On the traces of my country’s identity
„Silence, please “, is what I said when I was standing in front of the curious faces of 8th class students. I did it in a different way than normally. I knew I had to give everything or nothing, otherwise I would get lost in the pubescent crowd. In fact, I don’t know what exactly was different this time, but I could read from the reaction of the students, that there must have been something different, as from one second to another the class was entirely silent. Some students were surprisingly lifting their heads, others looking a bit confused, but everyone was indeed silent, listening to what I was going to say.
I have the feeling that I am biologically disadvantaged. I’m small and my voice is tiny. So, neither my physique, nor my voice create the impression of authority and leadership. I never was a leader, and probably I’ll never be. I’m rather being led by others, or I am trying to resist and criticize the leadership. From time to time though, I tried to grove myself into that new position – the place in front of a class.
And this was where I stood now. However, enjoying the second of silence, what happened next was as well unexpected: a Nazi salute. One boy in the last row decisively stretched his arm in the air. He looked me in the eyes. A smile widened his face. Rapidly he pulled the arm downwards. I was unable to say anything, neither to behave in a certain way. Yes, I was somehow shocked. Gladly, the boy sat in the last row, so that his action did not distract the class or take my authority away. The impact of the Nazi salute was not a social one (related to the classes’ reaction), but a personal one. It touched me, as it would probably not have touched any Romanian. The reason was my historical background, the background of my people – the background of the German people.
I feel that I, as a German, wish to emancipate myself from the past. This doesn’t mean that I want to forget, nor to make people forget what happened, but it means that I want to relocate, to redefine my German identity. I want to redefine patriotism and pride, because I believe that to a certain extent patriotism is precious for the development of one’s identity as well as for the development of a nation’s identity. I don’t want to reduce myself to my people’s past, as I don’t like to be reduced to it by others. When I am not able to promote my country’s beauty, which it has indeed, I realise that I lack some pride, because I’m partly reducing my German identity to the past. When I’m not able to appreciate my country’s language, my country’s mentalities, it’s because I associate a huge part of the “cultural pot” with relentlessness, with discipline, with little humour, with harshness, so I’m reducing this culture pot to my country’s past. When people make a Nazi salute to be funny, even if I know that it’s not meant seriously, I feel reduced to the past. I feel reduced to all these stereotypes the past has generated. I feel reminded of all this indescribable pain my country has caused.
The German past serves other countries as a weapon. A psychological weapon to cease every dispute, to minimize every German voice, to degrade every German reputation, to stigmatise every German opinion. Just recently the Romanian president of German origin, Klaus Iohannis, has been shown with a Hitler beard. Some months before that, the German chancellor has been titled as “Mrs Hitler” in the Turkish newspaper “Yeni Akit”. Some months before that, right wing (extremist) supporters, among them the German right-wing party “Afd” have accused German politicians of acting as Hitler. Only three examples of what turbulent, disrespectful and psychologically destructive comments have run through international media.
And of course, these comments, these descriptions shape the German politics, the German society, the German individual. Political actions that are from my point of view clearly influenced by medial depiction, and thus by the German past, are for example Germany’s humanitarian “welcome policy” when facing the refugee crisis. Or the little investment in military resources in general until these days (I recently read a report about the downfall of the German army – the “Bundeswehr”). Or me as a volunteer, being sponsored by the German tax payer. Why? ( – a question I ask myself lots of times: why does the German state invest millions of euros in young people going abroad? But this is another issue to which I’d like to dedicate a separate article). In either case, it has got something to do with Germany’s international image, with her reputation, with her position in world politics, and hence, with an emancipation of the past.
I believe that in the end, even nation wise, it all comes down to appreciation. Of course, there is patriotism and national pride, but as the pride exists for the own nation, it can also be resented for other nations. I am proud of Europe’s diversity, I am proud of the worldwide individuality. I appreciate many single cultures, especially my beloved French culture! Certainly, countries themselves are searching for appreciation, for national acknowledgement, for particularity – probably a difficult task for the German people.
So, on the traces of my country’s identity, on the effort to emancipate myself from the past, I ask myself what I actually appreciate about the German culture, the German mentality, my German identity. Every country has strengths and weaknesses. While I had difficulties in the beginning of the voluntary service talking about Germany’s strengths, the weaknesses I experienced abroad taught me to appreciate different cultural aspects that I had taken for granted until now. Today, I see the controversial democracy in Germany that is alive. People are arguing, discussing, demonstrating, and using any peaceful means to fight for their opinions. I see debates about discrimination and environmental policies. I see an education that is liberated from religious and political fanaticisms. I see values, socially still not being fixed enough, that make me feel home and willing to fight for. I see a country on its way to emancipation, that doesn’t need the past anymore to be humanitarian. And I feel more appreciation than before, when realising that all this is globally seen not usual.