Ich habe heute einem Freund beim Umziehen geholfen und dabei diese grandiose Aufforderung am Kellereingang des Mehrparteienhauses – der Mietskaserne – gefunden. Es gibt Dinge, die gibt’s gar nicht. Oder so ähnlich.
I don’t know why, but I am getting quite a few google hits of people looking for „Kraut bashing“ today.
Could be related to the Stefano Stefani story, or to the rebranding Germany campaign that has been started in the UK last week. The BBC has written a little about it.
I know that blogspot archives can be moody, so I decided to repost my personal „Kraut bashing“ contribution from January 6.
Kraut-bashing. Some personal context.
Kraut-bashing is *so* passé. That is at least what the British comedian Frank Skinner tried to tell his countrymen when he publicized his support for the German team before last year’s World Cup final. His arguments have been summarised and endorsed by the BBC but as the article tells us, there was not just enthusiastic support for his stance. The Sun subsequently called Skinner „Franz“ and digi-dressed him wearing lederhosen – they had gone Brazil nuts!
No one should have been surprised by this display of journalistic creativity. Rupert Murdoch’s tabloids as well as all other specimen of British quality publishing like to spice up dull English headlines with some Tscherman words from time to time. And it is certainly true that a vicious circle of linguistic militarism is fueled by them as well as by those English fans whose choice of words demonstrates that football can be so much more than just a game whenever a match between the old Germanic rivals looms on the playground. Their strange confusion of war and sports is very visible on the famous 1918-1945-1966-T-shirts.
But I suppose to some, T-Shirts and Blitzkrieg-laden headlines are only side effects, as Der Spiegel’s recent suspicion (link in German) that Germans have become „prisoners of history“, at least in Britain, shows. The magazine’s attention had been sparked by an article, published in the Guardian earlier last December, in which the new German ambassador to the United Kingdom, Thomas Matussek, lashed out against the country’s history curriculum – „I want to see a more modern history curriculum in schools. I was very much surprised when I learned that at A-level one of the three most chosen subjects was the Nazis.“ – alleging that it contributed to an anti-German sentiment responsible not only for hunny headlines but also for physical and psychological violence committed against Germans in the United Kingdom.
„You see in the press headlines like ‚We want to beat you Fritz‘. It ceases to be funny the moment when little kids get beaten up…“. The ambassador’s remarks point to an incident in October last year, when two German schoolbays on an exchange programme were assaulted by a gang of British youth in Morden, south London. According to the Guardian, they were heckled as Nazis before one had his glasses broken and the other was shoved into a bush.
I am terribly sorry for the pupils‘ experience. And I think it is entirely appropriate for a German ambassador to demand a more prominent place for the post ’45 „model Germany“ in British textbooks. But I don’t believe that those studying the Nazi dictatorship for their A-level exams will become notorious Kraut-bashers – quite to the contrary.
In Britain – as everywhere else – physical violence against Germans for ascriptive reasons is de facto nonexistent and most instances of verbal Kraut-bashing are likely not of malevolent intent. They are simply an element of the usually acclaimed British humour Germans often have a hard time to find funny.
There are plenty of stories like the one a young German Navy officer told me last week. When he went to the UK on NATO business recently, he was greeted with a joyful “Heil Hitler” by his British comrades. However, the British soldiers lifting their right arms in all likelihood did not intend to imply he was actually a Nazi or even seriously insult him. In their eyes, it probably was a joke honouring the tradition of John Cleese’s famous “Don’t mention the war”-episode of Fawlty Towers.
Although the young officer was not amused about the incident, I would like to point out that, yes, even for a Kraut, Kraut-bashing sometimes can be fun. I know I may be generalising a bit here, but people have always made fun about alleged ascriptive characteristics of other people. But only very few are serious about them. Being able to tell the difference is what is important – for both parties involved. Quite a few usually well meaning people in the UK do not seem to understand that there are different kinds and styles of Kraut-bashing. And believe me, I know what I am talking about: I have been Kraut-bashed by Brits, too.
We all know that there are inappropriate derogatory terms for people of all ethnicities and nationalities in all languages. And we all know that the same derogatory words can have a very different, sometimes positive, meaning in a different context. It’s exactly the same with Kraut bashing. My British flatmates in Paris were allowed to Kraut-bash me. Just as I kept joking about the British “cuisine”, the Empire they lost and how their German would be much better now if the US had not saved their country’s ass twice. The way we talk to a person only depends on the kind of relationship and our mutual respect. What may be in order for a friend is likely entirely inappropriate for a stranger. And I know how much being told you are what you want to be least does hurt, especially if you’re not expecting it.
