"Mr. Stoda, Which countries do you prefer to live in?"
By Kevin Stoda, Germany
I was asked this question last week by one of my students here in Germany. Because I was teaching other things that day, I moved on rather quickly when distracted by another query. At the same time,, I had been surprised by the fact that the student, who had already seen many websites and web blogs of mine would not have automatically noted that I do, in fact, enjoy living in his country.
Because I have to do so many things in Berlin today, I do not have time to list down all the things that make Germany an interesting place to live and work. However, I will add that I have moved here to live, work, or study in Germany at least three times, so there must be something to this old world country, which keeps drawing me back. (I have only moved back to my homeland to live, study and work 3 or 4 times since 1986. The USA is a federal state.)
In many of my earlier writings, I have shared that federations and federal states have fascinated me. I have written, for example, that federal regimes do not generally go to war with one another. (As a matter of fact, only the USA vs. Germany in WWI is/was the only exception that I am aware of. It took the USA in that case over 2 years to even decide on which side to fight that war. Usually, a state will centralize as Germany did prior to WWII before going to war with sizable federal states.)
Germany borders nine countries--Belgium, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, and France. (Three of these states are also federative states: Belgium, Austria, and Switzerland. Actually, the European Union is a federal regime as I noted long ago in earlier or pre-blogging-era publications of mine.) Being at the center of Europe, Germanic states or Kingdoms always had the tendency to be multicultural, and I believe federal states can best handle multicultural peoples. (It was a northern German, Johannes Altuis, who wrote the first written defense of the superiority of federative states 400 years ago.) On the other hand, the nationalist movements of the late 19th and early 20th century had made Germans to practice an overzealous self-identity change--ignoring, repressing, and even destroying whatever they had perceived as "foreign".
Although that era of German history is over, many of the repugnant knee-jerk anti-foreign elements raise their nasty heads at times in German politics, society, and civil-servantry. I, too, have felt a victim of that (and have myself been a witness to that xenophobia). Nonetheless, I feel that there is more than a nascent sector of those people living and educated in Germany who are now accepting of their real multicultural identity, so they are able to put up a good fight next time crazy fascism or over-zealous national tendencies try to take firmer hold.
CHRISTIAN SOCIAL MARKET CAPITALISM
When I have worked with bankers and employees of various firms all over Germany, I have often heard them say, "We have never fully believed in the power of markets to handle our social commitments and social contracts." Historically, that has been the case, especially since WWII. Only in the decades of Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Gerhardt Schroeder did this system of checks and balances in the economic and social guaratees in modern Germany get called into question. In this way, the two Germanies of the Cold War era had more to do with the way the Japanese ran their society than the way either the USA or the Soviet Union ran their societies and economies in the post-WWII era.
The objective in Germany has historically been to raise the minimum and for companies, churches and state to look after the welfare of the citizens in a federative kooperative network. This sort of federation is distinguished from the USA concept of federation because there is no concept of seperation of church in state. In fact, in the formative years of children in Germany today, almost 80 percent of preschools and kindergarten programs are run by church institutions. There are also religious-orientation classes in school. On the other hand, this inclusiveness in state, church, and workworld in Germany has led to many mistakes in recent years, inclduding the failure to integrate new residents and citizens and a tendency to marginalize outsiders in the school systems. This is because the dillusion of a national and centrist state (whether in Bonn or Berlin) which has often been emphasized over the very real variety of multicultural existance on the ground--schools and workplace grounds--of Germany.
All-in-all, though, the potential to change and reform is there. However, it usually takes an impetus from without to lead to reform from within in Germany. Some images-from-without which have done ill in Germany include xenophobia, war, and fear of economic globalism. Images-from-without that did good were, for example, the presence of American and occupying forces in West Germany after WWII. This need for outside pressure often leads to a German defensiveness, however, the pressure is often necessary because the only thing slower than democracy is federal democracy.
Any person from a federal state can recognize this--and my homeland America is also a federal regime with similar tendencies.