I would like your very different biographies and your experiences with the European Left to encounter each other as it were in a discussion on Germany, on ‘overcoming the past’, on the legacy of socialism, on Europe and the lack of synchrony between Germany and Poland. The similarities and differences can then be indicated by your both considering the same questions. We could start perhaps with the year 1989: was the fall of the Wall and German unification an equal surprise for the two of you? footnote1
jh: I was naturally as surprised as most Germans were. But in summer 1988 I’d been in the gdr for the first time, in Halle. The mental state of the people attending that symposium made a shattering impression on me. They were cynical and desperate. There was nothing left in the way of a perspective of hope. In this sense I was aware from then on how far the system had already eroded by that time. But of course I did not foresee the outcome.
am: I remember a discussion with you in Warsaw in 1979, when you didn’t
In summer 1989 the Wall was still rock solid, even if the East Germans were already packing their bags in Hungary, when Adam Michnik and Bronislaw Geremek spoke out publicly for German unification. On the one hand this was a surprise for many in the West and in Poland. On the other hand the idea that the division of Germany was not eternal was quite a live one in Poland, in view of our own historical experiences.
jh: I missed this declaration of Michnik and Geremek in summer 1989, but at that time I was certainly against a perspective of unification. On the question of German national consciousness, we must not forget that—for wellknown historical reasons—this has played a different role in Germany from in Poland, and will continue to do so. For a hundred and fifty years national consciousness secured the Poles their identity despite their lack of independence. In Germany, however, national consciousness played a progressive role as a political value only up to 1848. Prussia, after all, never functioned on a national basis. Yet the Bismarckian Reich made good use of nationalism, and from the 1890s on did much harm with it. After 1945, on the other hand, when a halfway reasonable democracy was established in Germany for the first time, this was only because nationalism was discredited.