|BACK TO BERLIN|
September 6, 1999
JIM LEHRER: Still to come on the NewsHour tonight, the move of Germany's
capital back to Berlin, and the American way of working. Tomorrow, the
parliament opens in the Old Reichstag Building in the heart of Berlin.
Spencer Michels begins our look at the city that's been at the center
of so much recent history.
PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY: As a free man, I take pride in the words: Ich bin ein Berliner. (Cheering)
SPENCER MICHELS: Ronald Reagan in Berlin issued a different challenge to Soviet leaders two decades later.
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.
SPENCER MICHELS: By the end of the 80's, Russia's control over Eastern Europe was slipping and East Germany and other satellites were in turmoil, a revolution symbolized by the collapse of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. Within a year Germany was again united. In 1991 parliament voted to restore Berlin as Germany's capital, moving the political center of the country from the heart of Western Europe to its traditional central European position. Last month, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder moved his offices to Berlin. In coming days, most ministries will finish moving to Berlin, some occupying quarters that once housed Hitler's ministers. Though the move has gone smoothly, controversies still haunt Berlin. For instance, there is still an unresolved debate over how and where to honor the millions of Jews and others killed by Hitler's government. Germans view the move to Berlin as important to their future. The government now routinely refers to this period as the Berlin Republic.
JIM LEHRER: Margaret Warner has more on this story. Her discussion was recorded on Thursday.
MARGARET WARNER: Joining us to discuss the move to Berlin and what it means are four European journalists and commentators. Josef Joffe is columnist and editorial page editor for the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung; Hugo Young is a columnist for The Guardian newspaper in Britain. His new book on Britain's relationship with Europe, This Blessed Plot was recently issued in the United States. Dominique Moisi is deputy director of the French Institute for International Relations. He's also editor of a foreign affairs magazine in France. And Thomas Wroblewski is deputy editor of Wprost, the largest weekly newspaper in Poland.
MARGARET WARNER: Welcome, gentlemen. Mr. Joffe, this moving of the entire government is an expensive proposition. Why is Germany doing this?
JOSEF JOFFE: Well, because we've always said that Berlin is the capital of Germany. We've said that since the beginning of the Federal Republic in 1949. So when, against all expectations, the country was reunified and Berlin was suddenly in the West, as it were, we had no other choice but to go back to Berlin.
MARGARET WARNER: And what does this move mean to Germans today, do you think?
JOSEF JOFFE: I'm not sure that many Germans think so much about it. What is happening right now is that about 35,000 federal bureaucrats and lobbyists are moving to Berlin, and the parliament is going to convene there for the first time next week. And the government is trying to set up shop there. But since Berlin is one huge building site, the... the whole grandeur or import of this hasn't really shown itself with great drama.
MARGARET WARNER: Hugo Young, what does this move mean for the rest of Europe, do you think?
HUGO YOUNG: Well, I think it's a natural evolution, as Joe Joffe has said. I mean, everybody knew it was going to happen. I think that it's...it seems to the rest of Europe, perhaps, in the way in which psychology mingles with geography, it's interpreted as meaning that Germany's going to become even more immersed in what we call Central Europe, or maybe in some cases Eastern Europe, and that our questions, at least, about whether that's going to change Germany's trajectory towards the West, personally I reject that. It seems to me that coming from a country which is for the first time for many, many years got a government, the Blair government, which is trying to establish a seriously good relationship with the German government that the move to Berlin is not going to change that very much.
MARGARET WARNER: And Mr. Moisi, how does this move look from where you sit?
DOMINIQUE MOISI: Well, seen from Paris, the move to Berlin means that the new capital of Germany is further away from France and closer to central Europe. And there is at the same time the feeling that this is natural, that the Germans should have a true capital, like the French had Paris. And at the same time that it may be in some ways irrelevant, because the true capital of Germany, as the true capital of Europe is going to be Brussels. So the Germans are gaining a cosmopolitan capital in cultural terms, but in political terms, the reality may be somewhere else.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Wroblewski, this new capital is going to be 50 miles from the Polish border. How do the poles feel about this? Do you feel that Germany is moving closer to Eastern Europe?
