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The unsung Heroes of German Reunification (2005)

A first comment should be made about what Deutsche Welle conveyed in a recent news bulletin. It can begin by recalling a ladder left which was left leaning against the Berlin Wall but it stood on the other side. Presumably someone may have not wanted to escape, but just have a glimpse as to what exists on the other side of the wall! This wish to verify with one's own eyes what was heard or perhaps seen only on television, should be remembered now. That desire had nothing to do with the parole 'we are one people': Wir sind das Volk! That slogan took over suddenly the Monday demonstrations in Leipzig in 1989, when before the people of East Germany wanted first of all the freedom of expression and of travel. This needs to be kept in mind for otherwise the only unsung heroes shall be those who tried to cross that no man's land or rather death strip but never made it to the other side.

Here then the news bulletin of the Deutsche Welle about a new Berlin Wall Memorial being inaugurated on 30.09.2005:

"A new memorial to the victims of the Berlin Wall was inaugurated on the grounds of Germany's lower house of parliament, Berlin's Bundestag, on Thursday. The monument is made up of segments of the original wall, erected along the former borderline which separated communist east from capitalist west Berlin between 1961 and 1989. Berlin artist Ben Wargin has painted each segment with a series of super-imposed numbers, representing a year and the number of people killed trying to cross the border from the east. Among those gathered for the unveiling of the monument at Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders House, the parliamentary library, was the Bundestag's outgoing speaker Wolfgang Thierse. Parts of the Berlin Wall can still be found in the German capital which has seen several monuments, notably at Bernauer Street, spring up since the wall was demolished in 1989 as the communist regime of East Germany was toppled."

Source: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/briefs/0,1574,1726638,00.html?maca=en-bulletin-433

If the Berlin Wall is celebrated symbolically in this way, it is the best way to go wrong in remembering this painful history. Not that it is wrong to remember the number of people who were killed while trying to cross no man's land or the death strip between the Eastern and Western part of the wall. Still, such a symbolic gesture leads only to further misunderstandings about a history full of pain and misunderstandings. Most of it was due to more than just a wall having become false dividing lines which separated families. After all the Berlin Wall did run directly through homes and left one part of the family members stranded on one side while the others could not scramble fast enough to reach the West. Perhaps that was due to the missing ladder or they stayed on the wrong side out of fear of heights. They did not wish to risk a jump from a window on the first floor.

Problematic is always the symbolic elevation of death into the historical chronics. In the case of the Berlin Wall, it does no justice to the number of people whose careers and biographies have been ruined by a division running much deeper through both East and West German societies.

There is the story of the Stasi but much more gruesome was and is the spying on common people by not the secret police but by neighbours and friends. Even parents would denounce their children if they applied for a visa to leave for the West. They did so out of fear to loose their own careers which were sponsored, as always, by either the Communist party in the East or by party interests infiltrated and linked to powerful business interests in the West.

There are many biographies written after 1945 that show how Adenauer used integration into the West by joining Nato to obtain a free hand, so that he could what he pleased in West Germany. He started to oust not merely Communists and suspected left wing Radicals, but all critical intellectuals who worked in newspapers and radio stations. The latter were not like the Communists who identified themselves with the Communist system in the East, but they were like Rudi 'Dutschke critical intellectuals who questioned both Eastern and Western ideological premises. Instead came back into power and privilege those who served under Hitler and survived the war. Among them were Nazi judges like Filbinger.

While much is said about how people in East Germany suffered under the Communist regime, hardly anything is recognized, retrospectively, as to what happened in the West at the same time. Those stories still need to be told, for what happened implies suspicion and lack of trust. They marked many social and professional relationships in the immediate years after the war and developed into such measures as the so-called 'Berufsverbote'. The latter was again an example of a distorted view as to what was happening in reality, that is in West Germany and to a lesser or different degree in Berlin West.

