Germany Has Come of Age: Lessons from the Past and Worldwide Responsibilities

Oct 03, 2011

German Unification Symposium / Hertie Lecture at the GHI | Speaker: Günter Nooke

The 2011 Hertie lecture was delivered by Günter Nooke, who was an important figure in the East German opposition and during the unification process. Nooke was a representative for Alliance 90 - a coalition of several opposition groups - in the first democratically elected East German People's Chamber and a board member of the Treuhandanstalt, the trust agency charged with privatizing East German enterprises. Following unification, he was a member of the Brandenburg state parliament and continued his leading role in Alliance 90 until 1993, when he left following its merger with the Green Party. In 1996, he joined the CDU with six other former East German activists in protest against the growing power of the PDS, the East German communist successor party. Since 2010, he has been the German Chancellor's Personal Representative for Africa.

Nooke began his lecture with the remark that, 21 years after German unification, today's Germany, like a 21-year-old, has come of age and should be ready to make its own decisions. For a long time, West Germany was an economic giant but a political dwarf. Those who endorsed the Berlin wall and the division of Germany as guarantors of stability during the Cold War failed to recognize that permanent stability must always come from below. Likewise, those who argued that the Germany's division was the country's punishment for the Holocaust neglected the fact that it was only the East Germans who were paying the price. The Nazi past did have an impact on the East German opposition, Nooke argued: Just as young people were asking their parents what they had done during the Nazi regime, so Nooke and his wife asked themselves what they would tell their children about their role during the SED regime, drawing the conclusion that they must oppose it, among other things by publishing a samizdat publication. The 1989 revolution in East Germany resulted not just from the disastrous economic situation and Gorbachev's perestroika but also from the irresistible attraction of freedom.

Commenting on the current situation, Nooke noted that the positive image of Germany abroad (as demonstrated by an international survey conducted by the BBC) is diametrically opposed to its negative image at home. While the Germans themselves still argue over whether the Nazi past precludes Germany from playing a leading role in international affairs, many foreigners do not understand why Germany does not take a larger international role. Germany, Nooke argued, should play a leading role in Europe and internationally in accordance with its values and interests. Addressing the war in Libya, Nooke defended Germany's decision to stay out of the armed intervention. Regarding the events of the Arab spring in Egypt, however, he argued that the West should have signaled its support for the peaceful demonstrators earlier. Referring to Kofi Annan's triad of security, economic development, and human rights, the speaker argued that Europe as a whole must take the lead on the issue of human rights worldwide. The well-attended lecture was followed by a lively discussion.