Is Germany taking over in central and eastern Europe? The country has re-established a dominant presence in its eastern hinterland. But, apart from friction with the Czechs, it has been welcomed.by Steve Crawshaw / January 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
Germany has been a part of our destiny, our inspiration as well as our pain,” said the Czech president V?clav Havel in 1995, “a source of traumas… as well as of standards to which we aspire; some regard Germany as our greatest hope, others as our greatest peril.”
Large parts of central and eastern Europe have been subject to cultural, economic and military domination by Germany over many centuries: from the German knights’ conquest of the Slavs, through the German-Russian treaty of Rapallo, to the barely healed wounds of the second world war. This has left a curious mixture of resentment and admiration towards Germany, now complicated by a post cold war dependence on it-both economically and politically.
German dominance of the economies and to a lesser extent the polities of the main central European countries-Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic-was widely predicted at the time of reunification. It was also one of the main reasons for misgivings about reunification in several countries. In her memoirs, Margaret Thatcher recalls a meeting in Paris with Fran?ois Mitterrand, in January 1990, where they both expressed severe anxieties about Germany’s “mission” in central Europe.
In truth Germany’s new hegemonic role in its eastern hinterland-stepping into the vacuum left by the retreating Russia-has been almost entirely benign. Germany is playing a vital role in the economic take-off of the region, similar to the Japanese role in the take-off of east Asia. And politically, Germany acts as the tribune of central Europe in the European Union and Nato.
This position as a “regional superpower” clearly does enhance Germany’s global authority. But the German political class remains acutely aware of the temptations of eastern adventurism, and partly for this reason continues urgently to seek deeper integration into western Europe. Yet, sensitivity about the past in central Europe has not prevented the German government from behaving with some directness-especially in relation to the Czech Republic-where it believes the brutal tit-for-tats of recent history continue to leave German interests unsatisfied.
After the revolutions of 1989 and the free elections that followed, it was not just Germany which leaped into the breach in central Europe. The US, France, Italy and Britain (with its Know-How Fund) all played, and play, important roles, as does the EU with the Phare fund for infrastructure.
A benign invasion
None the less, it was the Germans who truly invaded central Europe. First, there…