Letter from Munich – 034
Letter from Munich – the Joseph Affair – 34
EINE DEUTSCHE FASSUNG STEHT WEITER UNTEN.
31 August 2001
Dear Mr. Graf, dear friends,
A continuation of the letter of last week:
After a pause, she went on, “Why do they take a threat like Biedenkopf’s seriously? And after all the recent scandals and bizarre findings of district attorneys, why don’t the media and the public question their findings? For one thing, the free press in Germany is far less free than in the United States. Why do Germans allow themselves to be so intimidated? Many would say it is part of their still deeply ingrained culture of obedience to, and respect for, authority.”
Alexandra smiled sadly. “The Germans, with all their endearing qualities,” she said, “and they do have many, remain a nation who are still, fifty-six years after the collapse of the Third Reich, easily intimidated. Especially as an individual, isolated from any group, a German still has an abiding respect for, and fear of, authority, despite what unthinking obedience to authority did to this country twice in the last century. It is a respect and fear that may in the end be incomprehensible without actually experiencing daily life in Germany, for Germans live in a society that is so strictly, but subtly, hierarchical, that the average American, separated from any American institutions, might find life here intolerable. In Germany, one still takes orders from those above and gives them to those below”.
She was thoughtful for a moment. “Of course Germany is a democracy, people here will tell you, but it’s a democracy where government and politics are really too complicated for the average person to be concerned with. There may have been a different attitude in the late sixties, but people were too radical then. It is better to leave matters of governance and politics to those ‘up there’, who know more about such things.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” said another friend, who had been silent up to now. “All of this is of course even truer in the eastern part of the country, where the Kantelberg-Abdullas lived. Germans there have known only a brief period of democracy, in the early twentieth century. Before that, their experience extended only to imperial monarchy; and since then, people in the “new states” knew only two successive dictatorships before becoming part of the Federal Republic a relatively short time ago. In my opinion, many Germans, especially those in the eastern part of the country, will react submissively to the slightest indication of what the authorities want. I would even say that Germans in the east, in the ‘new states,’ still appear to react to the police and government officials in a way that is surprisingly similar to what one would have expected in the GDR.”
“Thus the compliance with Biedenkopf’s wishes is understandable,” Alexandra added, “but why does the government in Saxony resort to the measures it has used in the case of the Kantelberg-Abdullas? There could be many reasons, one of which may be simply that the original investigation of the child’s death was superficial and full of errors, but no German bureaucrat or official will admit to having made a mistake, unless he absolutely must. It would undermine his authority. The original investigation must be shown to have been correct. An additional reason for the government’s behavior may be that even if Kurt Biedenkopf has no ambition to become the next German president, no state prime minister in this country can easily admit that large numbers of neo-Nazis exist in areas under his authority. Moreover, to admit that such individuals exist and would go to the extreme of murdering a child is too much of a defeat for any state prime minister. He therefore reaches the conclusion that it simply did not happen, and in Germany, what the person in charge decides is true, is true, whether it corresponds to reality or not. Everyone else falls into line, including the district attorneys and the forensic specialists.”
Naturally, being a simple man, I was shocked by all these strange opinions and ideas and could never support them myself. I think they just couldn’t be true.
This letter will be continued next week.
Robert John Bennett
======================================================== ” title=”mailto:email@example.com ======================================================== “>rjbennett at post.harvard.edu ===…
“>rjbennett at post.harvard.edu