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March 17, 1997

Political scientist explores Germany's "predicament" in new book

By Jennifer McNulty

As Europe's most important power, Germany has the economic, military, and political influence to be a major player on the world scene, yet the country's "burdened history" limits its ability to act. Unification in 1989 removed the physical scars of the Cold War, but the question remains: Can Germany reconcile its past with its future and become a normal country like any other?

[Photo of This question is explored in the new book The German Predicament: Memory and Power in the New Europe. Fascinated by Germany's post-war emergence as a powerful nation and the tension generated by collective memory, authors Andrei S. Markovits (photo) and Simon Reich examine the ways in which history's shadow haunts Germany's future.

In The German Predicament (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997), Markovits and Reich consider the dilemma facing Germany today, and they weigh the contrasting views of its fate. One view holds that contemporary Germany has been tamed by the Holocaust and has no drive to expand or dominate; the other view maintains that Germans have suppressed rather than obliterated their predatory ways and that its democracy, which was imposed by the allies, is fragile.

"Both views are real, and that's where the tension lies," explains Markovits, a professor of politics at UCSC. "For the Germans, they're damned if they do and damned if they don't. If they're going to live up to their role as a major power, they will be called on to act, but then they are subjected to greater scrutiny than any other nation because of their history. And if they do nothing, they'll be accused of not pulling their weight as the wealthiest, most powerful nation in Europe."

Germany must not seek to expand its power, but it must recognize and use its power responsibly, maintains Markovits. Its "ideological predisposition toward smallness lags behind its increasing structural power," write Markovits and Reich, a professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh.

"The German Left would like to say 'We're big, but we're just another Switzerland,' but it doesn't work that way. The United States cannot be Canada," says Markovits. "There's no exit from this predicament for the Germans. The contradictions will only become sharper as Germany becomes a global actor."

Markovits is optimistic about Germany's democracy, which he calls a "model democracy," but he is less confident about Germany's role as a power in the European and international arena. Germany's potential sphere of influence is enormous, yet the German response is "caution and confusion rather than opportunism and predatory behavior," he writes with Reich. The source of German constraint is largely internal, they contend, asserting that the "politics of collective memory" is the biggest factor mitigating the exercise of German power.

Two UCSC graduate students coauthored chapters in The German Predicament. Carolyn Hofig, a doctoral candidate in history, cowrote the chapter on foreign cultural policy. Frank Westermann is a doctoral candidate in economics who coauthored the chapter on Germany's economic power in Europe.

Markovits, who is also a senior associate of the Center for European Studies at Harvard University, is a leading authority on Germany and Eastern Europe. His books include The German Left: Red, Green and Beyond, the German translation of which was just published, and From Bundesrepublik to Deutschland: German Politics after Unification. He is also a contributor to the new book The World Reacts to the Holocaust (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), a major new examination of how the postwar world has dealt with the Holocaust. Markovits co-authored the chapter on West Germany's reaction.

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