My stranger’s name was Julia. She was the friend of a friend of one of my flatmates and in Paris for a night in Summer 1998. So we all met in a bar somewhere in the Marais (for those who know Paris). I have to say that her first attack was as much a surprise for me as it was for my British friends. I think you get a useful idea of Julia when I tell you that the only thing she wanted (or was able?) to talk about were her freshly pedicured toenails. But being the gentleman that I am I complimented her, just as expected. But her reply was as unexpected as inappropriate – she told me that she wasn’t interested in my bloody Nazi opinion anyway.
You probably remember – the first time does hurt. And it did. I was stunned. I did not know what to say. No one had ever silenced me by telling me I were a Nazi. And she was serious about it. Not knowing how to deal with the situation, I made the fatal mistake of actually trying to explain to her that I was no Nazi, which clearly provided sufficient incentive for her to keep bashing me until she was eventually silenced by my friends.
However much it hurt that day, I now think of the episode as a valuable experience. It helped me realise the difference between those who joke about beating “Fritz” [ or decapitate the Kaiser, for instance ;-) ] and those who actually do beat him. It also taught me how to deal with the very few Julias around.
And there are only very few Julias around. Thus, in my opinion, those trying construct a theory of German victimhood around incidents like the the teenage clash mentioned above or negligeable individual experiences like mine are creating an urban myth rather than a useful representation of reality. In a letter to the publisher, a German exchange student in North England told the magazine last week that she had spent a year in Britain and never experienced anything like the alleged British anti-German sentiment. She felt “stabbed in the heart” by the article, she said.
When I lived in London, I never experienced anything even slightly reminiscent of the Julia-episode. I walked past the “Bomber Harris” memorial almost every day and never cared about it until a British friend told me how embarassed he was when the Queen (of German descent…) unveiled a memorial for a person responsible for WW2 area bombing German cities in the early 1990s. Another interesting encounter I had with respect to the anti-German sentiment in Britain was one with an older lady, who had clearly survived at least one, if not two world wars, and who explained to me that, yes, the British fought the Germans in two world wars but, after all, they’re decent people, as opposed to those frog-eating French. German tourists are still scared by the myth not to speak German in London Buses to avoid trouble, there are literally tens of thousands of Germans working in the City everyday. When you enter any of the fifty Starbucks outlets between Fleet Street and Monument tube station, chances are, you will hear almost as many German conversations as English ones.
The BBC is certainly right to admit that ”British hostility to Germany simply isn’t reciprocated … [and i]t could be that by using outdated stereotypes … the British are saying more about themselves than anyone else.“ but, in my experience, less and less people are seriously thinking in those stereotypes. Kraut-bashing may not be *so* passé yet, but it is definitely passé.
Last November, the American writer, Pulitzer price laureate, and Princeton University literature professor C.K. Williams made a very interesting argument in the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit (link in German) about how Germans have become a group no longer defined by what they actually are or what they actually do – but what they stand for. In his opinion, the eyes of the world see Germans, more than anything else, as a symbol of evil – they have become Ze Tschermans.
While my personal experience is largely different, Mr Williams is probably right to some extent – some Tschermans are still out there, on celluloid, in the history books and, most importantly, in the memories of those who suffered unspeakable horrors under the Nazi dictatorship. As long as we define ourselves as German, we have to accept the historic context which we have been handed – just like everybody else. While history does by no means excuse ascriptive prejudices, it can help explain their existence. Time may be a healer, but big wounds heal slowly.
Sometimes it is up to us to explain where we feel things are no longer funny. The young German officer clearly told his British comrades that he did not enjoy their joke. All people but the very few Julias around will not cross that line again.
And Sometimes we should just relax. Julia taught me to no longer care if some stupid person believes I am a Tscherman. Why should I? I know I am not. And those I care about do know that, too.
What else could be important?
More Zeitenwende In the comments to my last entry Markus and Hans Ze Beeman are having an interesting discussion about the extent to which socialism and freedom are conflicting and, of course, to which extent the unions are responsible for the sorry state of the German economy. I will add something later today.
In March last year, Ben Bradshaw (for whose Parliamentary Office I worked in 2001), then Junior Minister in the British Foreign Office, answered to the House of Commons in a debate regarding the British government’s stance on the then emerging war-on-Iraq-question. This House sitting even made it into the Bagehot column of the Economist – for it was suspended after a heated exchange in which the MP for Glawgow, Kelvin, George Galloway, accused the Minister of being a liar (which I think some say was a premier for the mother of Parliaments). The most important part is the following (from the Parliamentary Stationary Office) –
Mr. Bradshaw : … My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin made his familiar views known in his inimitable way. Some of the good points that he made on the middle east peace process would, I believe, carry more credibility if he had not made a career of being not just an apologist, but a mouthpiece, for the Iraqi regime over many years.
