Politics and Power After the 2017 Bundestag Election
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?
Germany-watchers and many Germans have long been sour about the unified country. Often for well-founded reasons, there are few policy or cultural areas that have not been subjected to withering criticism: failed integration of immigrants, an antiquated political economy, insufficient coming-to-terms with the past, atrophied parties, or lackluster foreign policy. Nevertheless, the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Wall and unification is an appropriate moment to pause and reflect on the accomplishments of contemporary Germany—export champion, environmental pioneer, cultural leader, and staunch multilateral European. Despite all of the problems of the last twenty years and the daunting challenges ahead, perhaps Germans can dare some cautious optimism and even a sense of pride.
I recall a conversation from a while back with a colleague. He was
disdainful of German politics, stating that they are ponderous, lackluster,
even boring. He prefers to follow Italian politics because of
the intrigue, emotion, and, most of all, the drama. Although forced
to agree at the time that the contrast between the two countries
could not be greater, I was also immediately reminded of the old
(apocryphal) Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times.”
German Reactions to Brexit
Observers across Europe and the world were shocked when British voters decided in June 2016 to leave the European Union. Since the Brexit decision, British politics have been in disarray and the government’s incoherent negotiation positions have created much economic and political uncertainty. Germans and others have had to formulate policy based on assumptions and predictions. Despite slightly different emphases, all mainstream German parties have endorsed a harder line rejecting British efforts to cherry pick the most desirable aspects of a relationship with the eu. This stance accords with the preferences of European Union actors and the vast majority of member states. Moreover, the likely effects on the German economy will not be catastrophic. Thus, as much as Germans prefer that the uk remain in the eu, there is also little desire to accommodate British demands—and there may even be a sense of relief.
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.