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Global Rise In Nationalism Challenges Germany, A Nation Built On Partnerships

May 18, 2019
Originally published on May 18, 2019 3:29 pm
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Populist parties are expected to gain seats in next week's elections for the Parliament of the European Union. These are parties that rail against immigration, globalist elites and the EU itself. Of course, on this side of the Atlantic, President Donald Trump questions the value of allies and alliances. And as NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports from Berlin, many Germans find these trends unsettling.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAMMSTEIN SONG, "DEUTSCHLAND")

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: In March, the popular German gothic metal band Rammstein came out with its first song in a decade.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAMMSTEIN SONG, "DEUTSCHLAND")

KAKISSIS: It's called "Deutschland." The 9 1/2 minute music video is a shocking depiction of Germany's violent past. It includes a scene at a concentration camp.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEUTSCHLAND")

RAMMSTEIN: (Singing in German).

KAKISSIS: Music critic Jens-Christian Rabe translates the lyrics.

JENS-CHRISTIAN RABE: Germany, my heart's in flames. I want to love you, but I want to condemn you, too. So, Germany, your love is a, well, curse.

KAKISSIS: Rabe has criticized Rammstein in the past for using violent German stereotypes to sell albums. But this time, he says the band actually seems to be sounding an alarm for Europe.

RABE: When you take a look at Hungary or Poland or even Italy, you have a lot more successful right-wing parties, but they’re on the rise over here, too. And that makes a song like Rammstein's "Deutschland" creepy.

KAKISSIS: Eighteen-year-old Henry Schulz is a Rammstein super fan who sees how right-wing nationalism is tearing at Europe's unity.

HENRY SCHULTZ: (Through interpreter) I think of myself as a European who is also a German. My parents told me about growing up in a divided country. My grandparents told me about the war. I'm proud to live in the European Union. I've learned it's a place where we work together with others instead of fighting alone.

KAKISSIS: German lawmaker Peter Beyer sees how working together in post-war alliances remade his country.

PETER BEYER: Germany, as it stands today, would not be there without the permission and the support by others.

KAKISSIS: After the Allies defeated the Nazi regime, the U.S. helped rebuild Germany's devastated economy through the Marshall Plan.

BEYER: I love the United States of America. I always wanted to go there. We spent a lot of vacation in the USA.

KAKISSIS: And for the past year, Beyer has been coordinator of transatlantic cooperation in Chancellor Angela Merkel's government.

BEYER: We thought it was a given thing. Everything is going smoothly. Transatlantic relations were a synonym for NATO.

KAKISSIS: Then came Donald Trump. He called NATO obsolete and complained loudly and repeatedly about Germany not paying its fair share of defense costs. He declared that German car exports hurt the U.S. and accused Chancellor Merkel of ruining her country by allowing in migrants.

BEYER: This administration, especially this president, is very vocal about this thing. And they are - they have a different style and approach that is very nasty.

KAKISSIS: Donald Trump, like the populist politicians rising in Europe, has denounced globalization.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You know, they have a word. It sort of became old-fashioned. It's called a nationalist. And I say, really, we're not supposed to use that word. You know what I am? I'm a nationalist, OK? I'm a nationalist.

KAKISSIS: But this kind of talk is highly problematic in Germany.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

THOMAS BAGGER: There is no other country that I could think of that is as challenged by the world view as it is articulated by the current U.S. president as is Germany.

KAKISSIS: That's Thomas Bagger, an adviser to the German Foreign Ministry speaking last year at the Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BAGGER: There are other countries who can go back to a more national conception of their own country in the international system. But for Germany, that doesn't really exist anymore because all these more national conceptions have all been contaminated in the Nazi years.

KAKISSIS: That's one reason Germans are so supportive of the European Union.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (Singing, unintelligible).

KAKISSIS: And it's why a German public broadcaster signs off every night with the anthem of Europe, based on Beethoven's "Ode To Joy," after it plays the German national anthem. Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.