Mr. Galloway : Why do you not give way on that slander?
Mr. Bradshaw : We are not discussingï¿½
Mr. Galloway : The Minister is a liar.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. John McWilliam) : Order. The hon. Gentleman must withdraw that statement.
Mr. Galloway : The Minister told a lie about me.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman must withdraw that statement.
Mr. Galloway : Why? The Minister told a blatant lie about me. What else could I do. What else can I call it? I demand that he withdraws the allegation against me.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman must withdraw immediately.
Mr. Galloway : An allegation of dishonorable conduct has been made against me by the Minister. It is an assumption in the House that Members are honorable gentlemen and ladies. His imputation that I am a mouthpiece for a dictator is a clear imputation of dishonor. He is the one who should be withdrawing, not me.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I have no alternative, but to report this matter to the House. I must immediately suspend the sitting for 10 minutes.
Mr. Galloway later apologized to the Speaker and withdrew his statement, while Mr. Bradshaw apologized for applying to Mr. Galloway the phrase he had used (BBC). But according to the Daily Telegraph of March the 7th, 2002, –
Mr Galloway was incandescent. „If I truly was not just an apologist but a mouthpiece for a dictator, whom I was marching in the streets against before Ben Bradshaw had ever been heard of in politics, then I would be dishonourable.“
Well, it looks like Ben Bradshaw was right last year and George Galloway is just that. If a story run yesterday by the Daily Telegraph turns out to be true, he was indeed a mouthpiece for the Iraqi regime, and a well paid one at that – according to documents allegedly recovered from the looted Iraqi foreign office by the newspaper’s reporter David Blair, his annual share of alleged deals with Saddam Hussein’s regime are said to have totalled about ï¿½375,000 (the documents are from early 2000).
Mr. Galloway is going to sue the newspaper for libel so an immediate (more politically motivated) expulsion from the Labour party will be difficult given a pending trial. And, of course, the source of the story as well as the circumstances of the documents‘ appearance led to some questions about their credibilty. According to the Guardian –
Yesterday, MPs on the Labour left cast doubt about the validity of the documents, and voiced skepticism at the Daily Telegraph having found them in a bombed and looted room. „I think it’s a miraculous set of circumstances that the Daily Telegraph walks through all the rubble of Baghdad and manages to find a file on George Galloway,“ said anti-war MP Jeremy Corbyn.
Galloway himself publicly claims that he is being framed by western intelligence services and the conservative media – he told the Daily Telegraph –
„Maybe it is the product of the same forgers who forged so many other things in this whole Iraq picture. Maybe The Daily Telegraph forged it. Who knows?“
Well, who knows? He probably does. And some „intelligence experts“ quoted by the Guardian apparently believe they do, too –
Most intelligence experts claimed yesterday that the documents obtained by the Daily Telegraph are probably the real thing.“
Journalists are always happy to have „experts“ backing up their claims. It’s a bit like a footnote in a scientific paper – only very few people will actually question the validity of a reference, and even if, who can claim to have the definitive interpretation? And if „most“ intelligence experts agree, that inescapably means „some“ do not. Sure, these documents could be forged. But is that likely?
Why kill a dead man? Why try to get rid of the „MP for Baghdad Central“ now that he lost his constituency (about which he is said to be happy ;-))? Why plant something like this now that the whole thing is over? If the British government is behind this, and all the evidemce is forged, why not find something intimidating before the war to discredit the opponents? The usual conspiracy-theory-suspects would have screamed then as they do now. Why do it in such a way that more people than necessary actually do contemplate about this possibility?
In think, this is a classic example of one of the sociological reasons for conspiracy theories – apparently we (read: human beings) have a tendency not to believe that important things in public life can happen by pure chance, despite our likely overwhelming personal experience that points to the opposite (or even chaos theory). If a reporter accidentally stumbles over a card-board box labeled „Galloway“, this reminds us of a James Bond screenplay. And in a movie, we do know that, things never happen by chance. Maybe we have all watched too many films to quietly accept that in real life even important events can be triggered by a strange coincidence.
Like it or not, sometimes life seems to follow a C-movie screenplay.
Paulo Coelho Says Thank You
This morning I discovered the German version of the following letter to George W. Bush by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho [biography in German] in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Thanks to google and newsallergy I discovered an English version, which I do not intend to withhold from you, my gentle readers.
