Christian Bommarius

Teoksen 1949 das lange deutsche Jahr tekijä

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This was obviously written to tie in with the 70th anniversary of the founding of the German Federal Republic. Historians like to deal in periods like "the long 18th century" and Bommarius has borrowed that convention to make his "long German year" start in July 1948 and end in December 1949 (that's 18 months in old money).

The idea of the book is less to describe the "big events" than to give us the context in which they were happening, to tell us what Germany was like and how Germans were thinking and acting, month by month, as their country went through the metamorphosis from four occupied zones (and four sectors of Berlin) to two republics. Both still occupied by foreign troops, but at least on their way to becoming something like independent states.

Bommarius does this with a mixture of news stories, private diaries, and summaries of important films, novels, essays and so on. In particular, he wants his readers to see that there was never any kind of magic transition from defeated Nazi dictatorship to modern liberal democracy, and indeed that from the point of view of 1948-1949, there was little reason to suppose that Germans were ready for democracy or would know what to do with it if they saw it. Denazification was an impossible dream: society was too dependent on people in professions where adherence to Nazi policies had been essential for survival (judges, teachers, police, etc.), most young people had been through the Nazi school system, and the few people who had actively resisted or gone into exile found that they had a hard time reintegrating (many, like Thomas Mann, didn't even want to return).

Right-wing parties were on the rise, exploiting resentment against refugees and against the occupying powers, the powers themselves were more focussed on the US/Soviet conflict than on Germany (except as a military base) and if there was a miracle it was that the Bonn constitutional commission came up with something that turned out to be workable, robust and even more-or-less democratic. Bommarius suggests that this came from the lucky accident that the job of drawing up a constitution was given to a group of very unrepresentative experts, who included several key provisions that most Germans of the time would have considered unnecessary and excessive, like the abolition of the death penalty and the guarantee of equal rights for women and men. Adenauer's reputation these days isn't what it used to be, but Bommarius obviously has a lot of respect for his role in chairing the commission. Elisabeth Selbert, who lobbied for the women's rights clause, is clearly also one of his heroes.

A very interesting way of looking closely at a particular moment in history. Obviously also meant as a polemical book, to give 21st century Germans a wake-up call and remind them why it matters that they have a liberal democracy based on core principles like respect for human dignity, and why they shouldn't fall for the rhetoric of the new generation of right-wing politicians.
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Merkitty asiattomaksi
thorold | Mar 25, 2021 |


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½ 3.5