by Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza & Markus Heinrich
Clichés like “don’t mention the war” have given way to modern Germany becoming an unlikely moral example to the world.
For German-Turkish relations, the recent vote in the German Bundestag to recognise the mass-killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during the First World War as genocide could not have come at a worse time. German-Turkish relations were already strained due to concerns over freedom of the press and the implementation of the European Union (EU)-Turkey migrant deal masterminded by Chancellor Angela Merkel. Voting to recognise the atrocities committed against the Armenians as genocide and thereby acknowledging its legacy was however, morally speaking, the right thing to do.
Germany more than any other country has had to answer for its past, but it has undergone a remarkable transformation from traditional villain to contemporary moral leader. Germany has assumed moral leadership on a host of issues, from acknowledging its own guilt and proactively imbuing this unique responsibility upon its new generations, to being a tireless support of the EU, taking in millions of refugees when others refused to take them and being a champion of environmentally-friendly laws, technologies and initiatives. Unthinkable even a few decades ago, once popular clichés like “don’t mention the war” have given way to modern Germany becoming an unlikely moral example to the world.
Atoning for the Past
As the Ottoman genocide of the Armenian aptly shows, many countries have had dark chapters in their history. The Japanese Empire carried out mass-atrocities: the United States dropped the atom bomb, Spain carried out massacres during its conquests in South America, the British Empire brutally crushed rebellions against its rule – the list is as tragic as it is long. While the holocaust committed by Nazi Germany still stands out to this day in terms of its scale and its efficient barbarity, so too does Germany’s post-war efforts to atone for it.
While many countries sought to whitewash their past, or even deny it altogether, Germany has built museums and monuments to the most shameful chapter of its history, and made teaching children about the horrors of the Nazi-period mandatory in its schools. Germany’s moral courage in facing the demons of its past is an example to other nations who to this day have shirked from doing so. In the international arena also, Germany has been a champion of peace-making and human rights, using its significant global influence and standing to promote conciliation and to push human rights issues, even in cases where, from a purely political or economic perspective, it would be more convenient not to.
For many the phrase “German Moral Leadership” may sound strange judging from the role this country played in two World Wars and the recent tough stance it took towards Greek debt. Yet, anyone who has witnessed the German response to the increasing wave of refugees will have to acknowledge that such leadership is a fact.
Amid widespread fears and opposition to the vast numbers of migrants fleeing Syria and Iraq, most European countries who have failed to take in their migrant quotas could learn a lot from Germany’s refugee policy. The country’s economic strength, demographic decline and the need for labour have all contributed to it welcoming migrants, but Realist considerations alone only tell half the story. Last summer it opened its arms to more than one million refugees: a move that won huge international applause for Chancellor Angela Merkel and also seemed to reflect the impressive degree of tolerance, acceptance and desire to help from fellow citizens. Ordinary Germans backed their government and have done their bit to ease the pains of refugees by donating money, clothes, food and even allowing them to stay in spare rooms. Welcoming refugees has therefore not only been a courageous political decision, but a principle supported by broad swathes of German society.
Protecting the environment, apart from being a question of logic as destroying your habitat is irrational, is a question of ethics. It is a moral duty to preserve the environment for future generations, and Germany has long been, and continues to be, a global leader in sustainable policy-making. It has been implementing environmental legislation since the late 1960s, is one of the world’s leaders in solar energy capacity, recycling and sustainable building, and has reduced Carbon Dioxide emissions by over 27 percent since 1990.
Rather than resting on these laurels, Germany has set itself ambitious targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2020 and 95 percent by 2050. As a pioneer of green policies, it is also the first industrialised nation to turn its back on nuclear power. As the effects of climate change become more critical, the country will be shaping the debate on sustainability, both in Europe and worldwide.
Germany is often commended for its economic prowess, its roads or the punctuality of its trains, but it is its moral achievements and its transformation from villain to example which is even more deserving of praise. “Germany,” almost a dirty word not too long ago, now connotes respect and admiration – and rightly so.
*Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza is a political columnist and PhD candidate who has spoken at numerous international conferences and published articles on issues relating to international affairs.
*Markus Heinrich holds a master’s degree in international relations who has written articles on European political, security and defence issues.