I work colleague just posted this … it’s worth a read.
By German Ambassador Christian Heldt in Pristina
Some personal thoughts on 1945, 2020 and Europe today
75 years ago today on 8 May, World War II ended, a war Germany had started after the Nazis established a reign of terror in our own country. It left behind vast parts of Europe in ruins. More than 60 million people were killed, amongst them the millions murdered in state-planned genocide. The singular crime of the Shoah against the Jews of Europe went hand in hand with mass killings of other social and ethnic groups. And a type of warfare built on annihilation, destruction and enslavement. A brutal peak of everything that contradicts the very essence of the shared values that humanity stands for. So, no wonder that when it finally ended,people all over Europe flooded into the streets in these days of early May 1945 to celebrate liberation.
Forty years later, then German President Richard von Weizsäckersaid on the 1985 anniversary that back in 1945, Germany too had been liberated. It was a passionate plea that 1945 had also changed the fundamentals for Germans, a liberation that gave Germany a chance to ponder it’s problematic past and take a new direction. It was a negation of the notion that Germany had been taken by some outside force and woke up from a nightmare in 1945, as some had claimed before. It was about admitting that all these horrors had happened with support or at least the deliberate ignorance deep down in the vast majority of German society. Not just the Nazi murderers on the rampage were responsible, but also everyone who looked away and didn’t want to know. It was about all those who excelled in aggressive nationalism and marveled at the sight of marching German Nazi columns, at the same time deliberately ignoring the fate of their own neighbours who disappeared in Germany, or looking away when horrendous crimes were committed all over occupied Europe. And then in 1945, the concentration camps were liberated with horrified Allied troops seeing what since has entered our history books. Like in many other places, the US troops that liberated the concentration camp of Buchenwald ordered civilians from nearby Weimar to see the horrors of the camp. It was terrible for the Weimar citizens when they were confronted with this unbearable truth that had happened next to them. Every German had to come to grasps with this responsibility,stemming not just from the physical perpetrators of crimes, but from the collective failure of a whole society that allowed this to happen.
Our first President, Theodor Heuss, as early as 1949 rightly characterized this process of post-war Germany grasping the unthinkable not as collective guilt but collective shame. This is exactly what I felt in any place I have been to where Nazi Germany had left their marks of destruction, or when meeting people who had survived the horrors: simply deep shame. Guilt is personal and fades away with the very last Nazi perpetrators, but shame stays because it also motivates to get things right in the future. And to reflect what makes societies and individuals strong against temptations. When I advocate rule of law, it is because I think about the last major German resistance group whose members were executed by hanging with piano wires -to prolong their suffering- in 1944. Their aim in the resistance was reestablishing,amongst many other ideals,the “majesty of law”. When I see nationalistic chest-beating or the qualification of groups of people as “different” in the sense of judging oneself superior, I remember sitting with people who had tattooed numbers on their arms because they had been qualified as being “different”decades ago. When I hear about resolving minority issues by moving borders, I think about the millions who were shoved around on the European continent in and as aftermath of World War II. Sound too dramatic? We have a German saying “Wehret den Anfängen”, resist the beginnings, because if you let go, you never know where things will end and how quickly developments can get out of control. That is why I believe in values and basics that are the foundation of what we are collectively. So in 1945, Germany was indeed liberated to eventually also join those who share such fundamentals. This to me goes hand in hand with the responsibility to always bear in mind the breach of civilization that ended 75 years ago. So what was the answer for the way ahead?
Europe! Or, let us say this unique process that led to what we know today as the European Union. And tomorrow on 9 May it is Europe Day. Both dates go hand in hand for me:8.5.1945-9.5.1950. What many courageous European post-war leaders felt by wanting to engage differently after the apocalypse of the old continent, then French politician Robert Schuman spelled it out with his famous plan he presented on May 9th 1950: Overcoming the 19th century mechanisms of defining strength solely by owning and gaining. He proposed a fundamentally new approach, and that was sharing. Coal and steel industries, key factors of national economies and power, were to be jointly managed. Not really popular back then, but the mechanismwas a historic gamechanger. And brought us to where we are in 2020 now. This principle of sharing has created one of the most attractive spaces in the world, and a model why cooperation instead of confrontation matters. No European country could survive on its own in this globalized world, not even big Germany as many might think. All of us in the EU can only make it if we make it together. And this is not just about the economy, as some outsiders might wrongly suspect. We share so much more; privileges we only become aware of when travelling outside of the EU. Yet, this didn’t fall from the skies, it took generations of teamwork to get us to that level we have achieved now. All is based on our shared values and principles.
This basic set of ideas is non-negotiable to me after 1945. It is about the dignity of each and every human being, civil liberties, the notion of citizenship. All citizens being equal in their rights and responsibilities. Public office being about serving country and citizens. Modesty and respect. Sharing, not grabbing. Only respecting rules allows true liberties for all. Young generations across the EU feel so much at home in this setting that most of them take it for granted. And it is good that way, it has become their natural habitat. My father was barely 11 years old when World War II ended, he had to steal food to help himself and his parents survive. He witnessed all these changes over the decades that followed. My children thankfully never had to go through that; they live in today’s EU as an open and inspiring space of freedom, sharing it with friends from all over. They are maybe the first generation to be completely European in hearts and mind. I am deeply grateful for that. It is nothing anybody could have hoped for back in those days of May 1945. We as Germans were given a chance then by those whom we had previously occupied and waged war upon, our neighbors who have since become the friends with whom we share the great European adventure. That is why I profoundly believe in this Europe and am proud of belonging to this family. No political model can claim perfection, but it is the best we can share. And that is the model we would also like to share with this part of Europe and the citizens of Kosovo, as a way out of the confinements of 19th century models towards a better future for the younger generation here and those young at heart. I believe you deserve it and are up to it, to embark on this road to sharing and joining.