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Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Poor choice of dates

Felix Steiner / bk
August 31, 2014

The German parliament is set to debate Merkel's decision to arm Kurds in Iraq - on the 75th anniversary of Germany's invasion of Poland. DW's Felix Steiner says the choice of date is tasteless.


The constant re-examination of the darkest chapters of German history is part of the Federal Republic's founding principles. It's manifested in the many days of remembrance that the members of the German parliament gather for every year: Holocaust Remembrance Day is observed every year on January 27, as are the round anniversaries of the Jewish pogroms in November 1938, and those of the start and end of the Second World War.

On top of that there are the ritual memorials for Remembrance Day, every third Sunday in November, for which the parliamentary staff often have to don dark suits themselves to hide the fact that many parliamentarians are in their constituencies.

Deutsche Welle's Felix Steiner
DW's Felix SteinerImage: DW/M.Müller

So given that we have seen the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War and the 75th anniversary of that of the Second World War within the space of a few weeks, some parliamentarians may feel like they've seen enough historical remembrance for a while.

Nowadays, remembrance days enjoy only moderate resonance in wider German society. For one thing there is little more to say on such occasions that hasn't been said many times before. For another thing, the chancellor, or the president now try to spend these red-letter days with other world leaders in historically significant places - Angela Merkel was in Normandy, France, in June and then in Ypres, Belgium, in July, while Joachim Gauck will be in Gdansk, Poland on Monday (01.09.2014) to mark the beginning of World War Two - these occasions provide attractive photos that always make it the evening news.

Remembering the war - outside the vacation

Bundestag President Norbert Lammert (pictured above) also has to take the parliamentary vacations into account, though he insists on sticking to the ceremonies: thus the First World War was remembered in parliament on July 3, while the beginning of World War Two will be delayed until September 10. In the spring, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski was invited to speak at the event. So far so good.

The historical dates have to make way for the parliamentary holidays - but current world crises don't wait. Because the Islamic State terrorists have conquered wide swaths of northern Iraq in just a few weeks, the German government has broken all its principles about exporting weapons into war zones.

Not that the government has stuck so punctiliously to these principles in the past, but never before has the country supplied warring belligerents with weapons so openly, and without making any attempt to separate weapons from any other kind of military aid - and certainly not to non-state militia like the Kurdish Peshmerga. The German government has done all this without even being called on to do so by any allied nation.

In a black-and-white picture, a tank rolls through bushes and trees.
Germany's invasion of Poland began World War TwoImage: ullstein bild - SV-Bilderdie

September 1, of all days

Since the crisis in Iraq is so desperate, the parliamentarians have been called back from their vacation a week early to debate and vote on this change of course. This haste isn't strictly necessary - the German government doesn't need parliamentary approval to begin weapons exports. And yet one has to raise one's eyebrows at the decision to hold the debate on September 1, of all days - the 75th anniversary of Germany's invasion of Poland.

On this day, exactly 75 years ago, Adolf Hitler appeared in front of the Reichstag to proclaim, lying, that the Poles had "shot back" as of 5:45am, and thus justified starting World War Two. It would be wrong to read some kind of malicious symbolism or a long-term change of course in Germany's foreign policy into this choice of date. But given the historical significance of the day, the parliamentary president's office might have been a bit more sensitive. The choice of this date is tasteless.

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