Europe has been shaped by 20 years of German unity
On the 20th anniversary of German reunification, there is much to celebrate about that development's impact on the Europe of today, writes guest columnist Michael H. MacDonald
Special to The Times
NO historical events during the past 60 years compare with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent unification of Germany on Oct. 3 20 years ago.
Without German unity, there would be no 27-nation European Union, a powerful contributor to democracy, freedom and justice in the world today.
There are many reasons to celebrate German reunification:
• The walls between the East and the West are smaller. For the first time since the Roman Empire, much of Europe (17 of the current European Union countries) has a single currency. The euro is a quantum leap forward, even though the spread of economic benefits and prosperity in Europe is still messy and unequal.
Justice may call for shifting monies from rich nations like Germany to poorer nations like Greece, but justice also calls for all EU countries to live within the spending guidelines set by its central bank, and parity in the handling of national debt.
• The July 1990 NATO Summit was a turning point in East-West relations. The most dramatic gesture was the invitation to Mikhail Gorbachev and other East European leaders to address NATO. Even though not a member of NATO or the EU, Russia continues to participate in the meetings. And in 1990 there were 546,000 Soviet troops and civilians in Germany. By August 1994 there were none.
• Russia since 1990 is less hostile and is hopefully on a march to increased democracy and even integration into the West. The Warsaw Pact, for many years the former Soviet Union's answer to NATO, was fatally stricken by the collapse of Soviet power in Eastern Europe.
The Warsaw Pact signed its own obituary with an agreement to dissolve the 36-year-old military alliance on March 31, 1991. In 1990, the pact had effectively ceased to function as its Eastern European members — Hungary, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and East Germany — cut themselves loose from Moscow one by one.
Germany, in particular, sees itself as the agent to help reform and modernize Russia and be the main broker of a revitalized Russian entry into Europe. Many in the generations that lived during Communism still yearn for the days of free health care and education, and more-affordable goods and services. But they often forget the years of deprivation and fewer quality goods. While some things still can be learned from the former East bloc philosophy, easterners can also continue to learn to be more independent and take responsibility for themselves.
• For the sports-minded, also worthy of celebrating is Germany's strong showing in the 2010 Winter Olympics and World Cup, and Spain's recent success at Wimbledon, the World Cup and the Tour de France. Moreover, if you think of Europe and not the individual nations that make up Europe, then its achievements in the world of sports are unexcelled.
The most difficult future problem for both West and East may be how to integrate Islamic immigrants into the traditions of Europe. Immigrants and their families are no longer left completely on the margins, although unemployment is still often more than twice as high for immigrants, and children of immigrants still have a disproportionately high school dropout rate.
In the Middle Ages, Cologne's cathedral was among the greatest in the world. In 2010, a new rival will be the minarets of Germany's largest mosque. Cologne's 120,000 Muslims are the most of any German city, and by 2020, two-thirds of Cologne's residents are expected to have foreign (mostly Turkish) roots.
There are about 3.3 million Muslims in Germany, out of a population of 82 million. Among the problems noted is that Germany's 2,600 mosques are sometimes used as community centers and function as a doctor's office, a law office and a bank, thereby becoming an obstacle to integration.
The transformation from dictatorship to democracy and from centrally planned to market economies has united Europe. But European integration is more than the sum of economic necessities. It also means focusing on the common cultural heritage that unites Europeans across all frontiers, regardless of language barriers and smaller cultural differences. The purpose of European integration is to preserve both this diversity as well as the commonalities of its cultures, and Europeans will want to continue to consolidate culturally into a large family of nations.
The fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent unity of East and West Germany are often celebrated with the playing of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, the Ode to Joy, and the "Ode to Joy" section of this symphony is the national anthem of the European Union. Even though there continue to be problems in the contemporary German and European landscape, there is ample cause to be grateful for past achievements and even joys.Michael H. MacDonald is Seattle Pacific University emeritus professor of European Studies and past president of both the Pacific Northwest Council on Foreign Languages and the Northwest Conference on Philosophy.
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.