THOMAS WROBLEWSKI: It is very symbolic for Poland where there is capital of Germany, whether it's Berlin or Bonn or whatever. And it can't be overlooked in Poland. We remember Berlin from other times, and it's definitely very symbolic to poles. It is not a matter of how far it is but how strong it is, and how Germany would decide to be involved in Polish affairs. And we look very closely into it.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you mean? Explain that a little more.
THOMAS WROBLEWSKI: First of all, we hear voices. We hear everything about how Germany is trying to get Poland closer to European Union. And it's something we really respect and we're very happy for it. We understand that the German business is moving into Poland in a high speed, and we're very happy about it. But on the other hand, we also hear voices which are definitely... I wouldn't call it xenophobic, but definitely they resent Polish position today. We hear voices of German public opinion who think less about Poland than a few years ago. The stronger Poland gets, more politically influential it is in Europe. We have more enemies in Germany. We hear some voices from German historians who would like to portray war or our past in a little different picture than they used to be. We think that the Germans were also victims of Poles who were trying to force them out of, for example, Silesia. We see Mr. Schroeder, who refusing to come to Poland on September 1, which is anniversary of World War II. He decided to come on September 3rd.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Joffe, it sounds like there's still a lot of old ghosts around.
JOSEF JOFFE: Well, there may be old ghosts, but I think we should make a very important distinction between physical geography and political geography. Now, the physical geography is such that the capital suddenly moved 600 kilometers, 400 miles from the Rhine to the East. But in the old days, this would have meant something. It would have meant that Germany became a more eastern country. But what is happening now is that Germany is moving towards a border which is the West, too. Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia. Chechnya, are suddenly the West, too. They're part of NATO. That's one thing. So the political geography has changed profoundly. Germany is... is in the West, remains in the West. The second point I would like to make about those who worry about this eastward shift is economic geography. Germany's trade is... 60 percent of its trade goes into the E.U. And 80% goes into the western industrialized world. This is a far cry from what it used to be in the first part of the century... or the 19th century when Germany was very much living with the East, trading with the East. So those who worry about Germany drifting to the East should keep in mind that the political geography has not changed at all. And as far as the Poles are concerned, I assume that Chancellor Schroeder, who is in so much domestic, political trouble, is about to lose the next four regional elections in Germany -- I think that was on his mind when he didn't go to Poland. He was here to save his skin. But the German president did go, met the Polish president and so I would...
MARGARET WARNER: And you're talking... excuse me.
JOSEF JOFFE: I'd like to say to our Polish friends, there is very little to worry about.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Moisi, do you see this move as... as symbolic, though of a more assertive Germany in the sense of being willing to use its sort of political and perhaps military weight in a way that it has not in the post-war years?
DOMINIQUE MOISI: Yes. But I would say a more assertive Germany means also a more normal Germany -- a Germany who will be like France, who will not disregard national interest when it looks at the foreign policy matters. And in many ways, that more normal Germany, that more German Germany is welcome in France, too. I don't think there is fear. Our reconciliation is really behind us. Maybe there is at some point an apprehension that the Germans would be too much like the French, and there can only be one France within Europe if the French want to continue their policy. But I'm very struck by the fact that the move to Berlin of the capital of Germany was welcome in France with absolute serenity. There was no debate. There was no fear. It looked obvious today that the Berlin Republic would be as democratic as westerner, as stable as the Bonn Republic was. And that, I think, is a great change if you look at the debate that started, let's say, ten years ago or even a few years ago, when the French were a bit apprehensive about this new Germany that would come about.
MARGARET WARNER: Hugo Young, what about in Britain? I know in some of the tabloids and even in the "Sunday Times," there has been a slightly more alarmist view expressed. Is that very deep-seated?
