Event Highlights: Germany and Israel – 50 Years after the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations: A Jewish Studies Forum with German Consul General Rolf Schuette
The Center for the Study of Europe co-sponsored last week’s Jewish Studies forum with German Consul General Rolf Schuette. The topic of discussion was German-Israeli relations since the historic reparations agreement signed by Chancellor Adenauer and Prime Minister Ben Gurion. Schuette began his talk by underscoring the strength of the relationship; unbeknownst to most American Jews, he said, Germany is one of Israel’s best friends. He said that the special relationship between Germany and Israel can only be explained on the basis of history and went on to describe how, over five decades, Germany became Israel’s third largest trading partner and one of it’s strongest diplomatic allies.
In the early 1950s, the interests of the two nations were aligned. Germany, Schuette said, was in the process of establishing itself as a member of the international community and viewed establishing relations with Israel as a path to legitimacy and acceptance by the west. Israel, after intense internal debate, recognized that it needed German reparation funds, to build its infrastructure and to shore up its military capability.
Over time Schuette said, the relationship was bolstered through civil society contacts, including 350 youth exchange programs, re-establishment of German citizenship for Jews who had left Germany after 1933, growing trade and investment, security and military cooperation, and numerous other channels. None of this, Schuette said, can be explained apart from the past and Germany’s responsibility for the Holocaust. Germany today regards Israeli security as part of its national interest and German leaders in recent decades have been reluctant to criticize Israel publicly.
However, Schuette explained, there are some causes for concern as guilt over the Holocaust recedes along with Israel’s favored nation status. While most Germans take a neutral position in the Palestinian conflict and believe both sides need to make compromises, many compare Israeli policy toward Palestinians with Nazi policy toward Jews. Criticism of Israeli behavior vis a vis Palestinians in Germany is at the level of France. Schuette cited a BBC poll listing Israel as one of the most unpopular countries in the world and another listing Israel as one of the countries which threaten world peace. Younger Germans, he said, are more willing to criticize Israel, and Israeli settlement politics in particular. Even if the government continues to exercise restraint, Schuette worried that “where popular sentiment leads, democratic governments follow.” He added that it is important to distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from outright anti-Semitism in Europe.
In summarizing, Schuette reiterated his thesis that the German Israeli friendship can’t be explained apart from the past, though other factors, including trade, economics, and civil society contacts, have grown in importance over time. The past demands a special attention to Israeli interests and restraint in its criticism of Israeli politics. But there is a growing disconnect, especially among the younger generations, who have been critical of Israel. Ultimately, Schuette argued, the special relationship needs support of civil society. If Israel remains intransigent, he fears the relationship may become less and less special over time.
Event Highlights: Writing Between Languages and Cultures – A Reading and Conversation with Yoko Tawada
On April 15, 2014, the Centers for the Study of Europe and Asia at Boston University hosted Yoko Tawada. Tawada was born in Tokyo in 1960 and moved to Hamburg when she was twenty-two, where she received a PhD in German literature, and then to Berlin in 2006. The event was moderated by Anna Zielinska-Elliott, Senior Lecturer in Japanese at Boston University and a translator of modern Japanese literature into Polish, and introduced by Peter Schwartz, Associate Professor of German & Comparative Literature at Boston University.
Peter’s introduction prepared the audience to hear from an extraordinary women who writes in both Japanese and German and has published several books—stories, novels, poems, plays, essays—in both languages. Her lecture began by connecting languages and emotions. She brought up the interesting thought that feelings speak a different language than we do, and that feelings cannot be artificially produced but can be artistically represented by changing tempo and volume.
This lecture was unique in that it did feel like a conventional lecture but rather an introduction to a new perspective by artistic means. Yoko Tawada infused her talk with stories that brought insight to Japanese and German culture, as well as a beautiful and phonetically intensive Japanese poem. Her use of artistic explanations allowed the audience to really understand what it is to write between languages and cultures. One of the most interesting parts of this talk was when Bettina Brandt was asked to read the English translations of a couple of poems while Ms. Tawada sat and held up different Japanese characters for each poem. This was the most intriguing part of her talk due to her lack of explanation of the poems, which allowed the each person in attendance to formulate their own interpretations of the translation, language, and characters.
