The tenacious resistance that, with mixed fortunes, the Ukrainian armed forces are opposing the invasion of their country by the Russian Federation has brought to the surface at once some problems hidden for many years under the carpet in Western Europe.
A rude awakening
In the Ukrainian resistance, in fact, the predominant role assumed by the battalions of nationalist volunteers has become increasingly evident. They demonstrate a tenacity and determination to fight that is almost always much greater than that of the conscripts of the canonical armed forces. It is well known how the determination to defend one's own land, one's own identity, are important elements within the war factor that we usually define as "troop morale". To risk one's life in front of an enemy requires motivations and ideals that often cannot be replaced by an excellent salary.
In Western European countries, this is an element that has been ignored for years, continuing on a path of deconstructionism of the idea of nation and fatherland as well as that of armed forces and war itself, on the long wave of pacifism and postmodernism of the 1970s.
In a world that, not since today, is in heavy rearmament and in full climate of rediscovery of its own national pride, the European Union, with the exception of some countries (such as the Visegrad bloc and the Baltic republics), has continued to stubbornly refuse any reflection or re-evaluation of its own identity, even for mere profit. The invasion of Ukraine by Putin's army and the consequent need to proceed to a heavy rearmament of European countries, including Italy, takes on all the connotations of the classic ice shower that puts an end to a hangover: the world is no longer, and perhaps never has been, a haven of peace and rights where nations cooperate harmoniously and do without armies, but an anarchic arena of fierce geopolitical competition in which no one offers quarter. In this arena you either eat or you are eaten.
In order not to end up being eaten, here is the need for a heavy rearmament, in particular for those European countries richer and at the same time less armed. Germany, an economic colossus of over eighty million citizens, the fourth world power by GDP (source IMF) after the United States, China and Japan, leads the ranking of the club of the "rich and unarmed". A situation no longer compatible with the current reality, against which the Trump Administration had already pointed its finger and which, with the Democrats in the White House, has become unsustainable.
Now it's no longer a joke. With Scholz's announcement to allocate 2% of Germany's GDP to Defense, the billions that the Federal Republic will allocate to its armed forces will increase from 53 to 100 in one year. As a comparison, it is worth bearing in mind that the Russian Federation's funds allocated to defense in 2021 amounted to about 41 billion euros. Germany is thus on its way to becoming, at least in Scholz's hopes, a respectable military power again, with major investments in aviation (new F35s) in missile defense (there is talk of the acquisition from Israel of the "Iron Dome" missile shield) and with a modernization of the Bundeswehr's meager armored fleet.
Protecting the people? It is unconstitutional
Such a news represents, however, a political earthquake in Germany. Growing up in pacifism, son of denazification, in the rejection of force, regardless, and in the refractoriness to the very idea of national identity (especially if German), for a large part of today's Germans the idea of a re-arming represents a real tsunami that forces them to question many certainties that, by now, had themselves become constitutive of the post-Cold War German political identity.
It is precisely the fierce resistance of the Ukrainians and their nationalist ardor that demonstrate that, if there is something that can protect European nations, it is pride in identity, pride in who one is. An unacceptable discourse for a country where, only a few weeks ago, the Administrative Court of Cologne ruled that the objective of "protecting the German people", contained in the statute of Alternative für Deutschland, is unconstitutional. At the same time, and not as of today, periodic and pervasive investigations by both the police and the secret services continually purge the armed forces (whose members are often close to the demands of AfD) of personnel deemed politically dangerous, citing improbable "plots against the Constitution".
The paradigm is shifting, but the culture is stuck in the 1990s
The reader can clearly understand that, in a country where it is declared that wanting to protect its own people is unconstitutional and at the same time military spending is doubled, there is a problem of coherence. This is for the simple and obvious reason that while geopolitical changes can happen in a flash, cultural changes take much longer.
What emerges here is the proverbial stubbornness of the German, and more generally of the European, who for years pretended not to want to see the change, not only geopolitical but also cultural, that was looming on the horizon. Countries like Poland, which have always been stubbornly attached to their national identity and for this very reason have been the target of all kinds of criticism from Western European countries, now that the Russian bear must be contained, are the moral winners in this ideological dispute.
A cultural work in progress. Or maybe not.
Whether and how the German paradigm shift on a geostrategic level will trigger a cultural paradigm shift in Germany, but also in its satellite countries, will be interesting to investigate over the next decade. What is easy to imagine right now is that any reassessment of German identity will be neither simple nor painless.
For decades the entire German cultural apparatus, from schools to the media, has inculcated the idea that every aspect of German history, from the Franks to Wilhelm II via Romanticism, Fichte and Hegel, was nothing more than a long preparatory springboard to the tragic experience of the National Socialist dictatorship. Many Germans today, paradoxically, end up agreeing with Hitler when they say that National Socialism was the ultimate and distilled product of Deutschtum, Germanicity. For Hitler, this implied that Germanicity should be exalted; for many Germans today, for the exact same reasons, it should be erased.
What, then, will the new German armies defend? Will Germany try, through its intelligentsia, to give itself a new "civic nationalism" or will it try to reconnect with its patriotic but openly anti-totalitarian identity, such as the patriotic liberalism of the Deutsche Bund of 1848, the White Rose and Operation Valkyrie? In this sense, it is the right-wing counter-culture that has an absolute advantage over the mainstream cultural media of the Bundesrepublik: a revaluation of national-liberal and anti-Nazi patriotic myths (such as the 1848 uprisings and the figure of the anti-Nazi coup leader Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg) has already been underway for years in cultural circles close to the AfD.
Whether, how, and in what way the official culture will be interested in these cultural experiences will undoubtedly be one of the most interesting aspects of the German political debate in the coming years.
Research fellow at the Machiavelli Center. A philosophy scholar, he has been working for years on the topic of the revaluation of nihilism and the great German Romantic philosophy.
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