The destruction of Dresden, the Federal President and the defensive democracy

Commentary: The destruction of Dresden, the Federal President and the defensive democracy

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Frank-Walter Steinmeier commemorates the bombing night of Dresden and, on its 75th anniversary, delivers a surprisingly up-to-date and therefore beneficial speech in the Saxon capital, says Jens Thurau.

A speech on the anniversary of the terrible bombing of Dresden on the night of February 13-14, 1945 is always a tightrope walk. The firestorm that struck the Saxon city on the Elbe has been instrumentalized time and time again by a wide variety of groups: the Nazis themselves in the last months of the war, then the GDR, later by neo-Nazis and people from the past. This usually culminated in an absurd argument about the death toll, which the Nazis, for example, extrapolated to several hundreds of thousands. Above all, however, the dispute over the bombing night after the end of the GDR was a dispute as to whether one should remember the inconceivable events in isolation or whether embedding them in the historical context alone can do justice to the victims.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier knew what was going to happen when he wrote this speech. And the Federal President not only succeeded in classifying but rather made a surprisingly up-to-date speech that spoke openly about how war and destruction could have come about. That is why three long paragraphs pass in his speech until the word Dresden appears at all. Steinmeier begins the German invasion of Poland, speaks of the fact that violence was subsequently removed from Europe.

The suffering of the Dresdeners is not relativized

With no line does the German head of state relativize the sufferings of the Dresdeners. On the contrary: he makes it plastic, he speaks of the roar of the planes, of the red-lit sky, of the fire that drew all oxygen from the streets of the city. But he also mentions other cities, in Germany and elsewhere in Europe: Hamburg or Würzburg, Naples and Belgrade, Warsaw and Coventry. And he concludes this part of his speech with the clear sentence: “Anyone who still offsets the dead of Dresden against the dead of Auschwitz today, who tries to minimize German injustice, who, contrary to better knowledge, falsifies historical facts, we as democrats and Braving Democrats. “

Thurau Jens comment picture appDW correspondent Jens Thurau

“We as democrats.” Steinmeier knows that there are deniers of Nazi crimes in German parliaments again today, he clearly distinguishes himself from them. This is a new interpretation of the role of the Federal President, who is supposed to be non-partisan and to moderate and summarize all opinions that exist among the people. But not at this point. Steinmeier even goes one step further, a current one: he speaks of new anti-Semitism, of new xenophobia, and: “If elected MPs today present and ridicule the parliaments in which they are sitting, this is an attempt to democratize destroy inside. ” The right-wing populists in the German state parliaments and the Bundestag may feel addressed.

Yes, all of this belongs in a speech commemorating the firestorm in Dresden, 75 years later. And the speech deliberately ends with the answer to all those who have lived forever. The Federal President does what is in his office alongside all representation – he reminds us of what all Germans should have: namely the Basic Law, the constitution of a democratic state. “Let us protect the dignity of everyone. Also and especially here in Dresden.” Everyone, not just every German.

Voice of the vast majority of Germans

Steinmeier will be able to live with the criticism of right-wingers on this speech, But it is good to know that the Federal President sees himself as an advocate of democracy – more clearly than ever. A democracy that not only consists of laws, regulations and parliamentary rules but also insights, clear attitudes, and historical responsibility. An overwhelming majority of Germans still share these views. It is good that Steinmeier is raising his voice for this large group.

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