I have highlighted the parts I find most interesting, for they eloquently illustrate in a few words just how badly the US administration handled their diplomatic agenda.
No surprise, some *very* informed, rather atlanticist scholars of international relations, like Christoph Bertram, currently head of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, start to accept the idea that one of the non-disclosed reasons for the current US policy on Iraq is to teach the rest of the world a lesson. Tonight, on ZDF television, he said something along the line of – [i]f the only remaining superpower is having trouble making a case that the veto players would buy, then it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this was the original intention.
He’s not the only one. More and more people are starting to wonder if a US administration could indeed act as diplomatically unskilled as this one has simply due to incompetence or if there’s something else going on. Personally, I am undecided what would be worse.
NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman clearly belongs to the first group of people, [as does W’s dad, Bush 41, by the way] the ones that do not want to believe that more than incompetence is at stake – I guess he’s still pro warNow!, but he’s not so sure anymore…
Some days, you pick up the newspaper and you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Let’s see, the prime minister of Serbia just got shot, and if that doesn’t seem like a bad omen then you missed the class on World War I. Our strongest ally for war in Iraq is Bulgaria – a country I’ve always had a soft spot for, because it protected its Jews during World War II, but a country that’s been on the losing side of every war in the last 100 years. Congress is renaming French fries „freedom fries.“ George Bush has managed to lose a global popularity contest to Saddam Hussein, and he’s looking to build diplomatic support in Europe by flying to the Azores, a remote archipelago in the Atlantic, to persuade the persuaded leaders of Britain and Spain to stand firm with him. I guess the North Pole wasn’t available. I’ve been to the Azores. It was with Secretary of State James Baker on, as I recall, one of his seven trips around the world to build support for Gulf War I. Mr. Baker used the Azores to refuel.“
And when I watched CNN Newsnight at some point last week, I was startled by the fact that some senior political correspondent, whose name I have forgotten, told the American public about the longstanding neoconservative plans to invade Iraq – as if this were some kind of news. Well, I guess it must be, to those whose worldview only consists of CNNmomentstm. So probably Paul Krugman is summarizing the current informed and semi-informed US media climate rather accurately by saying –
„[o]ver the past few weeks there has been an epidemic of epiphanies. There’s a long list of pundits who previously supported Bush’s policy on Iraq but have publicly changed their minds. None of them quarrel with the goal; who wouldn’t want to see Saddam Hussein overthrown? But they are finally realizing that Mr. Bush is the wrong man to do the job. And more people than you would think – including a fair number of people in the Treasury Department, the State Department and, yes, the Pentagon – don’t just question the competence of Mr. Bush and his inner circle; they believe that America’s leadership has lost touch with reality.“
That’s clearly what Maureen Dowd has been saying over and over –
„Everyone thinks the Bush diplomacy on Iraq is a wreck. It isn’t. It’s a success because it was never meant to
succeed. For the hawks, it’s a succès d’estime. (If I may be so gauche as to use a French phrase in a city where federal employees are slapping stickers over the word „French“..:“
Maybe history will tell. But likely, we won’t have the time asking her while being busy rebuilding Iraq. I know that mocking W is not too difficult, which is, I would like to add, why I have often resisted to do so – insisting that mockery would likely result in underestimation.
But now I don’t know anymore.
Anyway, over to Paulo Coelho.
Thank you, George Bush, the Great Leader.
First of all, may I thank you for showing all of us the danger which Saddam Hussein represents. Perhaps many of us might have forgotten that he used chemical weapons against his own people as well as against the people of Iran. Hussein is a blood-thirsty dictator, and certainly an embodiment of evil in the world today.
However, that is not the only reason why I am thanking you. In the early months of 2003, you helped show us, sir, many important things about the world, and it is for this that you have my gratitude. I was taught as child to always say „thank you“ to someone who has done me a favor, and it is in that spirit that I write these words.
Thank you for showing us all that the people of Turkey and their Parliament are not for sale, not even for $26 billion dollars.
Thank you for showing us clearly the enormous abyss which exists between the decisions taken by leaders of nations and the true desires of their people. Thank you for helping us see with painful clarity that whether it is José Aznar of Spain or Tony Blair of the UK, that our so called elected leaders don’t have the slightest regard or respect for the fact that over 90% of their population are against war. Thank you for allowing us to witness the ease with whichTony Blair was able to blithely ignore the largest public protest held in England in the last 30 years.
Thank you, because your insistence on war forced Blair to go to Parliament with a plagiarized dossier which consisted of notes written ten years ago by an arab graduate student. As a result we were able to witness the unbelievable farce of Blair insisting that these notes represented “proof” gathered by the British secret service.