In short, the people from former East Germany were not the only ones who made many painful experiences once they could read their Stasi files, but also those living in the West. Over and again they discovered that they had been betrayed by someone they had never suspected. It may have been a friend, even the wife or a cousin. All of them gave something to protocol kept by the Stasi and therefore shaped their lives often by an invisible hand. Willy Brandt toppled by having as a close advisor someone working for the East German government. There are many more stories to be told who was working in the West but whose decisions to go against certain people were based on loyalty to the East German power elite.

Right now a sensation is being made out of Ratzinger, the new Pope. It is said that he had been under surveillance as well by the Stasi. During that time with East and West Germany rubbing shoulders under the control of the Four Powers, a system of accompli extended itself through both parts of Germany. As the early Greens in the Bundestag had to discover even Dirk Schneider, their speaker for the German question, turned out to have worked for the East German government. In retrospect, it explains why so many blockages felt to be back then so unnecessary for they prevented really an unfolding of creative personalities and a much more substantial questioning of German history and politics. Instead there was always aside from the open a hidden agenda.

The relationship to the East and the West was marked in the Cold War period as the drawing of a hard and tough border not only in physical terms, but in ideological categories going well beyond the belief in human reality. The political scientist Richard Loewenthal shrugged his shoulders even after Europe had experienced that terrible squashing of the Prague spring. That was when troops and tanks of the Warszawa Pact entered that city of Kafka at the end of August 1968, in order to end an experiment attempting to give Socialism a human face. He said to a group of students inquiring into the Problems of Communism under the guidance of Prof. Teresa Harmstone at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada that unfortunately world peace depended upon 'stable borders'. It meant recognizing each side had its sphere of influence.

This was said in the light of the Cuba crisis which brought the world nearly to a brink of a nuclear war with J.F. Kennedy involved in a failed invasion of Cuba and which has become known as the 'Bay of Pigs' disaster for the American forces. While Prof. Harmstone coming from Poland and who had studied under Fainsod at Harvard University could say Communism has not solved one major question, namely the question of different nationalities, there were countless other fates in the East and West which fell into disgrace even over a simple joke (Milocz), or worse they ended up being executed by Stalin. Arthur Koestler's 'Darkness at Noon' or Manes Sperber 'A tear in the Ocean' not merely predicted but named these hideous political developments leading straight to the Gulag with Solshenitzyn exposing it with his clear and literal tone in 'First Circle of Hell!'

It was not easy in the West for a thinking person to be critical of Capitalism without thereby endorsing automatically East Germany as the better half of Germany. Repeatedly it was strange to hear, for example, Greek Left Wing politicians visiting East Berlin but refusing in West Berlin to see the Berlin Wall. They seemed to follow the line given by East Germany, namely that it had been construction to act as protection against Fascism. They seemed not to mind that the wall meant in real terms a denial of the freedom to travel and furthermore that there existed in East Germany not that freedom of expression.

Many in the West found it difficult to get out of a certain political blindness and instead articulate a position which was free from ideological entanglements with either Positivism in the West or Marxism in the East. Thinkers like Ernst Bloch who had gone originally to East Germany but then left with the help of Gadamer or Th.W. Adorno's attempted to work out a version of Western Marxism.

Still university debates about Socialism differed in a theoretical sense. Some wished to work out Marxism as still applicable in the West, but without the negative political ramifications which the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe demonstrated. Others tended to be free thinkers like Havemann with a clear conscience and therefore objected dictatorial forms of power. Others had their own ideological prejudices and demonstrated only inabilities to appreciate what was at stake. They belonged to the Conservative side which embraced the West while condeming the East. In between all of this was interestingly enough the Sartre reception in East Germany, something Vincent von Wroblewsky could speak about. His position compared to others in West Berlin showed how different reactions in East and West to Sartre's development were possible. Sartre did exit from the Communist Party in France after the bloody repression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956. His trip to Stammheim to visit the Baader Meinhof group shortly before they burned in their cells underlined also the freedom to act. Such political action was always under suspicion in the West. It was thought as not being revolutionary for the sake of freedom but rather in favour of violence. This debate around violence remained unclear and distorted many things as it discouraged many more from ever entering the theoretical debate. The nature of everything had it anyone that after the '68 movement was crushed, things became much more radical. The RAF formed itself as Baader-Meinhof represented apparently the consequences of their guiding positions, namely everything could become under the suppression by the state only terrorism. It became an obsession of the West to demand of everyone renouncement of 'violence' as if coping the Catholic Church and demanding a collective confession.

