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Mediterranean Quarterly 11.4 (2000) 165-167
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Children of a New Fatherland:
Germany's Post-War Right-Wing Politics
Jan Herman Brinks: Children of a New Fatherland: Germany's Post-War Right-Wing Politics, translated by Paul Vincent, with a foreword by David Binder. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2000. 200 pages. ISBN 1-86064-458-9. $35.00.
In John le Carré's 1968 novel, A Small Town in Germany, the protagonist takes note of some posters in Bonn on a "pious Friday evening in May" during the early post-World War II period: "Send the foreign workers home! Rid us of the whore Bonn! Unite Germany first, Europe second! Open the road east, the road west has failed!" Children of a New Fatherland, written with startling brevity by Jan Herman Brinks, reminds us that the old adage "the more things change the more they remain the same" holds depressingly true for German politics. The small town of Bonn was, in le Carré's words, a "Balkan city," all the more so because with East Berlin, another such small town in those days, it ruled a divided, Balkanized Germany. Today Berlin has been restored to pretensions of greatness and leads a reunified Germany, but the spirit of those old posters remains as a reminder of the continuity of this country's history with its present and future. It is about the power of this tradition in a "new Fatherland" that Brinks writes.
Of course, the many American visitors to Bonn during the Cold War and the few Americans who entered East Berlin in the same period were lectured by German hosts on how their respective peoples--West and East Germans--had turned their backs on the Fuehrerprinzip seemingly imbedded in their history and had embraced, respectively, parliamentary democracy in Beethoven's birthplace on the Rhine and proletarian democracy in the precincts of the university on the Unter den Linden where Marx had absorbed Hegelian scientific history. Now there were the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the German Democratic Republic (GDR), the first having cleansed itself in denazification and the second in an antifascist pedagogy. However, when the Berlin Wall came down and Germans were united again, they discovered that the forty-five years of their separation had not diminished their apparently genetic allegiance to a commanding national separateness astride middle Europe, which has remained ambiguously closeted from a latter-day allegiance to the commonality of peoples in a new European union.
Brinks moves relentlessly in his narrative, each part and chapter leading to the next almost like a screenplay: the forced march from partition to the political culture of the GDR to the right wing of the united Germany of today. His main focus is on the GDR, largely, I suspect, because the inner cultural and political workings of its efforts to escape the German past are less well known to most readers than the FRG's sometimes [End Page 165] contradictory policies. The GDR had based its very existence--its national raison d'être --on antifascism, with dismal results. To some outsiders East Germany seemed to be a Soviet model that even Moscow could not match in terms of good, solid, German discipline, but some of its youth may already have been in latent resistance to the GDR's ersatz political system by silently embracing the very fascism that mythology claimed had been vanquished by victorious socialism.
Today this right-wing German history is alive, well, and ominous, or at least so the narrative of Children of a New Fatherland concludes in its third part, "The Right Wing of the United Germany." Here the chapter topics follow each other closely and horribly: antifascism; the swing to the right; the new right; the Republikaner; anti-Semitism; the debate on asylum seekers and new right influence; the Polish question; and Weimar revisited. Since this book is not a novel, let alone one in the le Carré mold, I think it is not giving too much away to let readers know that...