Thank you for for making Colin Powell descend to the ridiculous by showing the UN Security Council photographs, which a week later were publicly denounced by Hans Blix, the weapons inspector responsible for verifying the disarmament of Iraq.
Thank you, because your position on war resulted in the French Foreign Minister, Mr. Dominique de Villepin, in his speech against war on Iraq, being honored by a standing ovation. This is an honor which, if I am correct, has only happened once before in the history of the U.N., and that was during a presentation by Nelson Mandela.
Thank you, because due to your strenuous push for war, for the first time the Arab nations of the Gulf, usually so divided, have found a reason to unite and have recently issued a joint resolution in Cairo condemning your proposed invasion. You have brought about a unity of opinion amongst the arab nations, that they had not achieved on their own.
Thank you, because as a result of your administration’s rhetoric blasting the United Nations as “irrelevant”, even the most undecided and reluctant nations have been inspired to take a position against your country’s attack on Iraq.
Thank you for your extraordinary foreign policy. Attempts to defend your ambitions have caused British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, to attempt to argue a case for a “moral war”, and with each attempt lose more international credibility.
Thank you for attempting to divide Europe, which after a century of war and upheaval has been fighting for unity. This was a warning clearly seen by all of us, and it will not be forgotten.
Thank you for finally managing to achieve what few have managed in the past century: to unite millions of people, across the continents and give them a common cause to fight for, even if that cause is the exact opposite from yours.
Thank you for letting us feel that even if our words are not being heard, they are at least being repeated. This will give us strength in the future.
Thank you, because without your esteemed help, we wouldn’t have known the extent to which we were capable of mobilizing. Perhaps this appears useless today…but it will serve us in the future.
So, now that the drums of war seem to beat with unstoppable ferocity, I want to add an insight, words uttered by an ancient European King to a would-be invader:
“May your morning be glorious and May the sun shine brightly on the armor of your soldiers, because in the afternoon I will defeat you.”
Mr. Bush, thank you as well for visibly trying to stop a movement which has already begun. We will pay attention to the feelings of impotence, and the sensations it arouses within us. We will learn to deal with those emotions, and we will transform them.
In the meantime, may you enjoy your beautiful morning, and all the glory that it may bring you.
Thank you, because I know you will not listen to us, nor take us seriously. Know, however, that we have listened to you and heard you clearly, and we will not soon forget your words.
Thank you, George W. Bush, the great leader!
Many thanks to you.“
The writer, Paulo Coelho, is the author of “The Alchemist”, amongst other works, and is a member of the Brazilian Academy of Arts & Letters. A Folha de Sao Paulo, March 8, 2003
This week’s „Der Spiegel“ is concerned with the increasingly problematic relation between nominal tax rates and actual fiscal revenues in Germany. The Cover-wide headline asks „Why the state is asking ever more money from its citizens but gets less and less of it“? Its a good question – one with a simple theortical answer (that, at least, is something) but a fearful complexity in practice. The simple answer looks like the curve below.
It’s the famous „Laffer Curve“, named after Arthur Laffer who was the theoretical support behind Reagonomics. The relationship the curve depicts is pretty straightforward: If you increase the (overall national average) tax rate (t) from 0% the tax revenue (T) will first increase to a maximum (T*) before finally declining back to zero once the tax rate reaches 100%.
The general assumption is that taxes are a disincentive to economic activity and once a certain level of taxes is reached – where the tangent to the curve is parallel to the axis – econmic activity will either stop or be transferred to black (and therefore non-taxed) markets. In both instances, the overall effect for a tax collecting state will be declining revenues.
Thus, if a polity actually knows that it is currently on the right hand side of the Laffer curve, the only reasonable action would be to reduce taxes as it would both increase legal economic activity and the fill the coffers of the state. That’s what Reagan argued. That’s what never happened (that is, if there was any effect at all, the lag was so large attributing it to Reagan became a Republican exercise in epistemolgy in the late 1990s). As so often with a convincing and simple theoretical point, reality is not a friend of those trying to implement such a strategy. There simply is no way of really telling which tax rate would constitute a Laffer maximum.
The Laffer curve is a nice explanatory and propaganda tool, but is not actually helpful in construing useful fiscal policy.
Economics and the people making individual decisions simply are too complicated to easily devise policy around a general idea like the Laffer curve. Check this document for a more technical analysis of the curve and some implications. This is also where I found the beautiful illustrations.
So, knowing about the curve, we can suggest a closer look at tax rates as the simple theoretical answer to the question posed by „Der Spiegel“. But we also know that it is by no means clear it is the right suggestion in the fearfully complex economic reality. Too bad.