Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Airbrushing the Nazi Past

The German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, has always found it understandably irksome that some of his more senior diplomats, in their youth, were members of the Nazi party. Difficult to avoid, of course, in Germany, but not the kind of employee profile to warm the heart of a Green.

Tiresome publicity might accrue if such people were publicly recognised for their service - publicity which might reflect badly on the person of Fischer himself.

In light of which, Fischer decided last year to ban obituaries of ex-Nazi party members in the Foreign Office's internal magazine.

This has led to anger and protests in his department. Diplomats by and large loathe Fischer, and it isn't difficult to see why. In this instance the parallels between the youthful Nazis and the youthful Fischer aren't far to seek. Fischer is a man with much to be deeply ashamed about in his youth, when he was a foaming-mouthed radical agitator, a street-fighting policeman-beater.

Diplomats wonder why such a man should order them to wipe out the memories of other men - men who erred in youth but were, like Fischer, given a second chance.

During the past 60 years Germans have managed to deal with such issues quite well, on the whole, and successive generations of German politicians and diplomats have done their level best to atone for the nation's crimes. In light of which, it is indeed scandalaous that a man of no fixed principles like Fischer - whose Green party (or "non-party" as it was launched to be) is closer than any other in spirit to the Nazis of old - should order the Nazi past to be airbrushed out in this way, in the interests of personal political expediency.

The German papers this morning are reporting that Fischer, stung by the criticism from his own ranks, has embarked on a Kuschel-Offensiv (lit: "Cuddle-Campaign") to win back the support of his diplomats. It is highly doubtful he will succeed. So much damage has been done in other areas - the "Visa Affair" being the highest-profile scandal to taint Fischer - that it's probabaly too late to regain the confidence lost.

How much electoral damage it will do is a question only the voters can answer - the first installment being the regional elections in Nordrhein-Westphalen on May 22nd. If the leftist coalition falls there, after decades in power, the momentum for national change will begin to seem unstoppable.

But it would be a foolish to underestimate the electioneering skills of Fischer himself and, still more, of Chancellor Schroeder. If their personal alliance holds, they could still swing it for the leftists.

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