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Focus On The New Germany : Regional Outlook : Old Fears Await the Coming of One Germany


ALKMAAR, Netherlands — " . . . We remember the unending suffering that has been brought on people in the name of Germans. We remember all the victims of war and tyranny. We unite with the will that all this never again be allowed to happen."

-- West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher speaking in Parliament during the Sept. 20 unification debate.

The teen-age faces were as bright and hopeful as the morning outside, yet the words of those who spoke were hedged with doubt.

Two generations removed from the weight of the Holocaust and the Nazi occupation of their country, the Dutch students discussing German unity had no fear that a united, democratic Germany might somehow resume its military aggression.

Instead, the concern was more subtle. It was there, but ill-focused.

"I don't see the Germans as enemies, and I don't think there is going to be another war," said Minke de Vroomen, 19, before pausing to add, "But now that Germany is becoming one, it's a little worrying."

The words--"a little worrying"--capture the main thread of a remarkably broad mix of emotions that flow through Europe on the eve of a new era--an era where an anxious Continent once again hitches its fate to a powerful, fully sovereign Germany.

From the enfant terrible of the French Establishment, Alain Minc, who argues in favor of arming a united Germany with nuclear weapons, to the anguished voices of the German left, who insist that history and Auschwitz cry out against unity of any kind, the Continent braces itself to receive the new nation about to be born.

No one disputes that the new Germany is far different from the nation that twice this century took the world to war.

Germany today is prosperous, confident and, above all, democratic. The awareness of both past misdeeds and future responsibilities is enshrined in the preamble to the unification treaty and has become a litany in public speeches.

The conditions surrounding the new Germany's arrival also give reason for hope. The nation has no outstanding territorial disputes, it has unilaterally renounced nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and has begun a self-proposed, self-imposed military manpower cut of 40% to 370,000.

It begins life in a peaceful, optimistic Europe, firmly anchored in the Atlantic Alliance and the European Community, and richer than ever before in the Western values of rationalism, pragmatism and egalitarianism.

"Forty years have brought enormous change," said former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt during an interview. "Democracy is deeply rooted in the German Parliament. It's not just lip service. They have understood and taken to heart how a democracy works."

But if such ideal conditions prevail, why do doubts about Germany persist?

Why does Newsweek publish stories under the headlines "Can Germany Be Contained?" and (from a German contributor) "We Can Be Trusted"?

Why does British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher describe German unification as "something we'll have to cope with," and why does one of her Cabinet ministers openly accuse Germany of trying to dominate Europe?

Why did the collapse of the Berlin Wall last November prompt a European Commission member in Brussels to launch into an anti-German tirade during an off-the-record meeting with a group of reporters, or inspire a Dutch comedian to suggest that his government might do well to buy the wall and erect it along the Dutch-German frontier?

Size alone explains part of it.

From this small Dutch administrative town 25 miles north of Amsterdam, a united Germany that is more than half again the population of France or Britain is Europe's acknowledged economic powerhouse, and, at birth, is the world's No. 1 trading nation (ahead of the United States and Japan), seems somehow frighteningly large.

"We know we are completely dependent on Germany," said Ilja Roobeek, an 18-year-old Dutch student.

History, too, lingers.

The fact that Norway this year finally relented and allowed German military forces to be part of annual Western alliance maneuvers for the first time since the war; that officials of European Community nations have given up guilt-tripping their German colleagues as a way to leverage more money, and that a recent sampling of French opinion found that if a daughter were to marry a non-Frenchman, the overwhelming majority of families would prefer a German son-in-law--all this reflects the healing process.

Yet the wound itself remains.

"Memories (of the Nazi occupation) are still there," said Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mette Owre, explaining the public resistance to the participation of German forces in northern Norway maneuvers earlier this year. "Emotions are weaker now, but it is still hard."

There is, however, an additional dimension to Europe's wariness: an uneasy suspicion that, for all their postwar success and commitment to the future, the Germans remain an unpredictable people, capable of being blown off course with frightening speed.

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