Thursday, August 17, 2006

German national conscience suffers from a poor memory

Poor Gunter Grass!

He occupied a place that has no parallel in Canada, the U.S. or Britain. He was a national moralist-in-chief, often called "the conscience of the postwar generation." He hated the postwar government of Konrad Adenauer, whom he considered a puppet of Washington, and he was appalled by the consumerism that accompanied economic recovery in the 1950s. He thought Germans too eager to forget the crimes of the Nazis, especially the Holocaust. Rightly, he believed that wound should "be kept open," as he said when accepting the Nobel Prize.

Grass was no communist, but he looked benignly on communist East Germany and favoured appeasing the Soviets. He believed the U.S. started the Cold War. He was the kind of Western intellectual Lenin meant when he used the phrase "useful idiots."...

His credibility shrank when the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 revealed East Germany as a prison. He was appalled to see East Germans pouring into West Berlin, seeking, of all things, fresh fruit. He was also dismayed by the apparent victory of capitalism: "Capitalism has never been more barbaric, beast-like than after the victory over the communist system." ...
His self-importance knew no bounds. In the 1980s I was with him at a conference in Budapest of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. He began his speech with a parody of modesty -- "My name is Gunter Grass," he said, as if there was anyone in the room who didn't know the king of German letters was among us. He made it clear that he stood far above the petty struggle between Washington and Moscow. He made his point (a proposal for a new East-West cultural institute) and then vanished, there being no one else at the conference he cared to hear.

During his long career as a public man, Grass has never passed up a chance to speak out for outspokenness. "The job of a citizen is to keep his mouth open," he liked to say. Though not necessarily in all cases, of course.

He joins the ranks of the immortals--the immortal whited sepulchers, I mean.

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