Germany - the new leader or still a threat?

Posted on June 19, 2017

Is Germany now the last Western bastion of prosperity and liberal politics? Or are EU merely window-dressing for a new German hegemony?

This is the question of current interest in ”The shortest history of Germany” (2017) by the British historian and author James Hawes.  The questions are highly relevant in Norway.


Norwegians were almost Germans in the 1800s.  The academic language was German and Norwegian artists - like Ibsen, Munch and Grieg - went via Germany to get out into the world.  With Hitler, nazism and the German occupation of Norway 1940-45 this totally changed.  Norway turned its back to Germany and became totally anglo-americanized for 70 years.


But now the times are changing.  United Kingdom are moving towards Brexit.  Donald Trump is unclear about continued US support for Nato - and is turning the attention towards the Pacific and Asia.  Vladimir Putin has invaded Crim, supports rebels in Ukraine and is now silently watches the changes in world politics.  While the Baltic and Vizegrad states are scared - and everybody looks to Germany. 


But are Germans really us, or them?  Can we trust them - and should we?  


James Hawes goes 2000 years back in German history to find an answer.  A core point for him is that there are two countries.  There is a Germany west of the river Elbe which ever since Julius Caesar in Roman times and Charlemagne in Frankish times has been a part of a European cultural sphere.  The region east of Elbe were incompletely conquered 1000 years ago, but were still populated for a large part by Slavic inhabitants in opposition to German rule.  Then comes centuries with expanding German influence along the Baltic sea through the Hanseatic merchants and the Teutonic order. 


This gave rise to the Junkers, which literally means young lords and were the younger sons of German nobility who were willing to move into East Elbia to expand German rule.  The hosti-lity between the German rulers and the conquered Slavs, Poles, Balts and Russian - and made building military power important to keep control.  The Junkers became a warrior caste, got privileges and became virtually independent rulers in their estates.  And the non-noble Germans living in the region depended on the Junkers for their defence and develop-ed a loyal servility to their masters, mixed with fearful scorn of the foreign underclass.


Then some centuries passes with Martin Luthers Reformation, the thirty year religion wars and the Napoleonic wars. 


Until Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) enters the arena as the Chancellor of Preussia.  He was as determined as any other Junker to preserve the old, royal Prussia.  He had a plan which he was open about.  He would upgrade the army, go to war, subdue the small German states and create a national unity under the leadership of Prussia.  So he did, successfully - in the wars against Denmark 1864, Austria 1866 and France 1870.

Then the author James Hawes raises his central questions.  Did Bismarck unify Germany or did he conquer it for Prussia?  He argues for that this was clearly Prussia conquering Ger-many.


Hawes outlines tragical consequences for Germany for the next century with WW1, Hitler, WW2 and the cold war. 


    In the years between the wars it was the protestant Prussia in the northwest which to the largest extent voted for Hitler and the catholic southwest who did not. 

    After the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 the West-German chancellor Helmut Kohl were doomed to lose the election in Western Germany, but won by far when he managed to convert it into an election for all of Germany.  He got his extra support from the previous East Germany east of Elbe.

   And when looking at where the right-extreme Alternative für Deutschland has its strongest support, it is to be found east of Elben, especially in the vicinity of Dresden.


Why has it been so?  Hawes sees this in relation to the Junkers of Prussia fighting to keep their privilieges and the critical attitude to the non-German and immigrant underclasses in this area.