The Slow Convalescence of a Bipolar Nation

German Nationalism The refugee crisis in Germany is very telling of the German national psyche that tends to sway between extremes.
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On the downside the current crisis brings to the forefront a new found freedom to express extreme nationalist views. And there definitely is a tendency towards reassessing German history in a negative way that is trickling from the far-right into the main stream. For example: Many revisionists are keen to reassess crimes committed by the Nazi regime by pointing to Allied bombing raids that destroyed large parts of German cities during WWII.

Ever since WWII national symbols weren't banned but weren't often put on public display in Germany: Black, red and yellow striped flags weren't household items, Germans wouldn't decorate their streets in their national colors and the national anthem, whose first verse was banned, was sung, if at all, underneath your breath.

Germany in some respect became one of the least nationalist nations as its citizens were aware that the overbearing love of one's country can lead to the hatred of others and horrific crimes committed. However, nationalist sentiments don't just vanish into thin air.

Suppressed but not stamped out

Whilst on the surface, at least in Western Germany, an age of post-nationalist reason had dawned, in truth aggressive nationalism wasn't stamped out, but suppressed. However, most things suppressed will sooner or later reemerge. Often with a vengeance.

Many recent media reports focus on the new, more sympathitic, helping and caring Germans, who welcome refugees. At the same time the refugee crisis has made it more obvious than ever: Some Germans now openly regress into a state of mind based on the notion: "We are better than others, because we are German".

This is partly because Germans have had a hard time fomenting a reasonable and relaxed attitude towards their nation. This isn't that hard to explain either, as one day nationalism was said to be the only reason to live for, the next it was rebranded devilry in its purist form.

The Germans staggered from one extreme to the next

Some observers argue that aggressive nationalist sentiments are more widespread in parts of the country that used to make up Eastern Germany. This sounds at least plausible, not because the people who live there are narrow minded or less educated, or bad people altogether.

Rather, the underlying reason can be traced to the way Eastern Germany was governed for just over forty years. The authoritarian regime in the East countered totalitarian nationalist ideology with its own form of non-compromising ideology.

While nationalism after WWII in Western Germany was suppressed by a collective feeling of shame and guilt, and maybe thankfulness towards Western allies for not again wanting to punish Germany for its collective misdeeds, in the East it was just forbidden to feel such sentiments.

Germans sometimes still can't help falling from one extreme into the other

The refugee crisis now reveals a still prevailing tendency towards bipolarity: On the one hand there have been more than 200 attacks on refugee shelters all over Germany, on the other hand bystanders at Munich's main train station welcomed refugees by clapping and cheering.

On the whole, ever since the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, Germany has grown into a more self-confident nation. This is why Chancellor Angela Merkel talking about the challenges brought on by the refugee crisis was emboldened to say: "Wir schaffen das!" ("We'll get through this!")

Germany has reached a stage in history where it doesn't just sport democratic institutions but where it can look back on and refer to democratic traditions, in the Western part more than in the former East. Germany probably is on its way to finding its center and inner peace as a nation as a whole.

The country might go through a phase of social tensions as the refugee crisis looks to become worse and even more foreigners will seek refuge here. But this crisis might just prove to be the catalyst that gives Germany and its people the chance to once and for all shake off destructive traditions.

Even though there are some who still need to do some catching-up!

16:32 22.09.2015
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John Roberts

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