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The Social Democratic Intellectual Peter Glotz Warns against a False Normalization (1994)

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Granted, the situation has become confused. Even individuals who are largely beyond suspicion, for example, members of the SPD leadership, are talking about the “neglect of the national by all of us”: identity philosophy. The struggle of French and German filmmakers against Hollywoodization – a struggle over identity. Don’t the Croats have an original right to their nation, which has been oppressed for so many years? Even the left-wing Basque nationalists are sending friendly telegrams to Zagreb. Is the dominance of American mass culture not a genuine problem? We now ask ourselves: Can we continue to celebrate the energetic resistance of Black Nationalism when we curse the glorification of violence and the sexism in the punk of East German skinheads? On the other hand – can one really stifle the entire emotionalism of rock only because it can also be put in the service of fascistic feelings – rape fantasies, homophobia, combat-boot brutality? Haven’t we regarded the deliberate separation of feminists as politically correct until now? What, then, can be said against German identity, seeing as the French (Augstein writes about it every week) and the Poles (the freedom-hero Walesa!) are much more nationalistic than the Germans?

On the one hand, this much is true: self-attributions, political subjectivities, feelings of belonging together, mutually interlinked methods of communication are unavoidable, legitimate. Nations are empirical, not ideological. On the other hand, the mythification of shared history, language, conquest, and culture contains the seeds of xenophobia and nationalism. Even a minor fuzziness of vision can turn us Germans into criminals again. Alexander Kluge’s clever and simple formula applies to the shoulder-shrugging lack of concern on the part of the normalizers: “In Gefahr und großer Not bringt der Mittelweg den Tod” [“In danger and great distress, the middle way brings death”]. The middle way of our recent, newly intensified guilelessness, cleverly called “pragmatism.”


I will dissect normalization-nationalism by using the example of film director Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, admittedly a somewhat eccentric figure. Arnulf Baring, Jochen Thies, Reiner Zitelmann, Brigitte Seebacher-Brandt, or Christian Meier, the middle-of-the-road people working in this vein, would shudder. Why the melodramatic protest against “victor’s aesthetics” and “re-education”? Why the pretentious, highly cultured, neo-classical attitude? Why (for heaven’s sake) even the anti-Semitic undertones (whoever joined the Jews and the leftists was successful …)? All nonsense, they would say – the first thing we’ll do is rid the Germans of the idea of having learned something special, the “Sonderweg” [“special path”], the unnaturally affected sense of guilt; we are pragmatizing them into Frenchmen and Englishmen. Along the margins, one might also manage to rebuild the Berliner Stadtschloss and rehabilitate a few Prussian virtues, but please, no overstatements, otherwise the Dutch will cry, Habermas will write an essay, and the leftist-liberal mainstreamers of yesterday will regain the upper hand in Spiegel.

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