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Monday, February 14, 2011

Twenty years after the Berlin Wall fell: Vor zwanzige Jahre ist die Mauer gefallen

It was a gray rainy Monday in Berlin, yet the sun was shining for those in Europe who are celebrating the fall of the iron curtain.   Twenty years ago from that day, it would have seemed surreal to the east Germans who could suddenly simply walk across a border without fear of being shot.  People simply walked through.  “I just wanted to set foot on your side,” one man said.  “Can I cross over there and visit my parents?” a woman asked.  The east German police could only say, “go ahead.”  There would be no criminal penalties.  Before long, people climbed the wall and started chiseling away.  “The wall has to go,” they cried, “sie ist zu ende.”
A state the size of Montana in the EU, the united Germany is today a positive force in Europe.  The fears that gave rise to the European Coal and Steel Cooperative are no longer extant.  To be sure, the existence of the EU renders Germany less a potential threat to its neighbors.  However, Germany is playing a far more positive role in European politics than simply being contained.  In fact, Germany is among the states that have been most supportive of the EU, both monetarily and in terms of supporting further political integration.   The lessons of war are not lost on the descendents of those Germans who lost two wars in the twentieth century. The lesson is: a federal union in Europe is the best chance to obviate future war.  The seventeenth century alone demonstrates just how much strife can occupy a century. 

The problem is perhaps how to give the European Union enough power to prevent war while not giving the union so much power that it can tyrannize over what is innately a heterogenious empire-scale continent.  The United States face the same problem, though that union is much closer to the consolidation end than to dissolution.   As much as Europeans may fear consolidation, justifiably looking at American history as evincing such a trajectory, I believe that the illusion that the EU is simply an alliance (in spite of having a supreme court, parliament, and executive branch) ought to be feared just as much.   The former east Germans ought to know the decadence in propaganda.   To be sure, the denial in the US of the empire-level consolidation is just as dangerous.  Both refusals to come to terms with how each of these unions has changed is like refusing to remove one’s blinders before driving.   In both federal unions, a realistic assessment is requisite to reforming the governance structures to achieve a balance of power between the unions and their state governments.   Common action, such as to forestall war and regulate interstate commerce, and cultural and ideological distinctiveness can each be accommodated; in fact, each can serve as a check on the other, such that neither one can snuff out the other.   Surely one of the lessons learned by the east Germans was that concentrations of power ought to be suspect, given human nature.