Oct 6, 2021
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Drang nach Osten 2.0: Germans are tired of living with collective guilt

Drang nach Osten 2.0: Germans are tired of living with collective guilt

Photo: DPA / Picture-alliance / TASS

Regular elections were held in Germany on September 26. The Social Democrats (SDP), conservative Christian Democrats (CDUKHS bloc), the Greens, Liberals (Free Democrats or FDP), the ultra-right from the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the Left (descendants of the Stalinist Communist Party) got into parliament.

The elections ended in failure for the conservatives who ruled over the past 16 years (within the coalition governments) – they got 24.1%, lost to the Social Democrats (25.7%) led by the former finance minister in the government Angela Merkel Olaf Scholz… He is widely seen as Merkel’s successor as chancellor.

It is not yet clear who will form the new government, but it is unlikely that it will be conservatives. One of the parties in the conservative coalition, the CSU (Christian Social Union), ruled out the possibility that the center-right bloc of the CDUKUS could form a coalition by taking second place in the elections. Most importantly, the FDP (11.5%) and the Greens (14.8%) agreed to negotiate with each other before agreeing to negotiate with one of the major parties.

The two centrist parties disagree on a number of issues, but if they can work out a joint position, including an agreement on the distribution of ministerial portfolios, they can act as kingmakers. The most likely is the ruling coalition of these parties and the Social Democrats. Then Scholz would become chancellor at the head of the “traffic light” coalition (the name comes from the colors of the parties – red, yellow and green).

However, in recent days, a new round of the major financial scandal Cum-ex (a fraudulent scheme disclosed in 2017 allowed market participants to illegally reimburse dividend taxes, – “SP”), affecting Scholz personally, and this may deprive him of hope for the chancellorship. Yet Germany’s political future seems certain. The forces that will form the government are not interested in drastic changes.

The Greens are in favor of a faster transition to renewable energy sources, and this party is the most critical of Russia (this combination is not accidental: the Greens are less interested in Russian energy purchases). However, their actions will be held back by other parties and forces. The lobbyists of German businesses associated with the powerful export-oriented industry are so influential that their opinion is decisive in many areas. Big business is interested in the Nord Stream 2 project, which provides Germany with cheap gas and turns it into the largest gas distribution hub for the European Union. But in a strategic perspective, change is possible.

Germany is distinguished by a very peculiar state idea. It is common for great powers, even when they admit their crimes, to glorify their past. The German state, on the other hand, seeks to develop a sense of guilt in the Germans. Perhaps this indicates an external dependence. American political scientist Stephen Kotkin notes that containment of German ambitions is one of the main tasks of US policy. The expansion of NATO to the East (in 1999, it included Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic) was intended not only to challenge Russia (at that time an ally of the United States), but also to limit Germany, dissolving its political influence in an increasing number of NATO member countries. For the United States in the 20th century clashed on the battlefields with Germany in two world wars and would like to prevent an independent German foreign policy in the future.

Germany’s role in world politics does not match its gigantic economic, scientific and industrial might. The country took part in the war in Yugoslavia in 1999, but in general it is very dependent on the United States. Giovanni Arrigi, an Italian social researcher, pointed out that the consent of the top of the state to dependence on another country is due to the fact that the ruling classes derive more benefits from the dependent position than if they acted autonomously.

The ruling circles of the Federal Republic of Germany, that is, business and the leadership of the parties, are interested in incurring lower costs and risks in exchange for submission to the Americans in foreign policy. Germany does not need to send the military to hot spots, to incur losses there, ensuring the security of global production chains and trade routes, because the United States is taking on this mission. The export-oriented German economy can devote itself to the production of high-quality cars and machine tools, and maintain some social guarantees for citizens, stabilizing domestic consumption and preventing protests and strikes.

At the same time, the collective sense of guilt of the Germans allows the elites to firmly control the situation within the state. Even the generations born after World War II must remember that they are responsible for the events of the past. This ideology serves as a secular continuation of the religious principle, according to which a person should blame not so much external factors for his problems (for example, the policies of those who manage the state, industry, banks), but himself, and constantly be aware of his sinfulness. Great sinners should not rebel. And of course, ordinary Germans should not dispute the dependence of the FRG on the United States. National pride is declared dangerous and must be contained.

Today German industrial exporters and banks are interested in maintaining this policy, but the question is – for how long?

Donald Trump changed a lot. He believed that the United States incurred excessive costs for the security of Europe. Realizing the slogan “America is above all!” He pursued a policy of protectionism that posed a threat to Germany’s export-oriented economy: the United States is Germany’s leading export market outside the EU. Trump has imposed sanctions on a strategic project beneficial to the Germans – Nord Stream 2. In a word, he put Germany in a difficult position, which saw that America may no longer defend its interests.

Administration Joe Biden intends to work to restore the former goodwill relations with Germany, which developed after the Second World War. She went to meet the wishes of Germany to preserve Nord Stream-2, lifting the sanctions against it. But not everything is going smoothly in the relations of allies. The United States is now shifting its interests to the Indo-Pacific region, where it confronts the new superpower, China. There they create new military-political blocs. Great Britain, Japan, India, Australia become their closest partners. They are now less concerned with the fate of Europe. The United States did not even inform most of its NATO partners about the creation of an anti-Chinese military bloc – Aukus with Great Britain and Australia.
The less Americans are interested in Europe, the more Germany’s need for an independent policy will be. In addition, the United States would like to restrict EU trade with China. This is not in the interests of the FRG, whose huge exports depend on the Chinese market. The divergence between US and German interests could lead to unexpected results over time.

The mismatch between a strong German economy and its weak military-political superstructure, as well as a weakening of US attention to German interests, can force Germany to increase military spending and political ambitions, protecting its international interests and markets. This would also lead to the destruction of the ideology of German guilt. Great nations discourage talking about the crimes of the past. Their elite compensates for the discontent of the social base with a growing admiration for imperial power and successful military operations.

If Germany ever frees itself from American tutelage, for example, thanks to the progressive weakening of the United States, or if America’s interests are concentrated in another region, much will change in German politics.

This will bring not only benefits to the Russian leadership, but also risks. Twice in the 20th century, Germany challenged not only the United States, but also Russia.

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