Space and the CITY

Annika M. Hinze, Ph.D.

October 3, 2013 — German Reunification Day — Where do we stand today?

3 October, 2013 (14:04) | news, personal essays | By: annika

Today is the twenty-third anniversary of German reunification on October 3, 1990. Twenty-three years, of course, are a mere pinprick in the face of the universe, and possibly even in human history. Yet, still, they represent a considerable part of a human being’s life span, as well as the development of world history.

October 3, 1990 was a cold day. Ten years old at the time, I witnessed the reunification of a country that, until that day, I had only known as divided in half, with friends and family in front of the German Reichstag. I remember that it was cold and that there were fireworks, and I remember thinking that I was witnessing something very significant and trying hard to “feel significant.” But I don’t think I was able to really grasp the implications of that night. And it is quite possible that most Germans actually found themselves in the same place – more or less: October 3 1990 was very personal to most Germans. Forget the rest of world, the Cold War, our European neighbors, and David Hasselhoff, for that matter. Forget taxes and differences between east and west and unemployment and politics. For one night, October 3 belonged only to Germans celebrating with other Germans. And the future was looking bright.

October 3, 2013 is a very different day. The world has changed. We have witnessed the end of Western idealism, which had permeated the ‘90s, on September 11, 2001. The Western illusion that there were seemingly no enemies, no threats left to be afraid of, came to an abrupt end on that day, and the world changed completely. Throughout the 2000s, we have witnessed continuous crises throughout the Middle East. We have witnessed a financial crisis of graver global consequences than Black Tuesday. And Germany is not just Germany anymore. Germany has morphed from two strange half-states at the center of the Cold War into the world’s fourth largest economy at the center of Europe. It has turned from a place that was pleading for the two superpowers to keep its interests in mind into a country, which is in many ways directly responsible for the fortunes of other countries – especially those in Europe. The German parliamentary elections last month were just as relevant to many Europeans as they were to the Germans themselves.

And yet, Germany still operates in a vacuum. The country barely has a foreign policy. Merkel has shown reluctance at best in dealing with the financial crises in Europe, or in getting involved in political issues around the world. Germans like to identify themselves as pacifist non-militarists, because if there is one big lesson that we have learned after starting two world wars, it is that war is bad. But apparently that statement applies point-blank to anything that happens from Syria to our own back yard. If we are so democratically minded, why have we re-elected a government that doesn’t seem to care that democracy is falling apart in Greece and Hungary? A government that knowingly looks the other way in the face of corruption in Romania or Bulgaria? A government that welcomes countries into the European Union, which have no dealt appropriately with their genocidal past? An administration that just shrugs its shoulders time and time again at problems that are very much German problems as well???

The answer is that twenty-three years after reunification, Germans still look primarily inward. To be fair, the citizens of most countries consider foreign policy secondary to domestic issues. But most world leaders are aware that foreign policy is important, and Merkel should try to learn a thing or two from them. Germans re-elected Merkel last month with such a disappointingly overwhelming majority because they are scared. They want security. And security, to a certain extent, lies in isolation, and in a fiscally conservative (or shall I call it libertarian?) approach to the problems of our neighbors to the south. The only issue is that what might seem financially “safe” to the German public is far from “safe” for the European Union. There is a time bomb ticking in Europe, and we are sleeping through the alarm. Twenty-three years after reunification, and based on our own socio-political experiences from the Weimar Republic, we should know that.

On October 3, 1990, forty-five years after the end of World War II, a reluctant Europe allowed Germany to become one again. Today, as the most powerful country in Europe, we should guard this gift respectfully and craft our foreign policy carefully – with the future of all of Europe in mind.

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