Their News [Archives:2009/1227/Local News]

January 22 2009

– Seeing history through

the others' eyes

In a history textbook developed jointly, Germany and France are looking back on their entwined ways

By: Ambassador Gilles Gauthier and Ambassador Michael Klor-Berchtold

In remembrance of the Elysee-Treaty of 1963, the 22nd of January is celebrated as the French-German Day. Is this a mere confirmation of a longstanding and world-wide known friendship between two countries? Upon taking a closer look, this date turns out to be the turning point of one of the most ambivalent, sometimes tragic, but in the end fortunate developments of a bilateral relationship between nations.

Historically, the 22nd of January is a date pointing to the future. The “Treaty on the French-German Cooperation” was concluded 44 years ago by both sides as a tool to reach their distinct objectives. Today, the anniversary describes a success story of convergence, reconciliation and gradual acceptance of the other. Yet, the common past of the two countries goes back even further: Their competition during the race towards the top during the period of Industrialization turned into an arch-enmity after the French-German War in 1870/1. The atrocities of World War I and II seemed to cement the gap between the opponents forever.

So how could this relation be transformed to one of the closest friendships and partnerships in Europe? Following the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany, it was the will to reconcile that characterized the beginning of the European Unification in the 1950s with an attempt to share coal and steel, i.e. means of war. Both countries wanted to avoid atrocities of previous wars for the generations to come. Images of the French-German summits over the last forty years speak for themselves: First, the embrace between Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle in 1963. Then the silent commemoration of Francois Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl for the victims of Verdun in 1984, hand in hand. In 2004, the first invitation of a German Chancellor to the celebration of the landing of the Allied Forces in Normandy: Gerhard Schroeder and Jacques Chirac demonstrated the French-German reconciliation with a heartfelt embrace. Finally, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel lead a joint effort to stabilise the European economies facing the worldwide financial crisis.

If both countries, in 1963, aimed at preventing further confrontation, today they expect from each other that they both further European interests in a decisive manner. By adding his own version of the treaty's preamble in 1963, Adenauer had strived for Germany's renewed independence, for its reunification and its inclusion in NATO. Today, more than ever, Germany assumes responsibilities within the European and the international network of states. What lies between now and then is the European integration, often considered ponderous but in reality moving extremely fast. As European nations, France and Germany have demonstrated to the world how former enemies can join forces and form a fruitful partnership for the benefit of the whole continent. It was proven that finding common solutions built on shared interests is the only way to turn rivals into winners: foes became friends and paved the way for the development of the EU.

Just as much as both sides had struggled to get close to another on the political level, the citizens had to come to trust each other. How deeply this trust is rooted nowadays is reflected by the completely natural way the post-war generation and their descendants are dealing with each other. The founding of the “French-German Youth Association”, also in 1963, and hundreds of community twinning agreements between French and German villages and cities have opened the way for encounters of young and old citizens in both countries which have often led to deep and long lasting friendships. The French-German television channel ARTE has established itself in both countries with its high quality programme. Another prominent example for this development is the founding of the German-French “Youth Parliament” in 2003. One of its initiatives was to suggest a history book called “Histoire-Geschichte” for French and German High School students.

The first of three volumes, “Europe and the World since 1945”, has already been in use since the winter term 2006/07. In 2008, the second volume “Europe and the World from the Vienna Congress until 1945” was released. The preface to the first volume already pointed out that “the book is not a presentation of French-German history, but a French-German history book”. It is not only the history of one's own country that is meant to be taught and assessed but also common European history – at the same time and in particular from the view of the neighbouring country. The second volume covers the time from 1815 until 1945, i.e. from the end of the Napoleonic period until the end of the Second World War. It demonstrates the special character of German and French history: After one and a half centuries of conflicts and wars, the two countries contributed decisively to the making of Europe as we know it today. Notable about this textbook is also that, while the initiative came from the political side, it was developed purely by German and French historians. Controversial subjects were simply presented as the controversies they are. In this way, the innovative textbook also turned out to be a historiographic document of a critical discussion on the past.

The complete three volumes of this book might be considered just another step on the path of two distinctive soloists towards their successful duet. As a daily companion in their school bags however, it will form the perception of French and German students of their common history and of a new Europe which is developing. It is a stronger symbol than any monument could ever be for the eventful French-German history, during which foes became friends. It will help the youth in both of our countries to see through each others' eyes.

– U.N. Fears Fresh Attack in Darfur Town

TML – Armed groups are preparing for a battle over a town in the southern part of the war-torn Darfur region, fighting that could put as many as 30,000 civilians at severe risk, the United Nations said.

The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), a Darfur rebel group, took control of Al-Muhajiriyya last week, after battling troops belonging to Minni Arcua Minnawi, a former rebel leader and now an assistant to the president.

UNAMID, the joint U.N.-African Union force station in Darfur, said Minnawi's forces were planning a counter-attack after losing Al-Muhajiriyya to the rebels.

There are concerns about a new wave of violence as the conflict in Darfur enters its seventh year.

Clashes between the JEM and Minnawi's forces in recent days have resulted in an aid office being burned down. The U.N. has evacuated aid staff from the area.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is expected to make a decision in the next two weeks on whether to issue an arrest warrant against Sudanese President 'Umar Al-Bashir for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.

Judges are studying evidence and are expected to issue their verdict before the end of this month.

Khartoum is rejecting accusations against Al-Bashir made by the ICC's Luis Moreno-Ocampo prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, and says the ICC's decision will be politically motivated.

A Sudanese security officer said last week that Westerners would become a target of attacks in Sudan and that violence would increase if the ICC issued the arrest warrant.

The conflict in Darfur began in early 2003, when local rebel groups rose up against the central government in Khartoum, protesting decades of discrimination. The government has been accused of unleashing aggressive armed groups called the Janjaweed to counter the rebels.

According to international estimates, more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.2 million displaced in what some governments are calling genocide.

The Sudanese government is downplaying the death toll of the Darfur conflict, and says it is closer to 10,000.

A JEM commander has warned that an arrest warrant against A-Bashir would be marked by military action.