Many Young Berliners Ignorant of Totalitarian Past...
Welt Online published a fascinating and frightening article on the attitudes of Berlin's youth towards the communist dictatorship that was East Germany until the fall of the Berlin Wall. Most telling are results of a poll of 15-17 year old students, documented in the article and translated here:
- "The DDR (GDR - East Germany) was not a dictatorship - the people just had to conform like anywhere else."
24.6% of all students agreed with this statement, 21.1% in West-Berlin
and 28.1% in East-Berlin. 54.1% of all students rejected the statement,
60.5% from West-Berlin and 48.6% in East-Berlin. The remainder (21.3% total, 18.4% in West-Berlin and 23.2% in East-Berlin) selected "neutral".
- "The Stasi (Ministry for State Security of the DDR) was an intelligence agency, just like any other state would have." 31.1% of all students agreed with this statement, 24.4% in West-Berlin and 38.8% in East-Berlin. 49.6% of all students rejected the statement, 56.2% in West-Berlin and 44.7% in East-Berlin. The remainder (19.3% of all students, 19.5% in West-Berlin and 16.5% in East-Berlin) selected "neutral".
- "I find it good that in the DDR the state took care of all citizens, even though, as a result, individual citizens had less freedom." 26.4% of all students agreed, 17.2% from West-Berlin and 36.3% from East-Berlin. 44.5% of all students rejected the statement, 55% from West-Berlin and 32.9% from East-Berlin . The remainder (29.1% of all students, 27.8% from West-Berlin and 30.8% from East-Berlin) selected "neutral".
- "The command economy in the DDR was not better or worse than the market economy in West Germany, just different." 20.1% of all students agreed with this statement, 13.9% from West-Berlin and 26.7% from East-Berlin. 43.9% rejected this statement, 51.5% from West-Berlin and 36.3% from East-Berlin. The remainder (36% of all students, 34.6% in West-Berlin and 37% in East-Berlin) selected "neutral".
- "When was the Berlin Wall built?" 57.6% answered correctly with 1961, 42.4% gave an incorrect answer and named years between 1945 and 1968. There were few East-West differences here.
- "The Berlin Wall was built by...?" 13.6% of all Berlin students (12.4% West and 14.3% East) answered that it was the Allies, 1.9% (1.6% West and 2.2% East) said it was the USA, 46% answered the Soviet Union (47.2% West and 44.8% East), 4.5% said it was West Germany (3.9% West and 5.3% East) and only 34.9% answered correctly with the DDR (34.9% West and 33.4% East).
- Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl was identified with the DDR by 13.5% of all students (10.1% West and 16.2% East). 81.6% of all students identified him with West Germany (84.9% West and 80.5% East).
- DDR Head of State Erich Honecker was identified with West Germany by 8.2% of the students (10.1% West and 6.1% East).
Most unsettling are the positive or neutral responses by a majority of East-Berlin students polled (and sizable minorities of West-Berlin students) to the propositions that the DDR was not a dictatorship and that the Stasi was just an intelligence agency like any other. This represents a dangerous ignorance of one's own national history as well as a frightening willingness to condone or overlook the crimes of the former East German regime.
Unfortunately, this willingness to overlook the misdeeds of dictators is something that I have experienced firsthand with young Germans. When I asked a young woman protesting the Iraq war and chanting anti-American slogans whether the crimes of Saddam Hussein bothered her - she replied: "Saddam Hussein - what has he ever done to anyone?" Needless to say - her attitudes are closely shared by many young Germans with similar political persuasions.
Considering Germany's foreign policy, it is not difficult to conclude that such attitudes - (combined with Germany's reflexive historic pacifism and hyper-sensitivity to casualties) - strongly influence German reactions and responses to the threats posed by present day totalitarians. We have grown accustomed to the common refrain: Downplay the threat posed by the world's most vicious regimes and avoid military engagement at any cost.
Note to readers: Special thanks to Karin Quade for bringing this to our attention. Be sure to check out her blog and posting on this. She currently has an interesting piece on how Gerhard Schroeder continues to serve as an apologist for and appeaser of absolutists - this time in China.
Also, our creative pause is at an end. As I said earlier - "I'll be back" and now I am - refreshed and stronger than ever - with David Harnasch to back me up. Thank you for your patience and welcome back.