Feature

Germany and France: Old wars, new attitudes

Angela Merkel joined Nicolas Sarkozy to cele­brate Armistice Day, the first time a German leader has ever participated in French ceremonies to mark the end of World War I.

France and Germany have truly put the world wars behind them, said Arnaud Leparmentier and Marion Van Renterghem in France’s Le Monde. In a “stunning gesture,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined French President Nicolas Sarkozy last week to cele­brate Armistice Day, the end of World War I. Never before had a German leader participated in the French ceremonies, which is perfectly understandable. After all, the day marks “the capitulation of Germany and the humiliations of the Treaty of Versailles, which served as fertilizer for the growth of Nazism 15 years later.” Yet there Merkel stood, under the Arc de Triomphe, the symbol of French victories under Napoleon. She even laid a wreath at our Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. “Your presence among us on this Nov. 11 is a gesture of exceptional friendship,” Sarkozy told Merkel. “Every French person knows how significant it is.” Indeed we do. The two countries are bound together now as never before. “The page of history has turned.”

Cue the stirring music, said Axel Veiel in Germany’s Frankfurter Rundschau. To hear the French tell it, “the sky is full of violins” and “everything seems possible.” Sarkozy is pouring on the French charm in an attempt to “woo” Merkel. The French are proposing all kinds of joint endeavors for our two countries, including a common agenda for Europe and a common industrial policy. They even want to make Armistice Day into a joint holiday dedicated to Franco-German friendship. The French certainly are all over us these days, said Stefan Ulrich in Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung. French television has been showing documentaries about the fall of the Berlin Wall, and French magazines have put out special issues on the “new Germany” that resulted. Now we are the “good neighbor.” But there’s reason to be skeptical of this “new French passion for all things German.” Sarkozy, remember, is always eager for the limelight. Merkel runs the risk of being used as a prop “in the latest Sarko show.” It’s far from clear whether the lovefest will result in any actual policy changes besides the new joint holiday.

Not so fast with this holiday plan, said Lorenz Jäger in Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The French have every right, “nay, even a duty,” to celebrate their victory in World War I. But Germany has never commemorated that day. Nor, given our difficult history, have we ever devoted a holiday to our fallen soldiers. Have we really become so self-effacing that “we seek to be associated with the victors in our capacity as the vanquished?” Germans can certainly pay tribute to the day that World War I ended—but for us, the best way to do so would be “in silence and reflection.”

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