The lecture was followed by a conversation that began with the two moderators posing introductory questions. During the conversation Yoko Tawada was asked questions
You cannot express emotion through language, emotions are in the letters or what she calls the body of literature and musicality of the words. She was also asked about the characters that were used earlier in the lecture, Tawada explained how the characters were a tool to process the text and something to “take home”. As the conversation ensued Tawada also elaborated on the process of translating her own work from German into Japanese and the opposite, and how it is not her concern what others think of her work but rather just working with the language as a basis and structure.
Overall, Tawada’s lecture was incredibly insightful for writers who hope to break the bounds between language and literature.
Co-sponsored by Centers for the Study of Europe and Asia at Boston University, the Department of Modern Languages and Comparative Literature, and the Japan Society Boston.
–Aneri Desai, BU ’15
Watch the video on BUniverse:
On Thursday, April 3, the Center for the Study of Europe, in collaboration with the Goethe Institut Boston, hosted German author Jenny Erpenbeck. One of Germany’s rising literary stars, Erpenbeck was born in East Berlin in 1967. Her grandfather, grandmother, and father were all published writers in a variety of genres, while her mother was a translator. She has worked on opera and musical productions in Berlin and Graz since 1991, and is now a freelance writer and producer living near Graz. This event was moderated by Erpenbeck’s English-language translator, Susan Bernofsky, an expert on German literature and culture as well as on the theory and practice of literary translation.
Watch the video on BUniverse:
On Monday, March 17, 2014, the Center for the Study of Europe, in collaboration with Brandeis University’s Center for German and European Studies and the Goethe Institut Boston, hosted German sociologist and climate activist Harald Welzer as part of its ongoing “European Voices” series. Welzer’s talk, focussed around changes in his thinking since the publication of his best-selling book Climate Wars: What People Will be Killed for in the 21st Century, was moderated by Associate Professor of International Relations and an expert on environmental politics, sustainable development, global governance and international institutions.
Watch the video on BUniverse:
On Thursday, April 8, Daniela Schwarzer, Fritz Thyssen Fellow at Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center and Head of Research Division on EU Integration at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin, gave a lunchtime talk provocatively titled “Why Germany Will Not Run the EU?” In her remarks, Schwarzer offered an assessment of Germany’s role in Europe and the seeming contradiction between German power and leadership in its management of the crisis in the Eurozone. Her argument, in a nutshell, was that German economic hegemony has not translated into political supremacy. On the contrary, since the onset of the crisis, Germany has been losing influence both at home and abroad.
Schwarzer began by addressing the urgency surrounding the question of Germany’s hegemonic position in Europe in the context of the current situation in Europe, namely, the sovereign debt and banking crisis. Following a review of German policy decisions and their impact on both responses to the crisis and the future shape of the Eurozone, Schwarzer offered an explanation for why Germany became such a dominant player in Europe. After enumerating Germany’s sources of strength, she raised the question whether they might be fading away, arguing that they are, both internally, in Germany, and also, in the overall context of the EU.
On Tuesday, October 9, the Center for the Study of Europe, in cooperation with the Center for International Relations and the Institute for the Study of Muslim Societies and Civilizations at Boston University and the Goethe Institut Boston, hosted a presentation by prolific German blogger Kübra Gümüsay, an active member of the Muslim blogosphere and one of the few Muslim members of the German netpolitics community.
Gümüsay, who is of Turkish origin, studied politics at the University of Hamburg and at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. When she began working as a columnist for the German daily newspaper taz in 2010, she was known as the first Hijabi columnist in Germany. Her texts, which have been featured in major national and international newspapers and publications, are mostly about culture, art, feminism, racism, Islamophobia, social blogging and media. In 2010 she co-founded the network Zahnräder (“Gears”) for active, creative and intellectual Muslim entrepreneurs in Germany. In 2011, her blog ein-fremdwoerterbuch.com was nominated for the Grimme Online Award in 2011. Her aim is to build cultural bridges, break down stereotypes and to animate her readers to rethink their values and worldviews. She is currently based in Oxford, UK, where she is working on a book on integration and migration and is founding a global network for social and political bloggers around the world.
