Fri, May 16, 2003 - Page 9 News List

New generations finally feel they can be proud to be German

By Erik Kirschbaum  /  REUTERS , BERLIN

Sixty years after World War II and at a point when most of the war generation has either died or retired, Germans are finally shedding some of the guilt that weighed on those born after 1945.

Many admit to a certain pride that their long-criticized country is getting worldwide attention for its pacifism.

A favorite joke making the rounds on the Internet before the US-led war on Iraq delighted many Germans.

"You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy [Eminem], the best golfer is a black [Tiger Woods], the Swiss hold the America's Cup, France accuses the United States of arrogance, and Germany doesn't want to go to war."

The German government began opposing US saber-rattling against Iraq a year ago and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder used his hostility to war to win re-election in September.

The stance triggered an outpouring of support for the government, with 90 percent public backing.

"For the first time in my life I can say I'm proud to be a German," said Bernd Stange, the 54-year-old coach of the Iraqi soccer team who, like many, applauded Schroeder's moves against the US, a long-time ally. Stange fled Iraq just before the war and hopes to return soon.

Changing sentiment

In a letter to the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that reflected the changing sentiment, Andreas Odenwald said he needed to adjust to a new experience -- national pride.

"There was long an odd debate here as to whether to allow anyone to be proud of Germany," he wrote. "I can say I now feel proud, for the first time in my life, to be German and privileged to live in a country where the overwhelming majority of the public and its government rejects a war in Iraq."

Any sense of patriotism in Germany had been stripped from the national consciousness after the atrocities under Adolf Hitler. In school lessons, postwar Germans had the horrors of the Nazi past drilled into them.

Many born decades after 1945 are still confronted with mock Sieg Heil salutes when abroad as well as being called "Nazi" merely because of their German passports. They learned tacitly to accept without question their share of the collective guilt even if they were born after World War II.

Heated debate

The phrase "I'm proud to be German" was frowned on and could spark heated debate. Conservative politicians who just two years ago said they were proud Germans were associated with far-right extremists. Even President Johannes Rau said he had trouble with the notion of national pride.

"One can only be proud of something one has achieved," Rau said at the height of a debate two years ago, adding that people could be "glad" or "thankful" to be Germans but not proud.

Schroeder cautiously joined in the debate, choosing his words carefully to avoid being branded a right-wing extremist.

"I am proud of the achievements of the people and the democratic culture," he said. "In this sense, I am a German patriot who is proud of his country."

Although Germans were allowed to express a certain amount of admiration for their currency, the deutschmark, their "economic miracle" and national soccer team that won three World Cups, any further displays of patriotism were discouraged.

Yet the tide was beginning to change last summer when Germany's football team unexpectedly came second at the World Cup -- and was greeted by tens of thousands of flag-waving fans on their return home.

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