Tuesday, April 1, 2003
After a week and a half of war, one can observe things happening here in Germany that I would not previously have thought possible. I don’t mean the daily anti-Bush and pro-peace demonstrations, for these are nothing new. They’ve been going on forever, and almost any occasion will suffice. Moreover, now as in the past, most of these protestors are part of well-defined social groupings: many of them belong to or sympathise with the SPD, the Greens or the trade unions, while some are members of small left-wing splinter groups, or otherwise on the margins of society.
No, what seems really new to me is the amount of sheer outrage at the American government: people are sick of its manifest stupidity and the colonial arrogance with which it treats the rest of the world, including its own allies. This feeling of disgust extends far beyond the boundaries of the groups mentioned above. In the last few days, I have been astonished to see people turning away from the USA and placing their hope, for the first time, in the development of a united Europe. And these are people who had previously felt that our only possible future lay in close solidarity with the USA – in vassalage – politically, economically, culturally, indeed in every respect.
Only a few weeks before this war, I heard a politician remark dismissively that any German-French (political) model could only be consigned to the rubbish-heap of history; our future, he said, lay in preserving a close bond to the USA. Well: more and more people now seem to be realising that we may have an alternative to blindly following a nation whose leadership masks its own power interests in fanatical religious rhetoric. In this, and in its anti-democratic reflexes, the current Administration bears a closer resemblance to those it describes as “rogue states” than it may care to admit.
And we don’t just have an alternative: it seems to be dawning on more and more people that we here in Europe also deserve better than the position of court jesters to this Bush-led America. I’d like to quote an article by the outstanding Austrian writer Robert Menasse, published two weeks ago in the “Literarische Welt“. I can imagine no better description of this suddenly reawakened Euro-democratic self-confidence:
“Bush’s Law: Wage war only against countries that can afford to pay for it themselves when it’s over“. This is the first innovation in the field of war theory since Clausewitz. Yet however avant-garde this idea may seem, it’s no more than a primitive reflex reaction to the structural backwardness of the USA as compared to Europe; for European politics are already post-national, while the United States is still only capable of understanding politics as the pursuit of national self-interest. Since Europe’s experiences in the first half of the 20th century, the continent’s politicians have rightly chosen the path of peace. The USA, however, despite its experiences in the second half of the 20th century, is still focusing on military conquest and military protection of its markets and resources. In its technological development, and thus in the production of social wealth, the USA may be ahead of Europe in quantitative terms. But when it comes to the distribution of social wealth, Europe completely outstrips the United States. The difference between the US market economy and the European social market economy is comparable to the gulf that separates cuneiform writing from the offerings of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Two hundred years ago, the ideas of the Enlightenment may well have been closer to realisation in the USA than on the “Old Continent”; now, however, the United States are actually lagging behind the ideas that shaped their constitution. When measured against the ideas of the Enlightenment, the USA today is seen to be an underdeveloped country, even by those who sympathise with it. The evidence for this extends from the influence of religion on politics to the continuing existence of the death penalty.”
Something happened a few years ago, while I was still living in France; I remember it well. The French government was the only one in Europe that stood up to an American plan to deal with the import and export of cultural goods – books, films, etc. – according to the same regulations governing all other products of the economy. Without exception, the French newspapers were filled with the topic – and in Germany, nobody said a word about it. This also marked the beginning of French opposition to a kind of globalisation that benefits only American interests; and the resistance eventually grew into “Attac”, a movement that now enjoys a worldwide presence.
It almost looks as though the Europeans have finally woken up. It would be good for everyone if they did - and in the long term this includes all of you in the Orient. But let’s wait and see whether Europe’s emancipation is just a flash in the pan - or really meant seriously. Should the Americans actually succeed in toppling Saddam without too much bloodshed – and should they then proceed, against all expectations, to grapple seriously with the issue of Palestine – then they will recapture the hearts of Europeans as quickly as they’re losing them right now.
Translation from German: Patrick Lanagan