Old stones overturned...
The relationship between Germany and its eastern neighbours is known to be less than congenial. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder took it upon himself this week to attempt an amelioration. Schröder spoke at the annual conference for the Union of Exiles, a group of Germans, who, approximately 50 years ago, were expelled from their homes in Czechoslovakia, Poland and other eastern European states.
In his speech, Schröder made it clear that Germany has no territorial claims on the land of its neighbours. The German press stressed the unprecedented nature of Schröder's attendance at the Union of Exiles. And while Die Tageszeitung (TAZ) congratulated Schröder on his ability to distance himself from the German exiles ("the compensation demands of the exiles cannot be encouraged politically"), another Berlin newspaper, Die Berliner Zeitung headlined an exile who in reaction to the Chancellor's speech said, "He told nothing of all the injustice."
Schröder talked the talk of politicians at this annual meeting of exiles. He congratulated himself on his own presence at the conference, citing this as an example of reconciliation, ostensibly because traditionally, the relationship between the exiles and the Social Democrat Party has been tense. Left-wing political parties saw the expulsions as deserved in the face of Nazi atrocities.
Victims, however, typically perceive their own victimisation to be as great, if not greater than that of those suffering around them. Thus, the complaints of German exiles, who were without due legal process pushed out of their homes strictly based on nationality, are not without justification. "All victims should be equal," President of the League of Exiles, Erika Steinbach said. (Die Welt)
The Beneš Decrees—made into an issue of acceptance into the European Union of late by the Freedom Party in Austria and the Czech Republic—are the laws still on the books in the Czech Republic today, which in 1945 expelled three million Germans from the Sudetenland. Germans were forced to leave their homes and property often in a span of hours. Many died along the way, and many of those who live today are still embittered by the lack of appreciation for their suffering in the face of the far greater extent of Nazi crimes throughout World War II.
This fact, however, is something that Czechs today, politicians and laymen alike, do not readily admit. Response to Schröder's speech on the Slavic side was, not surprisingly, very positive. Schröder's words, said Czech journalist Rouček, attest to the exemplary state of Czech-German relations, or so reported Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ).
Of course Germany must reiterate their lack of territorial ambitions in the region—doing otherwise would be tantamount to a declaration of war. That Czechs should sit back and merely count their lucky stars, that Germany will let bygones be bygones, is a bit negligent. Apologies for crimes in World War II need not be limited to the Germans.
No territorial ambitions, whatsoever...
That Germany has no territorial ambitions on its eastern neighbours was a sentiment reiterated by Günter Verheugen, European Commissioner for Enlargement. It is a given that small Central European states wish to have little intercession in their own affairs from outside EU powers, but the denial of entry into the European Union is going too far.
In an interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung (SDZ), Verheugen called for a referendum on the question of the enlargement of the European Union, prompting swift replies from all sides. Romano Prodi, president of the European Union was horrified; Germany's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joschka Fischer, quickly distanced himself and the entire Bund from the offending individual.
In this controversy, much about the nature of public opinion and democracy in the European Union came to a fore. That Verheugen suggested that the people of Europe have a say in the affairs of Europe, is odd, if not hypocritical, coming from a man who was not elected but rather appointed. The European Union has always been a controversial polity, not least for its unaccountable nature.
It is a body that continually tries to do too much, one recent example of frivolity being the upcoming Charter of Fundamental Rights. The European Union is granting its citizens a Charter of Rights, at the same time that three of its member states are not allowed to vote in a referendum. Very intriguing.
Most interesting, however, is the fact that in order to counter Verheugen's request for a referendum on issues surrounding European expansion, Schröder and others called for the swift opening of doors to the nations listed for entry in the first round. Not so subtely inferred in this is the fact that many Central Europeans are extremely hesitant about opening the European Union to their eastern neighbours.
Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen put it best when he said, "One should not even think of asking a German if he wants Poland to enter the European Union."(Berliner Zeitung, 4 September) The paper cited further some statistics, that 70 per cent of East Germans and 67 per cent of West Germans see no advantages in further enlargement.
And so, almost in spite of itself, the German press admitted a certain level of empathy with Günter Verheugen. Clearly, this man merely verbalised what many Germans were thinking. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung couched their response in terms of asking whether a man in his position should be allowed to call into question the purpose of his office. (5 September) The same paper also subtly expressed the sentiment that perhaps what the Commissioner said holds more weight than what it should. (7 September)
It was a multi-faceted problem that Verheugen broached, one that most politicians of the European Union would rather ignore. Die Welt called for "Democracy, not Public Opinion Research" in one headline, another headline in the same issue (6 August) said that "European Politics is rarely the Substance of Referendums." The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said that European Enlargement should not become a vehicle for Europe's Verengung. Still, almost in spite of itself, the German press admitted that the concept of democracy in the European Union is an enigma, one that in application causes problems in the governance of nations.
Temelin will not lead to the verengung of Europe...
Temelin remains the subject of heated controversy between Czechs and Austrians. Nuclear activists, once again, do the issue of nuclear safety a disservice by escalating the discourse into an emotional and irrational debate. (Placards at a demonstration read, "Temelin, No thank you, Life, Yes Please"—not a very catchy phrase even in the original.) Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung rightly called this issue one of Czech sovereignty (7 September).
It almost seems as though the more Austrians protest, the more likely Czech Prime Minister Miloš Zeman is to push up the start date. However, the Commissioner for Enlargement spoke this time in favour of his office with these words on 5 September—"Temelin does not count among the middle and eastern European reactors that present a safety risk by official EU standards." Perhaps the Commissioner is in favour of enlargement after all.
Andrea Mrozek, 11 September 2000
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Die Berliner Zeitung
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung