From Stauffenberg to PEGIDA: How the Far Right Adopted the Flag of the Anti-Hitler Resistance.

Kundgebung Pegida in Dresden
PEGIDA rally in 2015

On July 20, 1944 – 73 years ago today –  Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg carried out a plot to assassinate Hitler with a bomb. The attack failed and Stauffenberg along with several dozen military and conservative elites involved were arrested, tortured and executed.

Since WWII, the bomb plot has been an important part of Germany’s political culture – Stauffenberg and the plotters are seen as evidence that not all Germans supported the Nazis and that within the elite there were still men who represented the traditional values of the nation and were willing to die for this. This interpretation is contested, but within the public sphere, commemoration of the plotters and their efforts is a touchstone of mainstream German politics.

widerstand monument
Memorial to the German Resistance in Berlin

All of this makes it puzzling that the flag of the conservative anti-Hitler resistance has become a symbol of the far right in recent years.

Wirmer flag

The Wirmer flag was designed by Josef Wirmer as the flag for the new Germany in 1944. Wirmer was a lawyer who had worked in the social left-wing of the Catholic Center Party before the Nazi seizure of power. The flag combined the red, black, gold of the Weimar (and modern) German flag along with the cross to emphasize the importance of Christianity. Wirmer himself was executed in September 1944 in connection with the July 20th plot.

Continue reading “From Stauffenberg to PEGIDA: How the Far Right Adopted the Flag of the Anti-Hitler Resistance.”

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Who Is the Volk? From the Fall of the Wall to Merkel & Me

wir-sind-ein-volk-1989

If you have ever seen even a single TV documentary about the collapse of East Germany, the image of a sign with the words Wir sind ein Volk – We are one people – is unavoidable. Protestors across the German Democratic Republic began to chant the slogan Wird sind das Volk – We are the people – as a means of legitimizing their dissent against the state that claimed to rule on behalf of the people. But the turn to from das to ein Volk (so: from the people to one people) was the moment when demonstrations in the streets veered from reform within East Germany towards reunification with West Germany.

last-monday-demo
The final Monday Demonstration before the first open East German elections in March 1990

The reunification of Germany is now just a fact of geography and it is often hard to recall how threatening the concept was to so many in 1989. Framed as a rebellion against totalitarian communism, the idea of reuniting the Volk has been neutralized of its heavy historical baggage: namely the the Nazi slogan – Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer.

ein-volk-nazi

The idea of the German Volk predated the Nazis, but this particular vision of it the took the logic of a racialized nationalism to the genocidal extreme. The Volk of the Nazis was a racially pure German people, purged of foreign and “degenerate” influences, both genetic and cultural. Those who were not of the Volk were to be sterilized, displaced and murdered. Genocide was the endpoint of the logic of the Volk.

And it is this dark history that makes Angela Merkel’s commentary this week on the German Volk so meaningful:

The time of German unity, the time when the Iron Curtain fell, the time when Europe was coming together, was a wonderful time. And therefore there is no justification to presume to define out of our society small groups, to define who the Volk is. The Volk is everyone who lives in this country.

This is a big deal. A really big deal, in fact. It was controversial when former German President Christian Wulff said that “Islam belongs to Germany” in 2010. Merkel defended Wulff on the grounds that while German  culture was grounded in Judaeo-christian values, Muslims were citizens and equal before the law. This was not a ringing endorsement so much as an acknowledgement of legal realities.

In January, Merkel had already edged towards this line of thought saying “We are all the Volk,” but she had not committed to a cosmopolitan vision of German national identity to such an extent. Here – at a CDU party election in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (not necessarily an friendly audience for this message) – she was trying to link the idea of the Volk to a civic national identity rooted in shared residence in Germany, and explicitly rejected the notion of the Volk grounded in racial or ethnic identity.

The idea of a German civic identity is not new – Jürgen Habermas’s idea of a constitutional patriotism as a replacement for ethnic nationalism is a famous example – but this positive declaration that everyone who lives in Germany belongs to the Volk is something new.

volk-gdr-stamp-1990
One of the final postage stamps issued by East Germany in 1990

Continue reading “Who Is the Volk? From the Fall of the Wall to Merkel & Me”

Call For Papers: The Other Globalisers

The Other Globalisers: How the Socialist and the Non-Aligned World Shaped the Rise of Post-War Economic Globalisation

Location: Exeter University, UK
Date: 6-7 July 2017

Abstract Deadline: 18 March 2017

Papers are now invited for our exciting conference addressing how the socialist and non-aligned world shaped the rise of post-war economic globalisation. This conference is the second in a series of events exploring how processes and practices that emerged from the socialist world shaped the re-globalised world of our times.

CONFERENCE SYNOPSIS

In the wake of the Second World War, the world economy began to ‘reglobalise’ – following the disintegrative processes of the interwar period. This story has most often been told as the final triumph of a neoliberal international order led by the West. Recent research, however, suggests that the creation of our modern interconnected world was not driven solely by the forces of Western capitalism, nor was it the only model of global economic interdependence that arose in the second half of the twentieth century. This conference aims to rethink the histories of postwar globalisation by focusing on the socialist and non-aligned world, whose roles in the rise of an economically interconnected world have received substantially less attention.

This conference aspires to address a wide variety of processes, practices and projects – such as efforts to create alternative systems of international trade, new business practices, through to theoretical conceptualisations of economic interconnectedness – and examine a broad range of actors, such as e.g. governments, experts, international institutions, and business ventures. It will also explore whether such initiatives were alternative at all: as recent research has suggested, actors from these worlds could be contributors to the emerging neoliberal consensus, as well as to other forms of regional economy and global trade that survive to this day. We also hope to encourage an interdisciplinary dialogue between scholars using different approaches to global interconnectedness, and/or working on a variety of regions (e.g. Latin America, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union).

Abstracts of 300-500 words, together with an accompanying short CV should be submitted to Natalie Taylor (N.H.Taylor@exeter.ac.uk) by 18 March 2017.

The selected participants will be notified by the end of March 2017.

Funding opportunities for travel and accommodation are available, but we ask that potential contributors also explore funding opportunities at their home institutions.

This event is kindly supported by Exeter University’s Leverhulme Trust-funded project 1989 after 1989: Rethinking the Fall of State Socialism in Global Perspective.

The full call for papers is available on our conference page

New Article: Human Rights, Pluralism and the Democratization of Post-War Germany

different-germans

I’ve got a new article out in the now available volume “Different Germans, Many Germanies: New Transatlantic Perspectives” edited by Konrad H. Jarausch, Harald Wenzel, and Karin Goihl and published by Berghahn Books.

My contribution looks at the evolving ideas of human rights in East and West Germany and how they relate to processes of democratization between the post-war to reunification.

What does the book cover you ask?

“As much as any other nation, Germany has long been understood in terms of totalizing narratives. For Anglo-American observers in particular, the legacies of two world wars still powerfully define twentieth-century German history, whether through the lens of Nazi-era militarism and racial hatred or the nation’s emergence as a “model” postwar industrial democracy. From American perceptions of the Kaiserreich to the challenges posed by a multicultural Europe, the volume argues for—and exemplifies—an approach to German Studies that is nuanced, self-reflective, and holistic.”

For more information on the book, click here and you can read the introduction online here. There is currently a 50% discount on the book if you order online with the code JAR306 – orders can be placed here. Or you can request your library to order a copy here.

For those of you in Berlin, there will be launch party for the book at the Free University on February 16 from 6-8 p.m. I will be speaking along with the editors and Herbert Grieshop (Freie Universität Berlin). More info on the event can be found here.

State Socialism, Legal Experts and the Genesis of International Criminal and Humanitarian Law after 1945 – Conference Programme Now Online

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State Socialism, Legal Experts and the Genesis of International Criminal and Humanitarian Law after 1945, 24-26 November 2016

The conference programme is now ready: check it out here

For more on the “1989 after 1989” project at the University of Exeter of which this is a part, check out our website

 

 

When History Goes Bad: On the Dangers of Going Viral

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It seemed like a good idea at the time…

If you spend enough time on social media, you start to get a sense of what is going to be popular. Take something sensational that pushes people’s buttons and confirms their deepest pre-existing beliefs. Give them some ammo for their self-righteousness. Or just put up a cute animal. Or all of the above.

I try my best to avoid doing this. I work on the history of East Germany and post historical facts and photos daily, often on material that can be very emotionally charged. When it comes to historical posts, I do my best to hold back on editorializing or adding inflammatory commentary.

Then came last Friday. I was on the road going to a conference still up in the middle of the night and saw the Daily Mail’s now infamous “Enemies of the People” headline denouncing the High Court for their decision on how Brexit will proceed.

I found this to be objectionable and not just a little bit proto-fascist. Normally I avoid making comparisons with Nazi history, but it immediately brought to mind the famous cover of the Illustrierter Beobachter with the header “Volksverräter” or “traitors of the people” listing those whose citizenship was being stripped in 1933. Not the same thing, just eerily reminiscent.

Shortly after midnight, after a quick google image search for a scan of the newspaper I decided to post the two images side-by-side just stating what they were and calling on readers to compare and contrast. I wasn’t prepared to go so far as to say the Daily Mail were actually fascist, but I wanted to point out where this sort of extreme thinking can lead to. I hadn’t really thought it through too carefully, more just a middle of the night reaction to something troubling in the news.

Almost immediately the post was being re-tweeted by dozens of people and far in excess of the usual enthusiasm for my normal posts of East German football matches or Berlin Wall shooting victims. I stayed up to argue with some people for a while (again, something I try not to do)  and then decided to shut off for the night.

Continue reading “When History Goes Bad: On the Dangers of Going Viral”

Was East Germany Ever Really a Country: Thoughts on the Problem of Sovereignty

gdr-map

Today in 1955, East Germany became a sovereign country. Officially sovereign according to the Soviet Union that is. At that time, the German Democratic Republic was still occupied by the Red Army, its capital city of East Berlin remained legally under the control of a council of the four Allied powers, and as a state it was only recognized by the USSR, fellow Eastern Bloc countries, and Yugoslavia. So was it a sovereign country or not?

Whether or not a country exists is a deceptively simple problem. When you look at the map of the world, at first glance it seems to be neatly divided into clear and distinct sovereign units. Yet, there are six United Nations member countries that are not recognized by at least one other UN member nation and at least ten other entities that claim to be sovereign countries that lack widespread recognition. Not to mention more than 150 border disputes

Although it was founded in 1949, only twenty years later in 1969 was East Germany first recognized by a non-socialist country and it did not gain universal diplomatic relations around the globe until 1975 after the signing of the Helsinki Accords. While the GDR, along with West Germany, was able to join the United Nations in 1973, it was not until the 2+4 Agreement, signed on September 12, 1990 that the Allies officially relinquished their rights over German territory. Before it actually came to force, on this day in 1990, the East German Volkskammer voted 299-80 in favour of the Unification Treaty with the Federal Republic of Germany. Before the GDR could attain full sovereignty, its representatives voted it out of existence.

gdr-un-flag
East German flag flying at the UN in 1973

The strange history of East Germany and its almost perpetual quasi-sovereign status highlights just how important a wide variety of symbols and markers are in determining if we perceive a country to exist. As Frank Zappa so eloquently put it:

“You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline – it helps if you have some kind of football team, or some nuclear weapons, but in the very least you need a beer.”

ddr-bier
No shortage of East German beers.

Continue reading “Was East Germany Ever Really a Country: Thoughts on the Problem of Sovereignty”

Ask Me Anything (about East German history that is…)

Last week I decided to check in with the close to 2,500 people who follow me on twitter to ask the simple question: what about East German history would you want to know more about?

I started this blog about a year ago to give myself the chance to talk about some topics in greater length than my twitter account (@historyned) allowed for. In the past few months, I haven’t been producing as much – I’m trying to finish up a book manuscript and research two new projects – but I want to get back to the blogging soon.

One of the great privileges of being an academic is the chance to share your nerdy interests with others, but since I currently have a position with no teaching responsibilities, the chances to talk about my field with non-experts is rarer than I would like. As such,  I’m happy to offer up my expertise on this narrow sliver of human history to the curious public as an alternative.

Continue reading “Ask Me Anything (about East German history that is…)”

Call for Papers: State Socialism, Legal Experts and the Genesis of International Criminal and Humanitarian Law after 1945, 24-26 November 2016

STATE SOCIALISM, LEGAL EXPERTS AND THE GENESIS OF INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL AND HUMANITARIAN LAW AFTER 1945
24 – 26 November 2016

Humboldt University of Berlin

The University of Exeter, the Leipzig Centre for the History and Culture of East-Central Europe (GWZO), and the Humboldt University of Berlin

CONFERENCE SYNOPSIS

In the history of international law, the socialist bloc has been generally relegated to the role of roadblock to the fulfillment of the ideals of Western liberalism. Scholars of international criminal law (ICL) and international humanitarian law (IHL) have often dismissed the contributions of socialist legal initiatives as little more than Cold War propaganda and thus irrelevant to understanding the historical evolution of judicial norms and the modern international system. The establishment of different international tribunals since the collapse of the Soviet Union has only reinforced the notion that the socialist world was little more than an impediment to progress. Nevertheless, the American-led global war on terror has done much to call into question Western commitment to the laws of war.

This conference seeks to explore the role of state-socialist intellectuals, experts and governments in shaping the evolution of ICL and IHL since the end of the Second World War. Actors from Eastern Europe, the USSR, and East Asian and African socialist states actively participated in international debates regarding international legal norms, the meaning of state sovereignty, and in the negotiation of all major ICL and IHL conventions after 1945. In various cases the socialist bloc was often more enthusiastic, and timely, in supporting and ratifying international legal agreements than Western governments, even if these initiatives were inseparable from political agendas. Although they systematically opposed the creation of international tribunals, experts from socialist countries led the way in many areas, such as the codification of crimes against peace and Apartheid or the elimination of statutory limitations for major ICL offences. The socialist world participated also in debates over the international legal status of drug conflicts and revolutionary groups funded by narcotics trafficking. Deliberations on the criminalization of terrorism and the regulation of armed conflicts were closely linked to the politics of “wars of liberation” by socialist forces in Africa, South-East Asia, and Latin America. Socialist legal experts were active participants in transnational epistemic communities and engaged in broader global projects, initiatives, and mobilizations across the Cold War divide.

Continue reading “Call for Papers: State Socialism, Legal Experts and the Genesis of International Criminal and Humanitarian Law after 1945, 24-26 November 2016”