Monday, October 3, 2016

Happy Birthday, Germany: I Love You, but I'm not Proud of You

On October 3, 1990, East and West Germany became the Federal Republic of Germany once more, ending communist rule, a separation of its people by a giant wall and authoritarianism in the German sphere. A wall had separated families, friends and advances in politics, technology and society, and on that day that wall was no more; those people having been separated were walking on the same sides of where it had stood; the Eastern parts of German families found out how the Western parts had lived since the war. Finally, after those Cold War years, but also after a devastating war, 12 years of Nazi reign and another two decades of war followed by economic hardship as a result of it, Germany was finally looking into a bright future. And that future was indeed bright. As a result, today's holiday to celebrate reunification is much more than a reminder of this happy occasion.

I myself never experienced a troublesome Germany. I wasn't even a year old when the Wall came down, and I don't remember watching people climb up it with hammers, taking out pain accumulated during decades of repression out on this endless piece of concrete concealing freedom from the East. My first memory is hearing "Wind of Change" by The Scorpions, unaware of how tremendous its meaning would be for my life. Here in the West, people agree that the East was liberated from authoritarianism, and considering the daily life a citizen of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) it is hard to rationally argue against that notion. That day Francis Fukoyama, I like to think, had a vision he later called the "end of history". He should end up being wrong about that. Although October 3 is probably the most wonderful day in German history, we have much more to remember on this anniversary than the end of a dark time. But not everybody likes to remember.

Since I was too young to know what Germany was like before said day, it is impossible to assess how much really changed. What I can assess though, is where we are today, and put it into historic perspective, since not having been there doesn't mean I don't know. Just because I was never a Nazi who killed Jews and most people who were are dead, the history of my country has not faded. Quite the contrary: I believe in repeatedly remembering what the soil I stand on every day was the stage for not too long ago, and it breaks my heart despite not having been there. Why do we study history at all if we look at it unfavorably, not accepting the lessons it's trying to teach us? Due to my country's horrible history, I have time and time again questioned whether pride of my nation is appropriate. In nine years abroad, in which I have looked at my home country from afar, I have finally come to a conclusion.

Just as much as it's not my fault what Germans have done historically, it has nothing to do with me how well Germany is doing now. To call myself ashamed of the sins of my fathers is probably wrong, and not necessary. However, for me to just look at the present, that I in fact do play a part in, and say it makes me proud to be German is just as wrong then. I didn't make Germany the 4th largest economy in the world. I didn't win the World Cup. I didn't contribute to politics of acceptance and equality. Given we have a huge rise in nationalist sentiments on this entire planet, I struggle to see how any other country is different. Where do they take this massive entitlement from that characterizes them as better than another, just by being born in a certain place? I am a part of Germany today, doing everything I possibly can to corroborate its values of freedom, democracy and equality because I believe in them more than in anything else. None of that, however, will ever come from a place of being "proud to be German".

I love Germany more than most people. Everything I was able to do I owe to this country. It has given me education despite a rather unlikely background for achievement, I receive medical assistance for runny noses and acne and it has day after day proven to be a home for me and so many wonderful people from everywhere on the planet. If there was ever a blessing, it would be being born German. The fact, however, is that I did nothing to deserve it. I was merely born here, and therefore don't feel like I deserve its glory any more than another. To call myself a patriot, therefore, goes against my understanding of what this nation is: we are happy, blessed and thankful to be here, but we are not part of an exclusive club that only allows those who actually share our nationality. At least that's what I'd like to think.

Patriotism isn't nationalism, and I know that. Since I, historically, morally and politically, disagree with nationalism, however, I have decided to no longer call myself a patriot either. Pride is not an asset; gratitude is. In my life in four different countries I have experienced sentiments towards countries I don't want to associate with. And even in Germany we are seeing more and more where the negligence of history and the indulgence in nationalist rhetoric is leading to; it's not a to a good place. In both Egypt and the US I saw nationalism and patriotism respectively I would not like to see in Germany. At home, the term "nationalism" has had a round in history, and it's time to leave it behind. The exclusive society, building on a belief that the place of one's birth gives a person more reason to be proud of their country than another is foreign to me because we were simply not taught. I believe that was a correct decision!

Today, I am proud to be part of a society that has gotten up from a disaster of historic proportions. That means I am proud to be a human being, not proud of being German. I want to do anything I can to make others proud of me and my contribution to this wonderful, reunified country that has done a terrific job, in my eyes, in the past year of trying to put our shameful past into hope for others from afar. The most patriotic day of my life was last summer, when I spent the entire day at a refugee camp in Macedonia, later seeing a certain Eastern German physicist, more widely known as the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, welcoming refugees to our country because she believed "we can do it!" I believe we can do it. I believe this country has nothing to fear from any threat we are facing because we have overcome so many. And not because we are the best, but because we will try and we will succeed. Look where the last challenges took us. That's where I will derive my identity from, not the color of my skin, my hair color, what my passport says or what language I speak. 

No comments:

Post a Comment