Who would be surprised that a man like Carter’s Security Adviser Brzezinski, being of Polish origin, helped to spread these rumors—for which he then found a grateful audience in certain floors of Foreign Offices.
A neurosis speaks through this extraordinary outburst.
It may be, as the former Die Zeit editor Josef Joffe has written, that postwar Germany is “doomed to suffer the fate of Caesar’s wife: it has to be above suspicion.” What is certain is that West Germany has a Caesar’s wife syndrome. Even if no accusations came from other Western capitals (and I must say I cannot recall a single London Times leader about the dangers of German nationalism in the period to which Klaus Bölling refers), the ghosts of the past would constantly be raised in Bonn.
No one is more suspicious of the Germans than the Germans themselves. You cannot pass a week in the Federal Republic without seeing at least one article …
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East of the West May 9, 1985