In her presentation at the Castle, Gümüsay talked about changes the Internet has brought to social life in Germany, with a focus on the struggles of the Muslim diaspora. Feeling misrepresented in mainstream media, minorities of comparatively weak lobbies, such as Turks, Arabs, Blacks, Muslims and Roma, she said, are increasingly using the Internet to create a space for alternative media. As they speak up, comment on politics, get involved in debates and push their agendas, they influence mainstream media. Gümüsay discussed this process as well as its outcome on the German Muslim identity and on society, in an attempt to provide some answers to these questions: Has the Internet brought us closer together? Or are we now – more than ever – living in parallel worlds?
This event was organized as part of Our Shared Future, a project developed by the British Council with the support of the Carnegie Corporation. It aims to improve the public conversation on Muslim-West relations in the US and Europe.
On October 5, 2011, Ulrike Guerot, head of the Berlin Office of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), gave a luncheon talk for faculty and graduate students on the economic crisis in the European Union, which she framed as a crisis of leadership in Germany. Guerot’s visit follows the publication, by the ECFR, of What Does Germany Think about Europe, a collection of essays by German experts on politics, law, sociology, philosophy and the media, edited by Guerot and ECFR colleague Jacqueline Hénard. The new volume aims to elucidate Germany’s response to the Euro crisis, diverging attitudes toward the future of Europe, and other pressing topics in light of debates taking place within Germany. As Guerot puts it: “It is impossible to understand Germany’s behaviour on the European and global stages – on the euro, Libya or nuclear energy – without understanding the debates within Germany itself.”
In her talk at Boston University, Guerot examined Germany’s shifting relations within the European Union through the lens of the current economic crisis. While German support for European unity remains strong, the German public’s willingness to finance the bailouts of other European countries is on the decline. Germany faces a dilemma: allow the bailout of Greece to fail – setting the stage for the collapse of the eurozone – or greater fiscal integration. Guerot argued that allowing a Greek default would hurt Germany in the long term – given the widespread exposure to Greek debt – and could induce sovereign defaults in other countries.
The monetary union, with its “no bailout” clause is flawed, according to Guerot, and poses a threat to the political union. It is no longer possible, she argued, to have one without the other. While admitting the real risk of a Greek exit from the eurozone, she expressed her hope that Germany will realize its future lies within Europe and not outside. Ultimately, her desire is to see Europe move toward a system of eurobonds, which would be backed collectively by all the eurozone nations.
“Germany: The Beleaguered European Island,” Open Democracy, September 9, 2011
“Germany Goes Global: Farewell, Europe,” Open Democracy, September 14, 2011
“Germany in Europe: No Longer Understood,” ECFR blog, October 14, 2011
For more updates, follow Ulrike Guerot on Twitter.
This discussion with Pierre Vimont, Ambassador of France to the United States, and Klaus Scharioth, Ambassador of Germany to the United States, moderated by Alan Berger, Senior Editorial Writer at the Boston Globe, took place on October 10, 2007. It continues a series of debates with European Ambassadors, organized by the Institute for Human Sciences at Boston University with the support of the European Commission Delegation in Washington DC.
Pierre Vimont was appointed Ambassador of France to the United States by President Nicolas Sarkozy on August 1, 2007. Mr. Vimont joined the Foreign Service in 1977. He was posted in London from 1978 to 1981 and then spent the next four years with the Press and Information Office at the Quai d’Orsay. From 1985 to 1986 he was seconded to the Institute for East-West Security in New York. Returning to Europe, he held a variety of appointments, including deputy director general of the entire Cultural, Scientific and Technical Relations Department from 1996 to 1997 and director of European Cooperation from 1997 to 1999. He was ambassador and permanent representative of France to the European Union from 1999 to 2002 and until August he served chief of staff to the minister of foreign affairs.
Klaus Scharioth served as State Secretary in the German Federal Foreign Office in Berlin from November 2002 until March 2006 prior to becoming Germany’s Ambassador to the United States. He entered the German Foreign Service in 1976, and has held positions at the German Embassy in Quito and the Permanent Mission of the Federal Republic of Germany to the United Nations in New York. He served as Political Director and head of the Political Directorate-General from 1999 to 2002 and Head of the International Security and North America Directorate from 1998 to 1999. He was also Head of the Defense and Security Policy from 1996 to 1997 and Director of the Private Office to the NATO Secretary-General in Brussels from 1993 to 1996.