To pay or not to pay
The tragicomical play featuring compensation payments by German business to former slave and forced labourers in Nazi Germany continues, eroding ever more of the reputation of many German companies.
For months, the German industriesand, notably, many medium enterpriseshad been called upon in vain by an agitated public to complete a DEM 5 billion (EUR 2.6 billion) contribution to the German Bundestag's foundation "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future" which was set up to co-ordinate compensation payments to surviving forced labourers. The enterprises' DEM 5 billion are to match the 5 billion to be paid in by the statean amount that has been earmarked long ago by the Federal Ministry of Finance.
The German business establishment, however, claimed is was "unable" to come up with the rather modest sum, thus jeopardising the deal that had been struck in dragged-out negotiations between Germany and the United States: a DEM 10 billion lump payment to the surviving forced labourers (to be distributed in shares of between DEM 5000 and 15,000) in exchange for legal protection for German corporations against private compensation claims in American courts.
Only after US judge Shirley Kram refused to guarantee the aforementioned legal protection before the promised sum had been raised in full could the 5 billion be suddenly completed. However, many medium enterprises that profited from forced labour have still not contributed, while a number of younger companies that have no link with the Nazi era didin a truly patriotic gesture of solidarity. In spite of the payments, however, the foundation cannot yet operate freely and issue payments because some corporations fear that the legal protection in question will not be "complete."
This mix of political blindness and ethic irresponsibility has tainted the image of German business in an unprecedented way since WW II and made them appear stingy, reckless and lacking any ethical principles. The governmentwhich struck the deal for the corporations in the first placemust feel as if it had been stabbed in the back and so does, probably, the entire nation.
A civil action
Some Germans are sick and tired of watching this display of poverty in more than one sense. The inhabitants of a village in the northern land of Schleswig-Holstein have collected DEM 2000 (EUR 1100) themselves and handed it to a Polish citizen who, while a boy, had worked in the local dairy during the war. He is the first forced labourer to have received compensation.
Germans under fire
Remote from the legal and political battles elsewhere, real war continues in the Balkans. 8000 German soldiers are permanently deployed in Kosovo (6000 troops) and around the town of Tetovo in neighbouring Macedonia (2000 troops). This is the most serious and "real" activity the post-war German army, the new Bundeswehr, has ever taken part in. This commitment means a crucial step towards the creation of a new army more adapted to the needs of rapid interventions and high-tech war.
During the recent battles between Albanian paramilitaries and Macedonians, the German garrison ended up under fire and one soldier was wounded. As a reaction, the local German commander decided on the partial relocation of the 1200 troops in Tetovo. At the same time, Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping has ordered more Leopard tanks and heavy armour to be taken to Macedonia from Kosovo.
A Mouse of the Nation
The Germanswhich, exceptionally, means almost the whole nation in this contextare about to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the longest-lasting and most successful children's series in the history of German T.V.: the Mouse. Die Sendung mit der Maus ("The Broadcast with the Mouse") has been educating German television audiences since 1971 about the mysteries of life in a rare, "un-Germanly" light and relaxed fashion, without a trace of stiff didcatic attitude and without fanatically hammering in the facts.
There is hardly a topic of everyday life, natural science, the world of consumption and social relations that the Mausmacher ("Mousemakers") have not dealt with in order to enlighten children and as well their parents. The broadcasting time of Sunday 11.30 am is the closest the nation gets to a weekly "must see" event and finds entire families gathered around the T.V. set. There they follow the Maus team to factories, construction sites, scientific centres, as well as have a look at the microscopic world.
The animated protagonists are, first of all (quite obviously) the Mousean orange-red, mute, everyday hero with a Chaplin-like tendency to get itself into dire situations but usually finding a way out by means of its many built-in cyborg elements and simply by its natural wit. Its faithful companion is the blue Elephantmuch smaller than the Mouse, calmer and more rational than its larger friend. Its endlessly stretchable trunk is always of great help once the heroes get into trouble. Finally, there is the yellow ducknot too intelligent an animal and rather emotionalwho is often the very source of the calamity the Mouse and Elephant must overcome. But, of course, it is as cute as the others.
Very aptly, the Mouse was recently deemed to be one of the most important "living" German personalities. It is not too much calling it a true teacher of the German nation (praeceptor Germaniae) not to mention he certainly is the most likeable teacher the country has seen in many years.
Jens Boysen, 16 March 2001
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