History in the Making

BERLIN/PARIS | | frankreich

BERLIN/PARIS (Own report) - At the end of this past week, the establishment in Berlin was reviewing with great satisfaction a week that brought several victories for its partisan interpretation of history. According to observers, the German Chancellor's participation in the commemoration ceremonies of the Armistice ending the First World War in Paris was "a priceless political act". The transformation of the memory of the victory over the German aggressors into a memorial, leveling for the victims "on both sides" of the war, was accompanied by the type of criticism of the Versailles Treaty of 1919, that is usually heard mainly from German revisionists. Berlin's celebration of a "Festival of the Germans" on Nov. 9, the day of the commemoration of the Nazi Pogrom Night in 1938, is an "affront to the Jewish victims," one that would not have been fathomable just a few years earlier, is a statement that was met with applause. "Making policy with history is staking a claim on spiritual leadership" is the way the press summed up the fact that the German interpretation of history is being imposed on the other European nations. This Sunday, Berlin will close the current memorial week with the annual commemoration of the German soldiers killed in battle ("Volkstrauertag" National Day of Mourning). As usual, also German war criminals will be honored at the ceremonies.

Equally for Both Sides

Berlin considers the historical political mega events, drawing to a close at the end of the week, a considerable success. Following the festivities in memory of the opening of the Berlin Wall, it was above all the Chancellor's participation in the celebrations in Paris for the anniversary of the Armistice of 1918 that the press considers "a priceless political act".[1] The ceremony that since 1920 had been dedicated to the memory of France's victory over the German aggressors, was transformed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy into a memorial for the war dead on both sides. "On this November 11, we are not celebrating the victory of one people over another, but rather remembering a test of fate that had been equally horrible for both sides," the president said.[2] Until now this version, placing aggressors and defenders at the same level, was principally found in Germany. Sarkozy has reaped enormous protest in France. As mentioned by the British press, a few war veterans voiced uneasiness at hearing the German anthem and seeing German uniforms at the Arc de Triomphe,[3] where they had not been heard and seen since the German invasions of France.

Admission

Ministers and parliamentarians in Paris have announced that a repetition of this ceremony will not be tolerated. But President Sarkozy was applauded in Germany. The "'modernization' of the understanding of history" is "essential" for the relations between Berlin and Paris, explains the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Concerning Sarkozy's modification of the Armistice celebrations, the journal, which is solidly anchored in the German establishment, concludes with gratitude that "admissions that earlier triumphs were mistakes, are particularly high steps."[4] As the French press rather ostentatiously noted, the memorial ceremonies include a clear criticism of the Versailles Treaty of 1919. For example, the German chancellor did not lay flowers at the statue of Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, who in France is known as the "Father of the Victory" over the German aggressors and had been decisive in the formulation of the Versailles Peace Treaty. Sarkozy readily accepted these gestures. "In 1918," he said, Paris "had not understood" how to bring about true peace, "not only because the victors lacked generosity, but also because they refused to acknowledge how they were bound to the tragic fate of the vanquished."[5] The point of view that the Versailles Peace Treaty was unjust and had contributed to a radicalization of German politics that led to handing power over to the Nazis, had been a point of view held mainly by German revisionists, but is now taking up more space in the German mass media.[6]

Shift of Accents

The November 9, celebrations in Berlin had also been applauded. According to the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, this year's anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall has "conquered a status" that, until now "had been avoided." The daily writes: "in accord with conventions of the now expired 20th Century, November 9 could not, was not even permitted to become the celebration of the Germans." "Even fifty years later, no one would have dared to commit such an affront to the Jewish victims of the Nazi Pogrom Night that took place on the same day on the calendar in 1938 - neither in reference to the population at home nor public opinion abroad."[7] In fact, in the second half of the 90s, when neo-Nazis used the commemoration of the Nazi Pogrom Night to stage a public commemoration of the opening of the Berlin Wall it was considered a violation of a taboo.[8] "Twenty years later, the accents have shifted" continued the Frankfurter Allgemeine and concluded "making policy with history is staking a claim on spiritual leadership, coupled with the will to take political action." The journal points out that the presence of numerous officials representing their countries at the festivities, showed reverence to Berlin's partisan interpretation of history.[9]

Hegemony

The "Volkstrauertag" (the National Day of Mourning) ends the current memorial week, which has brought Berlin significant inroads in imposing its partisan interpretation of history. Sunday afternoon, the German state-run "First Television Channel," will make a live broadcast of the central memorial service from the German Reichstag, with the German president as keynote speaker. President Horst Koehler will commemorate all those who died in the wars of the Federal Republic of Germany and of its legal predecessors, including war criminals.[10] Also among the war dead being honored Sunday are the many German soldiers who lost their lives in 1914 when they invaded France. The fact that the German plans of occupation could be warded off, at the time, was no longer the focal point of festivities in Paris last weekend. On the other hand, tomorrow, Saturday, a preparatory "International Memorial Service" will be held in Berlin, which will set the mood for Sunday's National Day of Mourning, bringing together representatives from about 30 nations - under the leadership of the German War Graves Commission, which will also preside at Sunday's memorial services in the Reichstag. Step by step Germany's political predominance in Europe is being also imposed through its hegemony over the interpretation of history.

[1] Novembertage; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 12.11.2009
[2] Le discours du président Sarkozy à l'Arc de Triomphe; Le Monde 12.11.2009
[3] Merkel and Sarkozy improve diplomatic relations on Armistice Day; The Times 12.11.2009
[4] Novembertage; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 12.11.2009
[5] La France et l'Allemagne célèbrent le 11-Novembre, devenu un "jour de paix"; Le Monde 12.11.2009
[6] see also Unbearably Harsh and Unjust
[7] Novembertage; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 12.11.2009
[8] Erneuter Naziaufmarsch in Marburg; Antifaschistische Nachrichten 24/1997
[9] Novembertage; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 12.11.2009. In spite of it all, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung sounds a note of caution concerning the festivities around November 9. The chancellor will "have to make clear that protests and demonstrations can point to problems and solutions - 'we are one people'." But the journal hints that, in the future, the illusion should be avoided that the population's repetition of protests could create serious problems for the federal government. In future commemorations of the opening of the Berlin Wall, it should be made clear that "responsible governments are the only ones that can regulate the suggested solutions or demands and apply them on a long-term basis."
[10] see also Staatsoberhaupt ehrt deutsche Aggressoren, Wehrpropaganda, Gruften der Täter, Heldengedenken, Das große Gleichmachen and Hintergrundbericht: Der Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge