Ask some of us up from the north and many of us see it as an insult, a reminder of slavery, Jim Crow laws and the south's long, bitter and violent battle with integration.
I have seen the Confederate Flag a few times in Germany, often at festivals or carnivals that are supposed to be promoting multiculturalism. My first reaction was "WTFF, do they know what that stands for?" In one case, they hadn't, they'd simply downloaded it from the Internet, they told me. But the sight of the flag didn't sting any less.
I'd almost forgotten all about it until yesterday, when I was getting out of my car, I noticed a bumper sticker with a Confederate Flag on it. I stopped for a moment, looked at the car, (a red Dukes of Hazard lookalike that appeared to have just been on a joyride through a swamp) and wondered who owned it? What did she/he look like? Was it an American with southern roots or a German who simply thought it looked cool?
Either way, would it have made a difference?
Like back home, there are plenty of huge billboards strategically placed along busy streets. But despite the diversity of views, there is no doubt as to which way the country leans: TAX THE RICH! SOCIAL. . . EVEN AFTER THE ELECTION! WEALTH FOR EVERYONE! STRENGTHEN THE MIDDLE CLASS!
There are at least six major parties trying to get seats in the parliament so there is less of an attack on individuals as opposed to, well. . . the issues.
No trying to see if a candidate really has German nationality. One could call a candidate here a SOCIALIST, but that would be about as offensive as calling him or her a stinky-poo.
Luckily, there is no time for that nonsense in pre-election Germany because everyone is speculating about which coalition of parties will lead the government. Listen to the news and you'll hear about the traffic light coalition, or The Jamaica coalition, depending on which parties (each of which has a color) have the most votes in pre-election surveys. The parties also announce if they think they'd be willing to work together. (at this point, a Jamaica coalition doesn't seem likely).
Another stark difference here is that people appear to have a sense of which party is going to stand behind their interests. It's not to say that Germany has no ignorant voters. But it's highly unlikely to run into a working class plumber who thinks social security is a bad idea. And you probably won't see someone with a sign equivalent to "KEEP YOUR GOVERNMENT HANDS OFF MY MEDICARE!" Duh. . .
Here, the sign would be more like, "MORE GOVERNMENT IN MY MEDICARE!" Germans expect a lot from government, perhaps too much? But even the largest conservative party here, the CDU (Angela Merkel's party) has been handing out more social goodies than any liberal American Democrat could ever conceive of.
Conservative, liberal . . . it's all terribly relative. Here, Obama would probably be considered a conservative and Sarah Palin, well, she would be considered a general public disturbance.
I'm German and proud?
Ain't gonna happen, at least not as loudly as James Brown might have sung it.
Pride and Germans. It's a touchy subject but one that has evolved considerably with Germans of my generation. Younger Germans don't necessarily feel as guilty about the war as their parents and grandparents' did. In fact, many will tell you they have nothing to do with WWII. But to say "I'm proud to be German," is another thing entirely.
A German colleague asked me once, "What is it exactly that Americans are so proud of?" Now this was a few years ago when America had just invaded Iraq. We'd just watched Bill Clinton singing some corny pop song "I'm proud to be an American . . ." and I felt like I was on superficial ground. Even Americans who might never put a flag in their front yard were suddenly saying they were proud of their nationality once they experienced the shock of September 11th. Pride at that time was synonymous with solidarity, a way for Americans to bond over the fact that we were hurting.
This topic came up again recently because my eldest son just started attending a German/American school and one of the chants was "I'm a kid of ---, proud to say it everyday." There it was, that word. My son doesn't even know what pride means.
I was especially conscious of what my in-laws might be thinking, because their generation experienced Nazi rallies where chants about national pride led to that ugly part of their history (which, by the way, is now my son's history too). I waited for them to wince; to shake their head in disgust. None of that happened, but they were hyper-aware of the word. Proud. A word they hadn't used in years, except to talk about their children.
Pride and Americanism are considered to go hand in hand for Europeans I have met. Sometimes they ridicule this and sometimes they are simply puzzled by our unconditional pride. Yep, even though millions of Americans have no health care, have no access to fair and equal education, or clean water and many watched their loved ones die for Haliburton profits, many still throw around the word as easily as they would a beach ball.
But despite all the criticism I have of America, I guess I still consider myself proud. It's something that gets transferred into our veins in the drinking water, I guess. As much as I shook my head in shame over some American policies (the Bush years were not easy, let me tell you) I always found a way to defend the US of A whenever it came under attack (which was often) by Germans. "If it's so horrible," I often asked them, "then why does everyone, including you, want to live there?"
Philippa Ebéné, the director of the Berliner Werkstatt der Kulturen, agreed to have the 96-panel exhibit shown in her museum because it purported to pay homage to people of African descent who fought against the Nazis.
When Ebéné discovered that three of the 96 panels were actually about African Nazi supporters, she tried to have those three removed. When that didn’t work, she cancelled the exhibit altogether.
Criticism of Ebéné, who is Afro-German, ran the gamut: she was anti-Semitic, she was censoring art, she was pandering to German Muslims. One critic even called on the Berlin government (which subsidizes the museum) to take away Ebéné’s job.(An agreement was finally reached a few days ago, and Werkstatt will show the exhibit without the three contentious pieces. The complete exhibit will be shown elsewhere in Germany).
As I followed the controversy, I kept asking myself, why would you put a Nazi opponent and a Nazi collaborator together in a supposed homage, simply because they have African roots? Shouldn’t the role they played in the war weigh in more than their cultural backgrounds? I mean, that’s like lumping together Nelson Mandela and Idi Amin?
I think there is a difference between censorship and demanding that information (including art that acts as documented historical fact) be disseminated accurately. If a state is going to bother with remembrance, than it ought to be clear about just what is being commemorated.
There is no shortage of Holocaust memorials and exhibits in Berlin, so much that various intellectuals have asked if it is to a fault? (do we think so much about something we see everyday?) But exhibits about people of color in the war effort are few and far between. (remember how long it took for The Tuskeegee Airmen to get credit for their bravery?)
Leave the Nazi supporters with the Nazi supporters, black, white or green. Let those who fought against tyranny have this moment, without it being tainted and diminished.