March 24, 2000Balkan donors meet, eyeing quick-start aid
By Alastair Macdonald
(Rtr) - A year ago on Friday Germany went to war for the first time since Adolf Hitler. As a new generation of Luftwaffe pilots again bombed Yugoslavia, peace campaigners saw in them the spectre of the Third Reich.
Yet one year on, the effect of NATO's Kosovo war for many Germans has been to lay to rest the ghosts of their Nazi past and give them the confidence to stand up and be counted.
That has brought its own problems - wrangles over military reform, for one, and a scratchier relationship with key ally, the United States. But few argue there can be any turning back.
"We have to show people that wealthy Germany is not indifferent to this planet's crises," Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told the weekly Die Zeit on Thursday.
"The expectations of and demands on reunified Germany have grown enormously - in Europe and far beyond."
Few symbolise the new Germany better than Fischer. A leader of the pacifist and environmental movements that sprang from the student unrest of 1968, his rejection of earlier generations' complicity with Nazism followed the credo "Never again war".
Yet within months of his Greens party entering government for the first time, in coalition with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats, he was justifying NATO's attack.
His slogan became "Never again Auschwitz" as he portrayed it as a just war against genocide. For his pains, he was attacked - once physically - by incensed former allies.
GOVERNMENT RALLIED SUPPORT FOR WAR
Yet Fischer and Schroeder, post-war Germany's first chancellor too young to remember World War Two, held their parties together. Though opposition to the war remained vocal, especially on the left, a solid two thirds of voters swung behind the government and would, by all accounts, do so again.
"Opinion had been well prepared by all that had happened previously in Yugoslavia," said Dieter Walz of the polling institute Emnid. "I would expect Germans to support operations in future that were intended to protect human rights."
Opponents have seized on continued problems in Kosovo. "On the first anniversary of Germany's first engagement in war since 1945, the government is confronted with the ruins of its policy," the former East German communists of the PDS said.
Yet the relatively swift conclusion to the war, without loss for the German forces, assured its overall popularity.
It hit new heights when German media, slightly amazed, were able to report how the soldiers whose grandfathers had ravaged the Balkans half a century ago were now welcomed with flowers.
That the respected commander of the KFOR peacekeeping force is a German whose father was a senior Nazi, General Klaus Reinhardt, also served to underline the break with the past.
"Never has the image of the armed forces been so positive in this country," said Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping, once an anti-NATO left-winger. Certainly not in the past 50 years.
WAR HIGHLIGHTED PROBLEMS
That image is not quite so high with Germany's NATO partners, who are keen that it modernise at a faster pace so that Europe's richest country plays a bigger role in future.
During a half-century of division and foreign occupation, Germany's two armies, East and West, were bulky masses of conscripts designed to soak up frontline pressure on home soil.
That began to change with the end of the Cold War and German reunification in 1990. But Kosovo showed the German armed forces were still long on manpower and short on technology and skills.
Scharping's ministry is engaged in a major review. But with government spending on a tight rein he faces many obstacles.
Relations with the United States, which wants Europeans to take up more of the burden of the continent's defence but is suspicious of a European Union security structure that could bypass NATO, have been strained following the Kosovo conflict.
German diplomats acknowledge there has been something of a shift in Berlin's thinking, closer to French suspicion of U.S. influence and away from a reflex pro-Americanism, partly because it sees the EU having to play a bigger role in its own backyard.
"The Americans look at us like parents their children," Fischer told Die Zeit. "On the one hand they're glad they're becoming independent, on the other they get more anxious."
The latest spat with Washington was over efforts to install a German at the head of the International Monetary Fund.
But Fischer insisted: "Even trying to uncouple Europe (from the United States) would be very stupid and a fatal error."