The GREENS certainly earned their way into power by giving in to the system's demand to be non-violent at all costs when attempting to become a political party recognized by the system. The imperfections of that adaptation became clearly visible once German reunification had taken place. Genscher gave the lone recognition to Croatia, the rest of the World did not wish to split up Yugoslavia. Then came Joschka Fischer. As first Green Foreign Minister he agreed to the bombardment of Kosovo. He tried to sell this intervention as a humanistic action against genocide - the outcome of a warfare going on in former Yugoslavia. That meant officially violence can be endorsed. And in the tradition of the state having the monopoly of violence, the Greens under Joschka Fischer made a political transition due to a frightening realization, namely that violence was an institutionalized force ready to be used against people anytime, anywhere again.

Of interest is how the fall of the Berlin Wall and the crumbling of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe came about. Compared to how the Soviet System could be dismantled in a non violent way, the military response to the Kosovo crisis reveals what is the real prize of reunificiation: the acquiescence to another type of violence. Indeed, state violence goes with the mask of being a humanitarian response to the problem of lawlessness and broken down governance. Only when it came to Iraq did Schroeder say 'no' in agreement with the majority of Germans in recognition of a deeper promise running through Germany after 1945, namely never to start war again.

Indeed, next to those killed while attempting to cross no man's land, others should be remembered, namely those who got caught in-between the polarized ideological lines of East and West without understanding that political fights were much more geared to hidden than open agendas. Typical for that approach was Richard von Weizsaecker who upon becoming the first Conservative mayor of Berlin West in 1981 had opted for making Berlin again 'German'. He had picked up the popular demand of Berliner citizens wishing to know when Kreuzberg would belong to them again. Seizing property in a public sense of ownership as being a part of the German state has a long history. The city of Gdansk – Danzig can be invoked to just mention one example as to what this means. The false pretence as if this land or city is ours, that reflects the lack of knowledge how in history occupation of land has always been linked to justification of means over and again any human consideration and need for peace. Claims are often simply made so that political tensions increase. They do so over trivial matters but with very serious consequences.

Definitely the opening of the Berlin Wall should mean recognition of the countless many who had travelled back and forth in an effort to keep open human relationships. They were called in German 'Verwandtenbesuch' - visits by the relatives. They brought little things, but which made a difference in an otherwise dreary and grey existence e.g. little chocolates, a small teddy bear (the famous one with the button in the ear - Steifknopf im Ohr) and if more daring something to read. In these small forms they showed a way to resist. They did not subordinate themselves in a political opportune way to the ideologies prevailing in East and West during those years 1945 – 89.

There are as many countless false heroes as there too many unsung heroes. Remembered should be those who did something as a human gesture by not allowing people to be separated but who did not want this to be misunderstood as a contribution towards a reincarnation of German Nationalism. National unification can be easily misunderstood in that sense. That national process has been falsified ever since Bismarck used war to bring, for example, Baveria into the national fold. War as a principle of unification is always the father of a false entity. The process was falsified furthermore when the Leipzig Monday demonstrations taking place before the fall of the wall were suddenly co-opted by people coming from Baveria and putting themselves at the head of these demonstrations, so that people no longer shouted "we are the people" and instead started to chant "we want national unification."

