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Home / Press review / Archive / Press review | 14/08/2006

 

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Günter Grass was in the Waffen-SS

In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung this weekend, German novelist Günter Grass admitted that when he was seventeen years old he served in the Waffen-SS during the last months of the Second World War. He said this had "weighed on his conscience for too long." However, this belated admission has cast many doubts on the credibility of a novelist who always has criticised Germans for trying to avoid and conceal the truth about their past. » more

With articles from the following publications:
Mladá fronta dnes - Czech Republic, Canarias7 - Spain, Neue Zürcher Zeitung - Switzerland, Die Welt - Germany, Le Soir - Belgium, La Stampa - Italy, Rzeczpospolita - Poland

Mladá fronta dnes - Czech Republic

"Even if he wasn't an evil person, Günter Grass has shown that he was a weakling," writes Teodor Marjanovic commenting on Grass's surprising confession. "Grass was a moral authority in these unsettled times. He was a person whose great achievement it was to make it possible for Germans to examine their Nazi past without grimacing or hypocrisy. And now he has confessed that for most of his life he has remained silent about what he himself did during the war. Some may say, 'So what?'. Even Pope Benedict XVI was a member of the Hitler Youth and was drafted into the Wehrmacht. But the Pope deserted the army and didn't conceal his past. The Grass affair resembles the Kurt Waldheim scandal. The former UN Secretary General remained silent about the fact that during the war he was in command of units that committed atrocities in western Bosnia. Although Grass's assurance that 'he didn't shoot even once' is believable, his confession still has a nasty taste to it. It has come unacceptably late." (14/08/2006)

Canarias7 - Spain

Francisco Suarez Alamo, director of the Spanish daily, does not expect Grass's declarations to tarnish his image. "Almost everyone will be understanding and some will even go so far as to praise the writer's act. That is what happens when one lives within clearly defined ideologies: one finally forgives everything. Grass will be portrayed as a young Nazi who was a victim of his misunderstanding of the events unfolding around him and hostage to a repressive system. Yet it is obviously due to the passivity of ignorant young people and adults that others got on with the job of filling the concentration camps with dead bodies." (14/08/2006)

Neue Zürcher Zeitung - Switzerland

According to Roman Bucheli, Günter Grass has brought about his own downfall with his admission. He accuses Grass of "trying to capitalise on his admission from an aesthetic and ethic point of view by assuming the pose of the self-assured and somewhat vain moralist." Buchelis says he's appalled by the condescending way in which Grass talked about the Konrad Adenauer era – and jewish poet Paul Celan – in the interview with the German daily, the Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung. "Grass lived in Paris for four years in the late 1950s and was a friend of Paul Celan at the time. Now Grass says of his friend: 'Most of the time he was submerged in his work and a prisoner of all his real and exaggerated fears.' It doesn't seem to have occurred to Grass that Celan's 'exaggerated fears' could have been the product of precisely the kind of haunting silence to which Grass has now admitted. There's no telling what would have happened if Celan had learned that his friend was a member of the Waffen-SS." (14/08/2006)

Die Welt - Germany

Novelist Burkhard Spinnen, born in 1956, calls for a "gentle" reaction to Grass's admission and notes that Günter Grass learned from his mistake in a way that many others haven't. "There was a time when my father used to receive invitations from the various veteran soldiers' clubs. My mother remembers him saying: 'You can throw them away!' Günter Grass is one of the few among his generation who has shown ways of thinking and appeals for action that go beyond forbidding contact with mass hysteria and criminal ideologies. This 'flaw' in his biography has not only been a source of self-discipline and self-criticism but has also motivated his lifelong struggle to improve the general situation. Therefore we sons and daughters of such fathers should be as 'gentle' as we can in our reaction to this confession." (14/08/2006)

Le Soir - Belgium

Belgian author Jacques De Decker sees in Günter Grass's revelations the culmination of the German writer's literary project. "Grass's whole work, or nearly, is an X-ray image of Germany's (bad) conscience viewed through the convulsions of the last century. He has not approached these tragedies and traumas as a thinker or theorist, but as a poet and an occasionally visionary graphic artist ... Is Grass a provocateur? He has never ceased to be in his writings, etchings, and public statements. This latest declaration, which comes as the prelude to the first book where he reveals himself as is (hitherto he had only ever talked of himself under the cover of fables and metaphor), is a new way of pursuing his project: through the desire that his descendants should understand." (14/08/2006)

