World Trade Press
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THE BURDEN OF HISTORY
The atrocities of Hitler's Third Reich cast an indelible shadow over the country. Many Germans are ambivalent about their wartime past. Part of the Nazi lagacy is a strong distrust of authority (in contrast to the traditional German faith in it) and of the military, a distrust that has led members of the younger generation to favor pacifism. Many are members of Amnesty International and Greenpeace. German painter Gottfried Helnwein has gained international renown for his chilling anti-Fascist and anti-militarist canvases.
Though a member of NATO, Germany spent decades refusing to allow its armed forces to serve outside its borders, in order to avoid stirring up wartime memories. In 1996, after an acrimonious debate in the Bundestag (Parliament), the government finally agreed to join the NATO forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The burden of recent history helps explain the central German paradox: On the one hand, their country is the fourth richest in the world, their economy is the locomotive for the European Union (EU), and their goods have a reputation for high quality and dependability. Under its system of government consensus - the cornerstone of Germany's postwar prosperity - employers and unions cooperate in the management of companies. Worker-directors sit on the boards of the major corporations. Pay and conditions are set across the whole industries through negotiation between union and managerial representatives, and change is put into effect in small steps.
On the other hand, the German people remain deeply insecure. Angst, the feeling of vulnerability to life's uncertainties, is a national trait. Germans tend to overreact, particularly when their orderly world is threatened. In a recent radio program, on political analyst in Frankfurt likened the present situation in Germany to the dawn of the French Revolution: "You feel that this state is nearing some kind of bankruptcy," he declared.
But in fact, Germany's economy remains the sturdiest in Europe. What's happening is that faced with slowing growth and rising unemployment, coupled with the finacial burden of rebuilding the East, the government has planned cutbacks in Germany's model (and very expensive) social welfare system, the so-called Welfare Net. This has triggered alarm bells. The notion that the paternalistic state (the Fatherland) can no longer guarantee that every citizen will be looked after from the cradle to the grave has brought protests from the labor unions and increasing angst to the populace at large.