Reunification was made possible by a formal trick of converting a provisional constitution applicable only to West Germany into a legal framework which allowed the dissolution of the East German state. Once that state ceased to exist because West Germany had stopped all financial support, East Germany disintegrated into its 'Laender' who then joined as legal entities the Federal Republic of Germany. It meant in political terms that East Germans would vote first for the D-Mark and then in their own election in March 1989 whether or not they want to join West Germany with the strong D-Mark. By the time the first federal elections came around, everything was a fait accompli. Kohl had managed to secure enough votes with the help of the new voters from East Germany to stay in power. Basically 68 million West Germans had not been asked what they would like to do. They confronted a fait accompli.

Habermas and Guenter Grass pointed out at that time, preferable would have been the other legal option: both West and East Germany dissolve and through a new Constitutional act reconstitute themselves on the basis of mutual respect and agreement. Since this was not the case, the normal functioning of consensus politics in Germany ceased to exist. It explains all subsequent problems because consensus can only be used as basis for decisions, if it means consulting openly all citizens on an equal basis.

There are other abnormalities. Cultural consensus can only be brought about in recognition of these deeper set backs many suffered out of unfair and unjustified reasons. They suffered above all due to an inner German national group who had survived the Nazi era unscathed in both East and West. That deeper consensus is what prevailed even before the wall came done. What it means to be Pro-American or Pro-Soviet Union while deeply nationalistic and therefore interested in a certain kind of survival within the system, that can be reflected on hand of what is going on in Iraq.

Occupation of a land is occupation. It brings out the best and worst in people, but it is certainly a set back because things are never really brought out into the open. The moment security has the top priority quite other mechanisms kick in, so to speak.

One of the most frightening things to be learned about those fateful years under Hitler, is that the international world never really knew then what was going on in Germany. They realized only then when it was too late and Hitler had already all the power. The same extends itself to the Jewish population and what happened in the Holocaust. The Allies knew and yet did not bomb the trains or train tracks to prevent them from reaching the concentration camps. And even once they learned about the existence of these death camps, it took the Western Allies ages to recognize the extent to which death camps not only existed but that Jews and others were terminated not because of a lunatic out of control, but according to a systematically worked out state plan best known for the location where it was decided upon: Wannsee Conference held by Berlin on January 20, 1942.

If all this is truer than what has been said so far explicitly about the two German halves before they came together again, it means the Extreme Right in both West and East Germany were much closer to one another as part of the continuity of the system than what outsiders believed all along to be the real difference between the two halves of Germany. Continuity means here an unbroken national self understanding which had been also the power base of Hitler until he abused it, but with no one able to offer from those circles any resistance. This loyal base to the whole nation made almost everyone into accomplice of the system.

In reality this nationalist orientation reflects the broken spirit of people who have no civil courage but live only in fear, so that they fail to stand up for human rights if at risk to be violated. That then is the terrible political heritage both German sides bestow upon future generations.

Uwe Johnson in his novel 'Days of the Year' (the diary describes each day out of a perspective in New York from August 1967 to August 1968) describes very well this continuity of people who were frightened citizens in the Weimar Republic, staunch Hitler supporters in the period 1933 – 45, devoted Communists after the end of the war. This was especially the case as long as there was still alive a strong left wing leaning upon Rosa Luxembourg, Spartakus and a Communist Party with roots as far back as the times of the Russian Revolution with Lenin travelling through Germany on his way to power. After 1989 disorientated democrats were suddenly unable to make sense of both history and the present. Uwe Johnson's continuity is clearly recognition of the human being. He shows an attempt to exist as a human being no matter what superstructure and ideological notion of state and of politics prevails.

Unfortunately no memorial plague is given to such continuity in recognition of the difficulties that lie still ahead. It will be important to see how the German past is now going to be reconstructed, and this in the light of not only an uncertain present but a much more doubtful future. For it matters if not only those killed physically are remembered, but also those many unsung heroes who never gave up their dream of humanity.

Hatto Fischer


Originally published by heritageradio under the category 'reflexion'


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