9 November 1989 – a historical date

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. I was personally involved on the tenth anniversary in organising the festivities at the Brandenburg gate which united tens of thousands of citizens and in bringing onto the stage the newly elected German chancellor Gerhard Schröder together with Gorbachev, Bush senior and Helmut Kohl. At that time the anniversary of the falling of the wall was a reason for celebration only, although there were clear warning signs of the issues that would emerge due to the way that reunification handled. Before Merkel, it was Kohl pretending that there was “no alternative”.

Today, we see the AfD and its openly fascist ideas and leaders dominating the political arena in the German Länder which used to be part of the GDR. Although millions of Euros have been invested in the East, and rightly so, disparities remain in income as well as in terms of the economic development of the region, to the benefit of major urban areas only.

Worryingly, AfD leaders are trying to distort history and culture by taking ownership of the popular citizens’ protest movements in the GDR in 1989. The narrative they’re trying to develop is that East German citizens were not part of the protests and were becoming second class citizens compared to migrants. It is a huge campaign solely based upon a distortion of history. They have developed their own very successful narrative of “das Volk” - the people - around 9 November. This concept is Nazi: it includes only “biological Germans” (whoever they are) and excludes migrants or Germans who are second or third generation migrants.

This new Nazi occupation of the civic space is driven and sustained by social and cultural gatherings and services based on an identity which is everything but inclusive. Just as at the end of the 1920s, violence has gained ground in the public sphere, be it social media or reality. Hate speech, intimidation, death threats against politicians who are not like-minded are a daily reality. It is not only virtual, as the murder of a regional politician like Lübke in Hessen and the attack of the synagogue in Halle have dramatically reminded us

There will no doubt be some excellent speeches along the lines of “we will not accept this”, but they won’t help since they only reach a democratic community which is not very responsive to the current threats against the democratic rule of law. If the latter is not applied and respected in full, the far right will continue to make progress in Germany too (like in France, Belgium, Italy and many other countries), and will happily continue to occupy the public sphere and dominate public discourse, winning elections and gaining power.

On this 9 November 2019 there is a need for commemoration and for rethinking the rebuilding of active citizenship and democratic resilience. In a very German sense this commemoration will be dialectic. There is no democracy without democrats and resilient institutions, without democrats standing up. Reactions have shown their limits and history should not repeat itself, but it may. This is the new danger of the new fascism.