Our German translator JLH examines the parallels between events in Germany in the late 1980s and those of today.
Is this the Wende?
Just a brief reflection from a non-expert, long-time observer of affairs in Germany and Austria.
When Ronald Reagan gave his “Tear down this wall” speech in 1987 and Gorbachev was already at work on “democratizing” the Soviet Union and its component parts, Reagan’s phrase publicly expressed feelings already roiling beneath the surface. Two years later, on October 7, 1989, a massive counter-demonstration on the DDR’s 40th anniversary was brutally put down.
Two days later, the first of many “We are the people” demonstrations goes off peacefully in Leipzig, and the East Germans begin “walking” to freedom.
Then come the resignations, changes of policy, transparent “conversions” of politicians and other public figures. The “Wende” is underway.
On November 9th, the iconic fall of the Berlin Wall.
Do we hear echoes in the German-speaking world today? In place of the absolutist East German regime of the 1980s, the totalitarian pressure now emanates from the EU and its Merkelized puppets. Anyone who “knows what is good for them” adopts the party line, disregarding the isolated cries of anguish from individuals killed, mauled, raped and/or disenfranchised by the new “compassionate” policy. The great and small — all those who aspire to acceptance and prestige — conform willingly, even joyously. “Aren’t we lovely people, and who are those crude louts who are trying to destroy the ideal society?”
The PEGIDA movement that began on October 26, 2014 in Dresden self-consciously re-introduces the peaceful, recurring “walk” for freedom and its “Wir sind das Volk” — this time aimed at a government that has imposed the laws and rules that facilitate Islamization of German society. It also introduces a new phrase to political dialogue: “Lügenpresse — Lying Press” (Think Donald Trump pointing his finger at the press gathered in the back of the hall for his rallies). Eventually the movement spreads to other parts of Germany and then other parts of Western Europe. Ridiculed by the media and the glitterati; attacked by leftist thugs — they simply continue, following Gandhi’s progression: First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. It may be that AfD and other events are making the headlines now, but these “walks” have begun to show the same result the originals did.
Sigmar Gabriel of the SPD (!) vigorously defends Cologne police and their use of “Nafri” — the word under attack by the left. Christoph, Cardinal Schönborn, who had pressed his own priests to advocate for refugees, now appears with his Protestant counterpart to walk it back a bit and talk about a safe place in Syria rather than just welcoming refugees in Austria. This was preceded as early as October 2015 by comments from the new Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz (Austrian People’s Party, ÖVP) recognizing the impossibility of continuing to take refugees. After the New Year’s Eve 2015 débâcle in Cologne, and other incidents in both Germany and Austria, there seems to be a dawning recognition in some media that the subject cannot be completely submerged anymore.
How many more of the great and powerful will slowly twist themselves out of shape to keep up with the dreaded “populism” and try to stay afloat until it all goes away? When will the number reach critical mass — if ever?
|1.||The Wende in the East Germany of the late 1980s was the gradual, visible and oft-ridiculed turning of some key players in the government and even literature when they saw the handwriting on the wall and tried to appease the public by statements and gestures, even overt actions, that moved in the direction of less repression and more freedom. These people were referred to as Wendehaelse. Wende means turn and Hals means Neck, but put together, they are the name of a species of woodpecker—the Wryneck in English—whose name comes from its habit of twisting its neck to get at the food it is pecking out of the tree. So the political “turning” also created the “wrynecks” who twisted themselves out of shape to stay in power.
Photo courtesy of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff.