The German press viewed the timing of Schröder's visit to Warsaw as extremely symbolic. And indeed, it was. On Wednesday 6 December, the day before the Summit at Nice began, Schröder followed the steps of former chancellor Willy Brandt in Poland to the monument of the Warsaw Ghetto.
He recalled the legacy of Willy Brandt, saying, "Without Willy Brandt and his "Eastern Politics" [Ostpolitik: Brandt became famous for his policies toward the German Democratic Republic (GDR) at the height of the Cold War] without his vision of a free Europe, I would not be standing here." (Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, 7 December)
Brandt in Warsaw
Willy Brandt made his trip to Poland on 7 December 1970. It was Brandt's vision that Europe should be united. Schröder's trip to Warsaw was, therefore, not uncalculated. He wanted to remind Germans of the image of Brandt falling to his knees in front of the Warsaw Monument.
Many Germans associate Brandt's action at the monument, whether they agree with his policies or not, as passionate and heartfelt—sentiments rarely associated with politicians today.
Schröder in Warsaw
Going into the Nice Summit, Schröder was clever to evoke Brandt's vision for a united Europe. The 1970s called for unity in the face of Soviet oppression. This was a Europe, firmly (and falsely) divided into east and west, a Europe where visa applications were necessary between the GDR and other Soviet puppet states, let alone between East and West Germany. Freedom of movement simply did not exist.
Der Tagesspiegel commented on Schröder's well-placed trip to Poland. The author of the article, Christoph von Marschall, asked first whether this was the same, superficial, forward-looking Chancellor Schröder who claimed to leave the past behind, who was now so vigorously calling the past into action. Ultimately, this is what Schröder did.
A square is being named in Brandt's honour in Warsaw. By travelling straight from Warsaw to Nice, Schröder almost certainly hopes that generous "Eastern Politics" can be practiced at the meeting there. Indeed, Von Marschall in Der Tagesspiegel calls for this. "...Schröder should not leave Brandt's spirit in Warsaw," he writes, "because it is in this spirit in Nice that Brandt's 'Eastern Politics' should be brought to completion."
Die Welt also remembered Brandt's trip to Warsaw in an article on 6 December. They report that at the time, a survey in Germany was conducted, showing that 41 percent of those asked thought that Brandt's fall to his knees was unspontaneous and 48 percent of those born between 1910 and 1940 thought it was too much.
Real or calculated, appropriate or exaggerated—perhaps it is the role of politicians to make signs that force their nation to look in more conciliatory and progressive directions, while at the same time taking the past into account.
A disspirited enlargement
Die Welt wrote on 6 December: "Today the somewhat disspirited push toward the enlargement of the European Union is associated most of all with Germany and Poland." And since Poland is first on the list for acceptance into the European Union, it is only fitting that Germany, led by Chancellor Schröder, should push in that direction. Schröder did not only commemorate Brandt in Warsaw, he actively pursued the cause of European unity.
If the notion can be accepted that it is the job of politicians to make symbolic actions that would lead their people in new directions, then we are faced with a frightening situation in Russia today.
Three disturbing cases
Read the headlines on Russia in the German press about three completely different issues. "Moscow Punishes Georgia," Die Tageszeitung (TAZ) writes on 6 December with regards to the new institution of a visa requirement for Georgians; "US Citizen convicted of Spying in Moscow," from Die Süddeutsche Zeitung on 7 December, relating to the conviction of American businessman Edmund Pope for spying, and last but not least, "Putin builds symbolically on the Tradition of Lenin and Stalin" in Die Welt also on 7 December, this time referring to the new Russian national anthem.
Visa requirement for Georgia
It is always at this time of year, toward the end of December, that thoughts turn to reflection of the past year, and reflection of the past in general. While Germany calls for the opening of the European Union to the East—"Let us think of the people of Eastern Europe," Schröder said, as reported by Die Süddeutsche Zeitung on 7 December—Russia institutes a visa requirement on one of its neighboring nations, Georgia.
It is not that unusual for visa requirements to be enforced. But in this case, it is thought that they are being enforced because Georgia refused the military presence of Russia in their country, so that Russians could control the border with Chechnya. (TAZ, 6 December)
An anthem evoking Stalin and Lenin
In the case of the national anthem, Die Welt draws attention to the calls of famous Russian artists, such as dancer Maja Plissezkaja, writer Boris Wassiljew and conductor Gennadi Roschdestwenski, to halt the proceedings surrounding the national anthem.
They say that "millions of their countrymen would never be able to sing this hymn because it offends the memory of those who fell to Soviet political oppression." Yet the Duma pushes ahead with this symbol of a national song that can only serve to rewrite history for a new generation.
Twenty years for stealing military secrets
The case against Edmund Pope is the first spy case against a US citizen since 1960, Die Süddeutsche Zeitung reports. Pope has been condemned to twenty years in jail, for allegedly attempting "to steal military secrets." The USA has warned American businessmen in Russia that normal American business practices might land them in jail.
It is speculated that Russia will pardon Pope—presenting the image of a Russia that can be tough in sentencing but also merciful. Russian history is laden with show trials and now this one can be added to the heap.
Symbolic acts with meaning
This week also, in another moment in Polish-German relations, Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek gave Chancellor Schröder a Bible that had been removed from the German collection and taken to the Krakow Jagiellonen Library and kept there since 1945. ("Bible from the Berlin Collection Goes Back to Germany," Die Welt, 6 December) It was a Bible translated by Martin Luther from the year 1522.
This is a symbolic act of reconciliation on behalf of the Poles, for it is not often that one hears of German sacred and historical treasures being returned. Rather more often one hears of Germans attempting to return the items they stole during the Nazi period.
Central Eastern Europe, especially Poland, lies geographically between two historically frightening "Great Powers." The events of this past week in the German press: the summit at Nice, Schröder's visit to Poland in an attempt to execute some modern day "Eastern Politics" and Poland's return of a historical treasure to Germany stand in stark contrast with the headlines about Russia.
One could be tempted to conclude that the speedy return of Central Eastern Europe to the heart of Europe is more pressing now than ever.
Andrea Mrozek, 7 December 2000
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