HUGO YOUNG: Well, I think one has to start by saying that the British people are deeply ignorant about Germany. What Dominique was saying about the reaction of French people to this move to Berlin would not be reflected here, simply because people don't take sufficiently serious interest in what's going on in Germany. I include even people quite near the top of what one might call the establishment. But you're perfectly right. There erupts in our press, in our tabloid press-- and you can really count the "Sunday Times" as part of the tabloid press these days-- a virulent, completely reckless, cheap, trivial, vicious anti-German headline writing and writing of journalism. But I don't think that actually reflects either the opinion of the mass of the people who by and large are much less Euro skeptic and much less German phobic than the newspapers which some of them read, and certainly doesn't reflect the state of the mind of the political world, which is a lot more sophisticated than that, and does not see, as I said at the beginning, any of this as a threat. But rather, actually, as Dominique was saying, the normalization of Germany, which gives an opportunity for the powers of Europe, as for example, we saw in Kosovo, to begin to act in a more normal way within their own continent.
MARGARET WARNER: Joe Joffe, how did the Germans react to, for instance, this kind of commentary in the British press? Did you see it as a serious... as something serious or just a fringe?
JOSEF JOFFE: No. I was very reassured by the German non-reaction to these periodic upheavals of anti- Germanism in the British tabloid press. If this were 1890, 1899, we would have a war on our hand if we had read that kind of stuff in the daily mail that we've been reading... that we've been treated to in recent months. But the Germans simply shrugged it off and went on about their business, which to me suggests a healthy sense of kind of self- confidence, self-assurance and not reacting, and by just shrugging this off as a quirk, if you wish. It's almost an amusing quirk. And that is a very nice straw in the wind, if you wish, for the future of Europe, because these kind of journalistic upheavals in the press, as I said, a century ago would have led to declaration of war... declarations of war.
MARGARET WARNER: And so what... how do you read when Chancellor Schroeder talks about Germany being transformed to a more normal country, and he uses that phrase, too, or the phrase Berlin republic, what does he mean in your view?
JOSEF JOFFE: The Berlin Republic, I think, is a complete misnomer, because what is happening, what has happened, is a friendly takeover of a defunct Communist country by fabulously rich Bonn, Inc. So what has happened is that the federal republic is still the federal republic. The constitutional, economic, administrative, legal system is still the same. So I think the Berlin Republic is a misnomer. And when Schroeder says Germany is more normal, I'm sure he doesn't quite know what that means either. Does that mean the Germans are going to break out of their alliances, they're going to break out of Europe, they suddenly become... going to behave like Germans again? Nothing of the kind. This country is still deeply embedded in all the western communities, and what's more important, it doesn't think nor does it want to do something else and go back to the bad, old German ways of yore, where you would always look towards the east either for conquest or domination or a home.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Wroblewski, do you find this reassuring?
THOMAS WROBLEWSKI: Puzzling, I would say. It's more puzzling. Any nation in Europe doesn't have the same problems as Germans do, and if I hear Mr. Schroeder saying, "we would like to be normal country," I'm getting this feeling that it's trying to say we don't have to remember our history or we are now very powerful economic nation. And we, first of all, have to look in the future and, having good relations with our neighbors, we don't have to worry about the past. That's... that way we can look into recent discussion about paying back to all the forced labor... former Poles, Czechs, Russians were forced to labor in Third Reich, in Germany and all those people who have a problem getting their money back. We hear it every single time when German citizens or German nationals are trying to sue Poles living in Silesia or somewhere in Jurostetin, former Breslau for example, now Wroclaw to get their land back. We worry about it. And every time they trying to... they saying that now we want to be normal country, we are wondering whether it means normal country without any regrets for the past and trying to pursue what's theirs like any other nation.
MARGARET WARNER: Final word, Mr. Joffe, on that?
JOSEF JOFFE: Well, again, I think that... that... that I would like to reassure my polish colleague, we're living in a different world. I mean, in the old days, Germans used to put on their jack boots and hop in their Panzers and then went East for conquest and domination. Today they put on their...their wing tips and take their cell phones in hand and they go to Poland or to Chechnya with their investments, with their plans, and they are welcome, indeed, eagerly welcome there. This is why or how the political geography of Europe has changed in the most profound manner. We don't do what we used to do in the bad, old 18th and 19th and first part of the 20th century. That makes all the difference.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you all four gentlemen very much.
JIM LEHRER: That discussion was recorded before two regional elections Sunday in Germany. The party of Chancellor Schroeder lost both of them, as Josef Joffe predicted. In the state of Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin, a neo-fascist party won enough votes to enter that state's assembly.