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Rainer Zitelmann: Reunification and German Self-Hatred (1992)

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For the Left, the situation looks different. In the seventies and eighties, the Left had attained cultural hegemony in the intellectual discourse in West Germany. Habermas noted, with satisfaction, a “Leftward Shift of the Political Spectrum,”* though he simultaneously voiced his concerns that this leftward shift could undergo a revision in the face of the most recent developments. This concern is further reinforced by speculations about the mental consequences of unity. Habermas fears that the “post-material values” articulated by the “new social movements” and the “culture of protest” sustained by them could be pushed into the background as a result of the unification of the two German states (p. 76 f.).** The “altogether progressive transformation in motives and attitudes” (p. 77) among the West German population could suffer a setback from reunification, “because the GDR has not yet gone through the dramatic transformation of values that has been occurring in West Germany since the late sixties” (p. 78). One has an inkling of what Habermas is talking about: visions of multiculturalism, feminist utopias, progressive anti-Fascism, and committed anti-anticommunism – that is, all those attitudes that have been part of “good manners” among the “enlightened” and “critical” public since the West German cultural revolution of 1968 – find little resonance in the former GDR. For the German Left, the year 1990 was difficult and depressing in every respect. The SPD with its anti-national chancellor candidate was crushed in the Bundestag elections, the Greens (West) even failed to return to parliament, the German Communist Party and its auxiliary organizations slid into an existential crisis.*** All of a sudden, people were speaking not only about the crimes of the National Socialists, but also about those of Communism. And this even though an anti-anticommunism had been gaining strength in West Germany since 1968, whitewashing conditions in the Communist countries and making it taboo to bring up crimes committed in the name of Socialism.**** Until now, the Left carried itself with a consciousness – largely uncontested in the intellectual debate – of moral superiority. “The Right” found itself constantly needing to justify itself, because it was continually linked with the negative continuities of German history or even with the crimes of National Socialism. The Left, by contrast, pervaded by an awareness of being in accord with an unstoppable historical trend, saw itself as the sole guardian of positively connoted values and inclinations, such as enlightenment, emancipation, and humanism. The “progressives” were thus on the right side of history; the national and conservative forces, however, were the reactionaries. Historical development had already rendered its merciless verdict on them or would soon be doing so. All these certainties seemed to have vanished with the events of 1989 and 1990.

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* Jürgen Habermas, “Die Stunde der nationalen Empfindung. Republikanische Gesinnung oder Nationalbewußtsein?” in Habermas, Die nachholende Revolution. Frankfurt am Main, 1990, p. 163.
** Jürgen Habermas, Vergangenheit als Zukunft. Zurich,1990.
*** On this, see Manfred Wilke, “DKP und PDS nach dem Ende des deutschen Kommunismus,” in Uwe Backes/Eckhard Jesse, ed., Jahrbuch Extremismus und Demokratie 3 (1991), pp. 147-58.
**** This also applies to large portions of West German research on the GDR. For a critical take on this, see Eckhard Jesse, “Wie man eine Schimäre zum Leben erweckt,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, August 24, 1990; Konrad Löw, “Die bundesdeutsche politikwissenschaftliche DDR-Forschung und die Revolution in der DDR,” Zeitschrift für Politik 38 (1991), pp. 237-254.

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