As Germany and Spain prove, history – with all its wounds – is not over

Natalie Nougayrède writes: History is back in Europe. The Catalan referendum and the German election illustrate this spectacularly. The scale of the far-right vote in what was once East Germany and Catalonia’s apparent march towards independence may look like they happened on separate planets – to be sure, they are fuelled by different political beliefs – but they both have to do with pent-up frustrations. Citizens who feel that they have been insulted have gone to the ballot box, and in some cases taken to the streets, to protest. In both situations there is a vivid historical backdrop, with memories of Europe’s 20th-century nightmares playing an important role: in Catalonia, the fight against fascism and Franco; in the east of Germany, the experiences of Nazism and Soviet communism.

In Leipzig and the nearby small town of Grimma, I was told about how citizens felt their self-esteem had been trampled on. German reunification has not led to a shared sense of community. Rather, it’s compared to colonisation: “westerners” took over everything – regional administrations, courts, education and the economy. Everything about life in the Communist state – the way people dressed, what they ate, what they learned in school, how they decorated their homes, what they watched on TV – became an object of scorn and ridicule. It’s not that life isn’t better now: of course it is. There is freedom. And living standards have improved immensely. But many eastern Germans feel their identity has somehow been negated, as if they were being asked to forget about it.

Speaking with Catalan friends in recent days, I heard similar qualms: “We were waiting for a sign that our voice would be heard, but as the years passed nothing was changing” … “Our cultural difference isn’t being acknowledged as it should be”: these were common sentiments, even from people not altogether enthusiastic about breaking away from Spain. [Continue reading…]

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One thought on “As Germany and Spain prove, history – with all its wounds – is not over

  1. Dieter Heymann

    The reunification of the DDR and the BRD sent shock waves through the system of production of the now defunct DDR. The first was Western capitalism. The second had been Russian Stalinism adapted to a German workforce. The productive systems of all dictatorships have much in common. Mindless Stachanovism at various degrees of intensity. The current new fascist/communists of the former DDR long for the system in which a leader at any level had to be obeyed by those below him or her even though their position was also in danger from the next level of leaders above them. Execution was valued more than thinking. A system in which thinking is just as important as execution is dangerous. You might get exposed as a poor thinker or worse, unfit for the position you are in.

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