There’s a little row going on.
German conservatives are saying the symbols of the GDR should be banned in Germany because they are offensive to the victims of the totalitarian regime, and others are saying NO! because the GDR wasn’t as bad as the NS years.
Both arguments are badly flawed.
The idea that things should be banned because some people find them hurtful and offensive does not fit with a liberal democracy. Tolerance doesn’t mean anything unless you tolerate what you really don’t like.
You’re offended (as I would be) by idiots who go stomping around Treptow Soviet War Memorial on “Victory Day“, dressed up like wannabe Stalins with the flags and the badges and the hats? Well, don’t go to Treptow Soviet War Memorial on the 9th of May!
Is it fair to compare the German Democratic Republic with the Third Reich? Probably not, but is that what they’re doing? No, so that’s a straw man. The argument appears to be that the GDR was repressive, and there’s quite a lot of evidence to support that, but whether or not it can be compared to 30s Germany is irrelevant. All governments get compared to the nazis at some point by some people.
No, the question is, is the memory of the repressive nature of the old East Germany so offensive that its victims should be shielded from reminders? Should freedoms be taken away from the fools who still dream of a socialist paradise that never existed?
If not then how do we justify taking away the same freedoms from the idiots who dream of a fascist past? And so here we are again, comparing the two regimes, measuring them up for offensiveness; an ideological pissing contest.
The odd thing is that both sides agree; nobody in Germany should have the freedom to express their liking for fascism. We’ve all decided as a society that public denial of the holocaust, for example, should be punished, because it’s an obviously offensive and factually incorrect position. Selling a badge off of an old SS uniform on a sunday market? Illegal. Greeting someone in the street with a stiff, right-armed, Roman salute? Punishable!
I believe these are all judgment calls that cannot easily be legislated for, and therefore not only should we leave the stalinist idiots to their sad little nostalgic fantasies, but we should also allow far more offensive behaviour.
Freedom comes at a cost, and until Germany accepts that freedom must include tolerating the truly offensive, those states that have no regard for freedom will always brush away European criticism by pointing at our hypocrisy. Hitler laughed at American complaints about the treatment of the Jews, pointing out the Jim Crow laws that lasted until 1965. American moral authority was undermined by American racism, just as now, in the UN when european countries complain of political repression in Iran, Syria, Turkey, wherever, we hand them a get-out.
So the argument is, should Germany remain a hypocritical nation that cannot look oppressors in the eye, along with pretty much all of Europe, or become even more hypocritical, all in the name of not offending anyone?
Well, on this one, I’m sorry, but fuck the lot of you.
Part of one of the last stretches of the Berlin Wall is to make way for luxury apartments and a pedestrian bridge over the river.
The East Side Gallery, a few kilometres of colourful, cartoon-like murals, many celebrating the fall of the wall, protesting over a long gone Cold War, or making genial pleas for world peace, will soon be partially dismantled for the sake of comfort living and commerce.
Protests have been organised, petitions signed, and social networks have been complaining.
I have some questions:
- What should Berlin do with a huge wasteland in its centre?
- What does the East Side Gallery represent today?
- How do we chose what to conserve and what to renew?
- How ‘authentic’ is the East Side Gallery, and does it matter?
Points to consider may include:
- Berlin has a lot of space, but not so much in the centre
- the city’s changing quickly, and some elements of the past are more important than others as time goes by
- the wall is commemorated elsewhere in the city in some detail
- the murals were created after the wall had “fallen”, and are on the east side, which means that throughout the GDR that section was, in fact, painted plain white
I don’t have any definitive answers, but I’m not very convinced by vague arguments from resentment towards people who may be able to afford new apartments by the river, and if people want a voice in shaping the city, would it not be more productive to engage in the debate, rather than striking a reactionary, conservative and absolutist approach?
I hope development of this city is done with consideration towards its history, the character of its different areas, and the needs of its most vulnerable citizens, and any changes should be questioned, but I can’t support a blanket demand to keep things just as they are.