Politics and Power After the 2017 Bundestag Election
The Thirtieth Anniversary of The Fall of the Berlin Wall and Unification
It sometimes seems that Germany is a country perpetually caught in the past. There are so many anniversaries that some sort of tracker is necessary to remember them all. Commemorations in 2019 included the seventieth anniversaries of the foundation of the Federal Republic and the formation of the NATO alliance, the eightieth anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, the 100th anniversaries of the Treaty of Versailles, the foundation of the Weimar Republic, and German women achieving the right to vote. In 2020, important commemorations include the seventy-fifth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the 250th anniversaries of Beethoven’s and Hegel’s birth, as well as the 100th anniversary of the HARIBO company that invented gummi bears.
One of the most important developments in the incipient Berlin Republic's memory regime has been the return of the memory of German suffering from the end and aftermath of World War II. Elite discourses about the bombing of German cities, the mass rape of German women by members of the Red Army, and, above all, the expulsion of Germans from then-Eastern Germany and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe have gained massive visibility in the last decade. Although many voices have lauded these developments as liberating, many others within Germany and especially in Poland—from where the vast majority of Germans were expelled—have reacted with fear. Yet, do these elite voices resonate with mass publics? Have these arguments had demonstrable effects on public opinion? This paper delves into these questions by looking at survey results from both countries. It finds that there has been a disjuncture between the criticisms of elites and average citizens, but that the barrage of elite criticisms leveled at German expellees and their initiatives now may be affecting mass attitudes in all cases.
The elections for the German Bundestag on 24 September 2017 saw heavy losses for the two governing parties—the Christian Democratic Union (cdu) and the Social Democratic Party (spd)—and the rise of the right-populist Alternative for Germany (AfD). It took almost six months for a new grand coalition to be formed in light of the extremely fragmented parliament. Despite the good economic situation and relative calm domestically and internationally, much change is occurring under the surface. Most importantly, the country is preparing for the end of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s long tenure. Who and what will come next? Can the surging AfD be contained? Will Germany step up into the leadership role for which so many have called?
Are collective memories currently changing in the land where the
“past won’t go away?” Long dominated by memory of the Holocaust
and other Nazi-era crimes, Germany recently witnessed the emergence
of another memory based on the same period of history, but
emphasizing German suffering. Most commentators stress the novelty
and catharsis of these discussions of supposedly long-repressed
and unworked-through collective traumas and offer predominantly
psychoanalytic explanations regarding why these memories only
now have surfaced. However, thanks to “presentist” myopia, ideological
blinders, and the theoretical/political effects of Holocaust
memory, much of this discourse is misplaced because these Germancentered
memories are emphatically not new. A reexamination of
the evolution of dominant memories over the postwar period in the
Federal Republic of Germany is necessary in order to understand
and contextualize more fully these current debates and the changes
in dominant memories that may be occurring—tasks this article takes
up by utilizing the memory regime framework.
Eric Langenbacher and Friederike Eigler
Is "memory fatigue" setting in? One often hears this question in regards to Germans whenever another Holocaust-centered or Nazi era memory event erupts. But, one also increasingly hears this question about intellectuals and scholars in the humanities. Political scientists, lamentably, never really got into the study of memory in the first place. As an overly qualitative phenomenon the study of collective memory was impervious to dominant quantitative or rationalist methodologies in the discipline. Like culture more generally, it was considered either a default category or an irrelevant factor for the core of political analysis—interests and institutions—and was best left to the humanities or sociology. Others have argued that memory never really mattered at all for the vast majority of Germans who are interested in the consumerist present or for a proper understanding of the political system. At the most, it concerned only a small circle of the German elite and media such as the feuilleton section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Der Spiegel, and, certain German studies centers and journals in the USA.
Eric Langenbacher, Bill Niven, and Ruth Wittlinger
As the inestimable Harold Wilson once put it, “a week is a long
time in politics.” Certainly, the evolution of collective memory and
scholarship devoted to it is much slower than the pace of day-to-day
politics. Yet, there are periods of rapid change—of paradigm shifts
even—where the landscape shifts rapidly over a relatively short
period of time. This special issue, we think, captures one of these
periods of rapid change. Compared to the last special thematic issue
of German Politics and Society from 20051 and even compared to
many books published in the last few years, the state of collective
memory in Germany appears very different today. Most prominently,
Holocaust-centered memory is foregrounded to a much
lesser extent than previously.