La Stampa - Italy

Italian political scientist Gian Enrico Rusconi interprets Grass's statements as "a subtle shift in German's collectif perception of their own past ... The new generations, more than others, have had to prove that they felt ashamed in the name of the entire nation and Günter Grass has been, in the name of collective responsibility, both protagonist and prisoner of this critical and emancipating process. In more recent times Germany has gained new national dignity and Grass has been able to take a fresh look - not of indulgence, but of liberation. His admission is no mundane matter, but a signal for the whole nation ... It is a sort of 'literary permission' to launch a collective experience that the writer wants once again to be able to interpret." (14/08/2006)

Rzeczpospolita - Poland

Krzysztof Gottesmann draws parallels between Günter Grass and those who once worked for the Polish state security service, noting that confronting the past is a difficult process on both sides of the German-Polish border. "The Poles and the Germans experienced the two greatest cataclysms of the 20th century: communism and National Socialism… Even today both nations are having difficulties dealing with their past. Confronting the dark side of history, of one's shame, personal responsibility and mistakes, and how individuals were implicated in the events, is an important task for a nation… It has taken Grass, who has become the conscience of many Germans, over 60 years to talk openly about his past – to confess and assume responsibility for his actions. Does this damage his credibility? The answer is yes, because you can't separate the work of an artist from the creator and his life." (14/08/2006)

REFLECTIONS

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Süddeutsche Zeitung - Germany

Ulrich Beck on white Europeans' fears of dying out

"It's not Germany that's growing old but the world. It's not Germany that has the lowest birth rate (1.32 children per woman) but countries like Ukraine (1.17), Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea (all 1.2), followed by Italy (1,29), and Spain (1.3)," writes sociologist Ulrich Beck. He warns about the dangers of what he calls "navel gazing demography" in the German debate about the aging population. "The number of whites of European origin has shrunk to a fifth of the world population and less. But instead of setting selection criteria for the immigration of non-whites we should try to define the connection between population decline, aging societies, necessary reforms of social welfare systems and an effective immigration policy as a European problem." (14/08/2006)

Népszabadság - Hungary

Laszlo Vegel on minorities in south eastern Europe

Laszlo Vegel, a Hungarian novelist from the Serb province of Vojvodina, calls for a less active state and a more active civil society in the debate about minorities in former Yugoslavia. "Unfortunately, hostility towards minorities and anti-Semitism are deeply rooted in this part of Europe. Governments, political parties and politicians can only partly overcome these historical animosities. However, the dialogue about the Hungarian minority in Serbia, for example, is only being conducted at a party level… Up to now, financial support from the mother country has been aimed only at guaranteeing the survival of the minority as a closed community. No one bothers about things like the creation of competitive media, institutions, networks, citizens' initiatives or a modern set of cultural values for the self-representation of the minority." (13/08/2006)

POLITICS

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Der Standard - Austria

The fight against terrorism in the EU

Thomas Mayer says he can't believe how uncoordinated the EU's reaction has been to the revelations about the planned attacks in London. "It's hard to believe that five years after the New York attacks there is apparently still no basic infrastructure for integrated, legally controlled pan-European police activities. What should be a priority for the EU if not those issues that are of most concern for EU citizens? But even more irritating is the fact that the intelligence and security services are being allowed to put people under surveillance as they see fit and according to each country's laws – and also in the legal grey zone. There is virtually no parliamentary control at a European level." (14/08/2006)

The Independent - United Kingdom

British values are threatened

"So these jihad-jumping nutcases don't threaten our values. They threaten our lives perhaps, but not our values," writes columnist Simon Carr of the suspected terrorists thought to be behind the alleged plot to blow up trans-Atlantic flights that was foiled last week. Simon Carr denounces the British government's methods and dramatic tones. "No, the people who threaten our values are our leaders who have been panicking and harrying us towards un-British ideas like locking people up for three months without charge, and invading other countries to change their value systems. Another of our most fundamental values is stoicism. If more atrocities are inevitable (...) we should be stocking up on quiet courage. Can't we have a bit more of that? A bit more sang froid? (14/08/2006)

El Mundo - Spain

More and more migrants arrive in Spain by sea

"While media attention is focused on the forest fires sweeping Galicia, there is another catastrophe in the south of the country which must not go unheeded," explains the daily. "Spain is experiencing its greatest avalanche of illegal immigrants in years. Nearly 16,000 illegals have arrived by sea this year from different African countries. The figures are self-explanatory. In July 2005, 860 illegal immigrants landed on the Spanish coastline. This year 3,000 arrived over the same period ... It is crucial that the Senegalese, Mauritanians, and Africans from other nations understand that they cannot all live with dignity in Spain and that their fate is either to die at sea - dozens have perished while attempting the crossing - or to live in the margins of society." (14/08/2006)

Élet és Irodalom - Hungary

Aminata Traore on African immigrants

Mali's former minister for culture and tourism, Aminata Traore, tells Agnes Rajacic that Europe should open its borders to African immigrants: "The distinction between the fight against terrorism and the fight against immigration has become blurred. Policies are governed by fears based on an ideology. 'We will protect you from evil,' promises Bush. 'We will protect you from African immigrants,' says Europe. The coalition formed between the rich nations heralds the beginning of a new phase of exploitation of the world that will come to a tragic end if we don't find another solution. We Africans do not use bombs… But the West hates us even though it hurts itself by doing so. African immigrants are not enemies of Europe. On the contrary: they believe in Europe." (14/08/2006)

Trouw - Netherlands

The Netherlands' negative migratory balance

"The Central Statistics Office last week revealed that the Netherlands have Europe's largest immigration deficit," deplores a leading article in the daily paper. "In the first half of the year the country lost 63,000 people ... It is worrying news. The Netherlands plainly have no appeal. That is related to the country's political management, because the Netherlands are governed by fear and anxiety. We have done all we can in recent years to make the country unattractive to economic refugees, which has also driven away the workers whom we will need in the future. It is high time that the Hague no longer considers immigration as a phenomenon to fight, but as a necessary good." (14/08/2006)

Libération - France

Bill Gates redefines philanthropy at at international AIDS congress

"The presence of the world's richest man at the Toronto [AIDS] congress shows not only the persistance of the capitalist puritan ethic," comments leader writer Gerard Dupuy. "It also marks a turning point in contemporary history which has seen private initiative, under the blanket term of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), assert itself as a major player helping the world to live togeher and an indispensable interface between North and South. What matters here is not that Gates is wealthy, but that he is accountable only to his own conscience and supervisory board, much like MSF [Médecins sans frontières] and MDM [Médecins du monde] ... To that extent, he contributes to setting new standards for philanthropy." (14/08/2006)

CULTURE

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Gazeta Wyborcza - Poland

Criticism of the exhibition on expulsion in Berlin

Bartosz T. Wielinski, the daily's Berlin correspondent, was not very impressed with the "Forced Destinies" exhibition on mass expulsions in Europe currently on show in the German capital. The exhibition "draws parallels between the bloodbath in Armenia, the conflict in Yugoslavia and the dramas of the Second World War. In other words, it compares events which are not comparable. Erika Steinbach claims she wanted the exhibition to be give an objective portrayal of the victims. However, one can seriously doubt its objectivity because the graphic composition – the series of plaques describing the expulsions – conveys the impression that all the expellees are equally victims but fails to address the issue of Nazi Germany's responsibility in triggering the Second World War. It also lacks the right sense of proportion because almost as much space is dedicated to the Cyprus conflict and the war in ex-Yugoslavia as to the Second World War." (11/08/2006)

The Guardian - United Kingdom

The brilliance of the National Theatre of Scotland

Charlotte Higgins argues that the play 'Black Watch' currently showing at the Edinburgh Festival demonstrates the role that a national theatre company can play. "No one will question the drama's deep humanity - and the extraordinary confidence with which it has been presented by the National Theatre of Scotland. For with 'Black Watch' the NTS - still in its first year (...) - shows that it has arrived. This is a true piece of 'national' theatre - telling the urgent contemporary, human stories that lie at the back end of grand politics and the sweep of history - that never looks parochial or narrowly nationalistic. To all the scepticism and debate about Scotland's even needing a national theatre, to all the sometimes self-lacerating, politically fraught recent inquiries into the devolved nation's culture, the new NTS has slapped down the best kind of answer: rather than more words, a most eloquent piece of work." (14/08/2006)

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